Great Poets In Their Own Words: Access All Areas 1955-1982 (2014)
Part I (Larkin)
A Study Of Reading Habits
When getting my nose in a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could still keep cool,
And deal out the old right hook
To dirty dogs twice my size.
Later, with inch-thick specs,
Evil was just my lark:
Me and my cloak and fangs
Had ripping times in the dark.
The women I clubbed with sex!
I broke them up like meringues.
Don't read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who's yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.
Philip Larkin was famously controlled and controlling of his public persona, however, he did agree to be interviewed by Sir John Betjeman in a documentary for the BBC Arts flagship programme Monitor in 1964. In the film he talks about his life, his poetry and the city of Hull where he lived and worked as university librarian. The film features interesting footage of the city in the 1960s, as well as visual interpretations of his poetry.
Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
And traffic all night north; swerving through fields
Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,
And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields
Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude
Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,
And the widening river’s slow presence,
The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud,
Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,
And residents from raw estates, brought down
The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,
Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires –
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers –
A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling
Where only salesmen and relations come
Within a terminate and fishy-smelling
Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,
Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives;
And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges
Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges,
Isolate villages, where removed lives
Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.
Philip Larkin: [On being a librarian] It alters you to think about something other than yourself… That is something positively good for you, even as a poet. & Secondly, of course... releases you from that awful pressure that I imagine you must feel sometimes – of just having to write something to carry on living.
I read, you know, that I am “a miserable sort of fellow writing a kind of welfare-state subpoetry; doing it well, perhaps, but it’s really not what poetry is”. I agree with the kind of criticism… What one writes is based so much on what kind of person he is, what kind of environment one’s had, & has now… One doesn’t really choose the kind of poetry one writes – one writes the kind of poetry one has to write, & can write.
Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work:
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on,
Blurred playground noises
Beyond black-stockinged nurses -
Not a bad place to be.
Yet it doesn't suit me.
Being one of the men
You meet of an afternoon:
Palsied old step-takers,
Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters,
Still vague from accidents,
And characters in long coats
Deep in the litter-baskets -
All dodging the toad work
By being stupid or weak.
Think of being them!
Hearing the hours chime,
Watching the bread delivered,
The sun by clouds covered,
The children going home;
Think of being them,
Turning over their failures
By some bed of lobelias,
Nowhere to go but indoors,
Nor friends but empty chairs -
No, give me my in-tray,
My loaf-haired secretary,
What else can I answer,
When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.
Philip Larkin: I found it [the cemetery] when I came here one wet Sunday afternoon in December, when it isn’t at all romantic. It gets me into perspective, it gets my worries into perspective, & everything I write, I think, has the consciousness of approaching death in the background.
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone:
However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards
However we follow the printed directions of sex
However the family is photographed under the flag-staff -
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone.
Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs:
Despite the artful tensions of the calendar,
The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites,
The costly aversion of the eyes away from death -
Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs.