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This Be The Verse

Philip Larkin

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cultural inference
Added by: Andrew
I would imagine that this is a brief critique of the flaws of cultural inheritance.
The flaws of a culture can be passed down either through inheritance ligns (the literal meaning of the poem) or through societies as a whole.
This can be seen as criticising authority and social respect. Social/parental respect is a value constructed by the authoritive parties in order to protect themselves. In terms of this poem, this undue respect prevents the infant from following their own rational path and instead inherits "fucked up" values from their parents.
The second social criticism that could be interpreted from this poem is one regarding ritual/celebrated practice. In this literal sense, this is the parents persuading the infant to do the same activity for the flawed reason that "we have always done it". This practice is then passed down, although the original cause for the practice may well have been lost long before. An example my be a particular attitude to money (or to sex or to minorities) that was originally born out of a perceived good reason, and has been continued through the repitition of family.
This criticism is also valid when levelled at society. It is possibly questioning the neccesity of ritual practice in our society, when the original rational reason for doing it has been lost. This could be especially levelled at age old institutions that have so much respect for their history and authority, that they will never change their ritual practices. One example is the church, which although originally founded, was to guide man along a good path, is now so obsessed with ritual that the incorrect choice of incense is more sinful than the hushed politics of the vatican. It is possibly this lack of freedom that is the cause of the continuing misery described in the poem.
This criticism can be directed at almost any area of social structure, although this may be overestimating the reach of the poem.
inference schminference
Added by: paul mckenzie
Andrew - get a life! The sentiments expressed by Larkin - a unwed man who by his own account enjoyed a drink - are precisely those echoed by a thousand resident bachelors in a thousand British (and no doubt worldwide) pubs in the last half of the last century, to my knowledge, and probably since time began.

Of course he's talking about parental hang-ups and social constriction but in a witty and matter of fact way. It would appear that Larkin went to great lengths to express himself, in his poetry, with directness.

I could help but smile at the irony in the contrast between Larkin's bluntness and your verbose critique.

May I be as bold to sggest that the kind of 'urban anthropology' in which you engage will, in time, take this man's work (and that of his ilk) and strip it of its essence so that a fashionable agenda can be hung about it.
Added by: gopher_gurl
ok, this guy needs to get his head out of his ass. he's the most cynical guy i've ever heard of. just because he got shit on doesn't mean all of us did. i personally am quite happy with how my parents raised me and i think that if they had bad childhoods, they made mine better because of it. i think that philip larkin is way off base with this poem.
Gopher Gurl - You what?
Added by: Anya
OK Gopher gurl. Maybe you've never read a poem before.....Here's a pointer: when you read a poem, you can take it for granted that the author of the poem is intending to convey a personal viewpoint or opinion or experience, and that he's thought long and hard about what he wants to express and how he's going to go about it. (I'd like to add at this point that there's an awful lot more to reading and enjoying what you read but maybe, for your benefit, we should take this slow). I'm sure your parents are lovely people and your childhood was nothing short of idyllic but here's where you should start applying my simple pointer, thus: your experience of life is not the authentic one simply because you yourself have lived it; accept that you did not write this poem and that the author did not intend to describe your life; maybe (brace yourself now) other people have had an experience of growing into adulthood which differs from your own experience; (here comes the science the part) maybe this poem is not about your life, perhaps Larkin is not attempting to speak for us all on the inevitable child/parent relationship,(this is doing my head in now, you've forced me to outline the patently obvious); perhaps his intention was to strike a chord, or more likely to have others understand his experience. Write your own poem if you disagree with what you read; don't say 'nah, I don't like it' therefore it's wrong' and slope off....
Nice one Anya!
Added by: paul mckenzie
I dooooo love a bit of well vented spleen - bravo!

Just to say...
Added by: Helen
I think this poem is great, I also love Larkin. However, for those of you that can't take it here's something for you:

This Be The Worst
By Adrian Mitchell
(after hearing that some sweet innocent
thought that Philip Larkin had written "they tuck you up, your Mum and Dad")

They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad
They read you Peter Rabbit, too.
They give you all the treats they had
And add some extra, just for you.

They were tucked up when they were small,
(Pink perfume, blue tobacco-smoke),
By those whose kiss healed any fall,
Whose laughter doubled any joke.

Man hands on happiness to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
So love your parents all you can
And have some cheerful kids yourself.

Mitchell's poem is good too, but please for poetry's sake do not take every word written here literally, enjoy it for what it means to you. Thanks
They certainly fucked me up
Added by: Andrew Mayers
Yes, sorry Andrew, but Paul’s point is spot on.
I think that such readings are the result of the presently fashionable embarrassment with the liberal-humanist approach. Okay, perhaps everything is, ultimately, just a text; but isn’t it more worthwhile to respond to what is visceral than it is to play ‘hunt the ideology’? Perhaps Larkin’s poetry is caught in the middle of ‘The School of Charm and Whimsy’ and the post-structuralist concept jugglers bruiting their wares of fashionable nihilism.
When I read and study a poem with a class, I’m not really bothered about whether they can identify imagery or discover something significant to say about the representation of women. I just want them to realise that they are not alone. This is an effect similar to the one gopher gurl must get watching ‘The Waltons’.
And then the cavalry arrived...
Added by: paul mckenzie

Well said (particularly as you share my view!).

I wonder if, in middle age, Jim-Bob and his siblings might not agree with Mr. Larkin's sentiments. Now there's curly one to chuck out at your class. They'd have a field day with that.

P.S. No doubt the sawmill has long since closed and that toothy chap has probably stopped pumping gas at the quaint little grocery store due to the aggressive pricing strategies of the multinationals. What price change.

Added by: Chelsea
The title of this poem comes FROM Robert Louis Stevenson's "Requiem." By using the colloquial, thus it's idiomatic, the poem is not meant to be taken literally. "This be the verse" presents the quintessential Larkin. Like Stevenson, Larkin seems to be writing his own epitaph . This poem was included in Larkin's final volume of poetry, High Windows. It's his last statement.
what a fuck up
Added by: Tom P
I truly don't want to sound like one of those obsessive over-analysers, but would be interested to hear what people think about the symmetry in this poem between the inheritance of both social and biological misery. I am convinced that 'they fuck you up your mum and dad, THEY MAY NOT MEAN TO BUT THEY DO' is using the word fuck to refer to unwanted pregnancy, as in 'they fuck you up'/they conceive you.

And the handing on of misery from generation to gneration seems to tie in well with his sporadic berating of his own physical apperance elsewhere in his poetry (I cannot think of any at present, but am certain of its presence).

It also seems curious to me that, if this is some sort of epitaph, according to his lover at the time of his death, his favourite poem was 'When You Are Old' by Yeats, which I would imagine is on this site.

All things considered, If I were a bald librarian from Hull, I might not be too keen on the brave new world that hath such people in't.

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