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Dockery And Son

Philip Larkin

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Dockery and Son Analysis
Added by: Gary Colley
In the poem Dockery and Son Philip Larkin steps back and takes a look at his life, and his achievements, mainly running along the theme of his obvious lack of offspring. Throughout this poem Larkin presents the contrast of this Man Dockery and the obvious presence of his son against Larkin’s lack thereof. Throughout the poem he also attempts to move in other directions, as if to give the reader the impression that this is not something that he wishes to discuss in detail.

Larkin also explores in this poem the concept behind pre-programmed idealism of how one’s life should be lived, he presents Dockery, a man who has supposedly taken stock of his life and based it against the common goals set out by modern society, to study, get a job, find a partner and have a child, to pass on one’s legacy to this child, and die once having fulfilled this. Larkin presents himself though as one that apparently decided against this; though states this with a subtle element of self-doubt and with an obvious air of emptiness in regard to his own life. Larkin presents the idea that Dockery has succeeded, where as he himself has failed, and took too long to realise this.

In the first stanza the main theme is introduced, Larkin learns that Dockery has bore a child. From this Larkin changes the subject to something he feels more light-hearted, something distracting, of how he used to stand at the same desk attempting to explain his drunken rampages of the night before during the morning after. The poem continues into the second stanza, here Larkin continues the idea of escaping this new reality, but displays that his mind cannot ignore this fact, when he mentions he is ‘ignored’, as he has no one to care for him, no wife and no children, whereas Dockery obviously does. Further into the second stanza Larkin stops shying away from this affair and once again approaches it, with a sudden element of surprise “But Dockery, good Lord”, as the realisation begins to hit him as he thinks in more detail.

Towards the end of the second and into the third stanza Larkin explores the idea more prominently, thinking of his memories of Dockery, and thinking of how early he must have begun these procedures to have a son already studying at the university he attended. Towards the middle of the third stanza Larkin almost begins to build upon these facts and make overviews of his life, but instead takes the reader away once again. However this parting from the theme once again contains its subtle links, as Larkin mentions the “Joining and parting lines”, which I believe to be a metaphor to how life can seem so detached from its past, but every so often differing factors will once again meet, sometimes by chance and sometimes by careful planning, as the rails are an image of construction by man, this also being a possible link back to the idea of Dockery planning the future of his life’s construction. The awful Pie in this stanza is something I believe to further represent the areas of his life that are unsatisfactory, the pie representing the lack of quality in his life, that perhaps children could have brought unto him.

Moving into the forth stanza is a large emotional leap in this poem, as the full-force of realisation, of regret and possibly of disappointment begins to settle heavily upon Larkin’s shoulders. Larkin takes an account of his life to date; “no son, no wife, / No house or land” and begins the cycle of regret “the shock / Of finding out how much had gone of life”. Larkin here suggests that he almost feels that despite his arguments towards what he has done, the arguments that he has chosen his fate, how popular culture did not affect his decisions, he still feels a certain emptiness.

Moving through with the forth into the fifth stanza, Larkin begins to focus on why Dockery has achieved this feat, and compares to himself, changing the directions of the patterns of his though, “he must have taken stock / Of what he wanted, and been capable / Of… No”. This self-contradiction and obvious element of confusion displays vividly the element of ambiguity in Larkin’s mind, he is unsure what to think, whether, metaphorically speaking to listen to his heart or his mind. Into the fifth he begins, for his own ego and feelings of self-worth, he begins to undermine Dockery’s ambitions and question their presence and necessity, “Why did he think adding meant to increase? / To me it was dilution.” He then begins to blatantly attack these plans that people make, based upon what came before them, and what they are told to do and believe and gives us, the readers, the image of these ideals, once in place to be inescapable, as the exits are “Warp tight-shut” and all other imaginative creations are removed leaving the ideals as “all we’ve got”.

Into the sixth stanza Larkin begins to once again look at the results of the life he has followed, and compares life’s course to that of a sand storm, fast flowing, uncontrolled and sometimes destructive. “For Dockery a son, for me nothing” another element of failure is introduced here, as the word ‘nothing’ obviously expresses his sense of lack of achievement, he has disappointed himself. Larkin at the end of this poem reaches the end of the tether of his self-despair, stating simply that life is there to make use of, but is often not to it’s full potential, providing his own life as an example of waste, a terribly depressing image, but one that Larkin has expressed to be one he holds dear to himself. Larkin finishes with a chilling image of what could only come from a man feeling unfulfilled, “And age, and then the only end of age.” Larkin here of course referring to death, here he is displaying the only course remaining for his future. He has realised that in his youth he did not seize the opportunity before him, that this opportunity through his age is no-longer available and has realised, though not come to terms with the idea that all that is left is to rot and die.
Added by: crackleanddrag
Larkin wrote in a letter to Monica Jones that he would be 'plagued by that poem all my life'. It seems he meant the sentiments contained therein, rather than the poem technically. Age 45 when he wrote the letter, he remarked how he didn't feel any different from how he felt in his twenties or his thirties, just numb after a shock, as if he had been 'washed up on a rock' by life.

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