‘Aubade’ by Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin was honored today with a memorial stone in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. He died thirty-one years ago today. Larkin’s memorial sits between those of Anthony Trollope and Ted Hughes. Chaucer’s tomb sits nearby. Edward Lear’s memorial stone is immediately above Larkin’s.

I wrote the following essay in June:

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“I don’t know that I ever expected much of life,” Philip Larkin wrote to his lifelong friend Kingsley Amis in October 1979, “but it terrifies me to think it’s nearly over.” He had another six years of life left, but the emptiness of the end—”the total emptiness for ever,/The sure extinction that we travel to”—was much on his mind.

The poem from which those lines originate, “Aubade,” was published in 1977 in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Larkin had started it in 1974, worked at it that year, and then left it until 1977, when he finished it. “Death is the most important thing about life,” he wrote his companion, Monica Jones, when they were both still young.
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‘Like something almost being said’

To a friend, Philip Larkin wrote about his latest volume of poems, High Windows, “The new printing of HW came out, with 3 mistakes corrected but a new one introduced: there is talk of another—printing, not mistake.” (The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin, ed. by Archie Burnett, 2012)

High Windows contains many of Larkin’s most loved poems: “To the Sea,” “The Trees,” “Forget What Did,” “High Windows,” “This Be The Verse,” “Annus Mirabilis,” “Going, Going.” They are his most loved even though they are—or because they are—his bleakest. “This Be The Verse” opens with an attempt to shock: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to, but they do … .”
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‘The sure extinction that we travel to’

“I don’t know that I ever expected much of life,” Philip Larkin wrote to his lifelong friend Kingsley Amis in October 1979, “but it terrifies me to think it’s nearly over.” He had another six years of life left, but the emptiness of the end—”the total emptiness for ever,/The sure extinction that we travel to”—was much on his mind.

The poem from which those lines originate, “Aubade,” was published in 1977 in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Larkin had started it in 1974, worked at it that year, and then left it until 1977, when he finished it. “Death is the most important thing about life,” he wrote his companion, Monica Jones, when they were both still young.

By 1977, he had not been writing much poetry and he had taken to describing his existence in letters to friends as a sort of death-in-life:
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‘Poetry of Departures’

Philip Larkin (August 9, 1922–December 2, 1985), was a librarian at the University of Hull in the north of England. He was also a major poet; almost thirty years after his death, he is consistently ranked among the top ten post-war English writers. Born in Coventry, he studied at Oxford University and became best friends with Kingsley Amis; he contributed to and helped edit Amis’ first novel, “Lucky Jim,” which launched Amis on his own legendary career in literature.

He accepted the position at Hull, far away from the London literary scene, in 1955 and never left. He rarely saw London or Oxford, even more rarely spent time abroad, never set foot in Canada or America. In 1964, a television program profiled Larkin, who by then had published two novels and three volumes of poetry and was being ranked among the best writers of his generation. Asked about his affiliation with Hull, he replied, “I never thought about Hull until I was here. Having got here, it suits me in many ways. It is a little on the edge of things, I think even its natives would say that. I rather like being on the edge of things. One doesn’t really go anywhere by design, you know, you put in for jobs and move about, you know, I’ve lived in other places.”
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