January 30, 2012

This Be the Verse by Philip Larkin- Analysis

This Be the Verse by Philip Larkin- Analysis

Philip Larkin's father was a self-made man, who managed to rise to the position of Coventry City Treasurer. His father had a great love for literature, and introduced Philip to T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and D.H. Lawrence. It is also said that his father had an interest in Nazism, and he reportedly attended two Nuremburg rallies in the mid-30s. Philip was educated at home by his mother and sister (who was 10 years older than him) until he was eight years old. It was rare for anyone to come to the family home, and Philip did not get out much, so he developed a stammer. He was enrolled at Coventry's King Henry VIII Junior School where he overcame his stammer, and made long-lasting friendships. His family was not the most outwardly loving, but they did encourage his passion for jazz music. Philip failed the medical exam for the military because of his poor eyesight, which was a blessing for him because it allowed him to study for the usual three years at Oxford University (1940-43); WWII began in 1939 when Larkin was seventeen, and many of Larkin's contemporaries were recruited to fight in the war.

This Be The Verse is reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem, which was engraved on R. L. S.'s tombstone as his epitaph; Larkin's verse is meant to warn future generations against procreating.
"Fuck you up" is very untypical of formal poetry; colloquial language was largely looked at as informal, and had no place in high-literature. Larkin is famous for his use of everyday language; he wanted the general public to be able to relate to his writing, so he took on an "average Joe" voice in his writing.

Larkin addresses the plight of everyday man; kids inherit their parent's bad behaviors, and no matter how hard they try to avoid it, they will become just like their parents. Parent's pass on their faults and the faults of their parents; it is a never-ending cycle. It is a legacy of defects. For example: children born to alcoholics are at an extremely high-risk of someday becoming alcoholics themselves. Children tend to emulate their parents, which mean that they pick up on their bad habits and flaws without consciously realizing it.

Larkin offers an escape for blame; parents can't help that they have inherited their parent's drama; it is tradition to wreck your children. "Old-style hats and coats" alludes to those of previous generations, such as parents or grandparents. "Soppy" means overly sentimental and "stern" means strict; so the previous generation was overly protective, which is inevitably passed on to their children. "Half at one another's throats" means that they were figuratively fighting or arguing with one another (with words not fists).

Misery is a part of life and there is no escaping it. "Hands on" means passes on/down through generations. A "coastal shelf" is underwater land off of a coast. With each passing generation the misery grows deeper and pretty soon it will consume us all. The last two lines serve as the final warning: end the misery and don't have kids. "Get out as early as you can" is somewhat ambiguous, because it can have several meanings: kill yourself, run away, move far away from your parents, etc. He wants people to not continue the cycle, but there is a major flaw in his argument: not having children equals death to humanity.


Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. 2565-2573.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Philip Larkin', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 August 2011, 15:36 UTC,
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Philip_Larkin&oldid=445350053 [accessed 22 August 2011]


  1. "...there is a major flaw in his argument." It's not an argument. Poetry rarely is. This is an outburst, a searing flash of bitterness. It's not meant to be analyzed, it's meant to be felt. This is one of my favorite poems, and one reason is that the second word makes it unsuitable for classroom use, forever out of the reach of schoolmasters. It says to them, "This is poetry, keep your hands off."

    1. that sounds fake but okay

  2. lol we're studying it at school

  3. It made me smile in recognition.
    I find it a great poem of a misanthropist with a mutual kind of humor.
    Just read it today because my daughter had to wright an essay on this subject for her study at the Amsterdam University.

  4. I've always thought this poem was a commentary on the hypocrisy of the Victorian upper class who preached piety but in reality were as bad if not worse than the 'commoners' they looked down on. Not much has changed today, has it?

  5. I've always thought this poem was about the hypocrisy of the Victorian upper/ middle classes regarding sexual matters to Larkin's, and many other, parents. Their ethic being they could, behind closed doors, act exactly the opposite with impunity because of their perceived social standing compared to us commoners. Not much has changed since Larkin's day - has it?


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