The Recurring Theme of Death in the Poetry of Philip Larkin. Essay

The Recurring Theme of Death in the Poetry of Philip Larkin. Essay

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The Recurring Theme of Death in the Poetry of Philip Larkin.

In reading the poetry of Philip Larkin for the first time, one is
struck by the characteristically glum atmosphere that pervades most of
his poems. The vast majority of his verse is devoted to what is
generally taken to be negative aspects of life, such as loneliness and
dejection, disappointments, loss, and the terrifying prospect of
impending death. Evidently, there are uplifting and humorous sides to
his work as well, but for certain reasons Larkin is invariably
identified with a downhearted, pessimistic temper and tone of voice,
conveying a constant sense of failure and of disappointment that
underlies all the more specific emotions and reflections of individual

Frequently, Larkin is just sad, and one is amazed then at the wide
range of things and events, from money ('Money': 'I listen to money
singing It is intensely sad.' (198)), to a delayed plane
('Autobiography at an Air-Station', where the person obviously had
hoped to leave before sunset, but cannot, because his machine is
several hours delayed. When he says: 'I set So much on this
Assumption. Now it's failed' (78), this response would appear a little
oversensitive, did not the title indicate that something more is being
dealt with here than just an afternoon at the airport), that can
depress him.

Larkin can be violently energetic as well, and so deep is his
embitterment at times that he believes himself to be maliciously
tricked out of something he had originally been entitled to - although
he is very vague about who or what it was that cheated him, or the
nature of his initial hopes. An illustrative case in point is the
title of his second substantial volume of verse, ...

... middle of paper ... no sense of human contact and interaction, or
want of it.

For Larkin, a sense of loss seems to be inevitable as life goes on,
and his fatalistic - and somewhat bewildering - contention is that the
course of one's life is essentially independent of one's actions.
However, Larkin does not explicitly point the finger at one person,
group or institution, although he comments on parents, society and
love as being flawed in other poems. Larkin's message of his poetry,
coupled with the recurring theme of death, is that things just happen
to be the way they are, without anyone particularly wanting them to be
so - a conclusion that furthermore is very much in line with Larkin's
fatalistic frame of mind.


1 Larkin history found on (Philip Larkin Society)

2 Larkin, Philip. Collected Poems. London: The Marvell Press, 1988.

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