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At Grass

Philip Larkin

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At grass
Added by: Emma
the poem is about the relationship between mankind and nature. Philip Larkin explores these throughout the poem. A negative beginning that builds to a climax then drops to a subsequent ending.
Added by: Andy
The poet questions the horses attitude towards old age, at first looking back at the past, and how it must be hard for them, moving from crowds and work, to retirement, then noticing that the horses are content with their new lives. The poet becomes jealous that it is not possible for humans to lose their old identities, but is happy that the horses can.
Added by: Kwesi Newman
The title of this poem is an extract from the idiomatic phrase; “to put at grass” which means retirement. So from this it is apparent that this poem is a metaphor for old age. The first sentence; -“the eye can hardly pick them out” has denotations of rheumatism and blindness - helps us to picture the state of the animals and compliments the title as well as the photograph. It also has denotations of a forgotten memory which could explain why the horses feel “distressed” and abandoned because they are “anonymous”. These feelings personify them and it’s through this that the reader is able to relate this piece to the nature of human retirement.

The next two paragraphs are a retrospect into the ‘hey days’ of these race horses; “fifteen years ago”. In line 11, the colloquial verb “artificed”, along with the noun “inlay”, paint a poignant imagery of them being successful race horses who frequently won their owners “cups” and fans “stakes”. One could almost visualize the frolic atmosphere after their victories via the adjective “unhushed”. The metaphoric phrase “classic Junes” makes the reader envisage these horses winning an inordinate amount of races during the racing season in past summers. This effect on the reader is further enhanced by the hyphen, and combined with the alliteration of ‘s’ as in; “silks”, “start” and “sky” almost makes them seem not prone to old age . Larkin informs us that they won the appeal of many people; “squadrons of empty cars…” In line 18, the composer tells us that their fame was so great it even supplanted lots of articles to be published in the “press”.

The sarcastic and rhetoric question in line 19 could be an emphasis on the fact that the nature of old age for horses might not be as complicated compared to that of humans - if these animals can put their past aside and deal with their present situations, why can’t we as humans do the same? The repetition of “summer” reiterates the passing of time and denotes that like every living thing, these horses would also age and pass away one day- hence the theme of the piece. Moreover the short phrase; “dusk brims shadows” compliments this denotation as it gives an imagery of their lives coming to a climax. The caesura in the 25th line, juxtaposes their formerly “almanacked” lives to their presently insipid lives which is described in the last paragraph. In the last paragraph, it’s just the cronies of the retired horses; “only the groom and groom’s boy” which come to visit them. Through this Larkin teaches us a significant ethic- it’s important to keep ones old friends.

The composer develops a third person persona throughout the poem to create an omnipresent effect so his audience can really believe this anecdote. The tone of the first verse changes from a depressed mood to an exuberant one in the second and third stanzas and then becomes more optimistic in the final two verses. There are six verses in this poem and six lines in each of them. The number six is symbolic of the fact that humans are short of seven and seven represents perfection, maybe in relation to humans, this poem is to reiterate that no matter how famous or wealthy people become, they are still not perfect and would remain mortal.
Added by: Richard Forsyth
I love this poem ~ the resonant nostalgia of those (imagined?) hot days in June and the excitement building up to the race (a classic? the Epsom Derby?) and then the human superstructure & all the paraphernalia of betting & statistics pushed into the background (fading marks in almanacs for anoraks) and the horses, having slipped their names, just being what they really are.

But "main" in the first verse should surely be spelt "mane". Can this be edited?

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