I’ve always been slightly wary of Philip Larkin. He’s recently been voted the UK’s best-loved poet, and John Betjeman called him ‘tenderly observant’, but he’s always made me feel a bit squeamish: the poems I’ve read of his are either sneering in tone, or else unremittingly depressing.
But, well, he’s Philip Larkin, and I enjoyed The Whitsun Weddings. I was surprised by the opening poem, ‘Here’, which presented a much broader and more beautiful picture than I was expecting from Larkin, who everyone remembers, of course, for ‘Toads’ and ‘This be the verse’ – diverting when you’re a disaffected teenager, no longer satisfying a few years later – to my mind, anyway.
Although much of The Whitsun Weddings I did find quite depressing, and Larkin still seems quite old-fashioned to me, I did catch a glimpse of the tenderness and the poignancy that people write about. My favourites were ‘Here’, ‘Love Songs in Age’, ‘Broadcast’, ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ and ‘Days’. Here’s ‘Home is so Sad’:
Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.