Philip Larkin is considered one of England’s greatest post war poets. But he was also famous for his no-nonsense personality. He disliked fame and was once described by Lisa Jardine as a “casual, habitual racist, and an easy misogynist”. He was most definitely a curmudgeon, but he remains popular more than 25 years after his death. In 2003 a Poetry Book Society survey ranked him as Britain’s best-loved poet of the previous 50 years. I have a personal connection to Larkin he was the librarian at the University of Hull, my alma mater. I can still remember him telling me off for handing in Peasant Uprisings in 19th Century Bavaria three days late. Anyway, here is a selection of quotes from his poems, letters and other sources:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)—
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
I have no enemies. But my friends don’t like me.
I can’t understand these chaps who go round American universities explaining how they write poems: It’s like going round explaining how you sleep with your wife.
In life, as in art, talking vitiates doing.
Sex means nothing–just the moment of ecstasy, that flares and dies in minutes.
There is bad in all good authors: what a pity the converse isn’t true!”
I wouldn’t mind seeingChinaif I could come back the same day.
Sex is designed for people who like overcoming obstacles.
I came to the conclusion that an enormous amount of research was needed to form an opinion on anything, & therefore I abandoned politics altogether as a topic of conversation.
Mother’s electric blanket broke, & I have ‘mended’ it, so she may be practising suttee involuntarily before long.
I am always trying to ‘preserve’ things by getting other people to read what I have written, and feel what I felt
Work is a kind of vacuum, an emptiness, where I just switch off everything except the scant intelligence necessary to keep me going. God, the people are awful – great carved monstrosities from the sponge-stone of secondratedness. Hideous.
Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s, and everybody else can fuck off.
I have a sense of melancholy isolation, life rapidly vanishing, all the usual things. It’s very strange how often strong feelings don’t seem to carry any message of action
I had a moral tutor, but never saw him (the only words of his I remember are ‘The three pleasures of life -drinking, smoking, and masturbation’)”
How little our careers express what lies in us, and yet how much time they take up. It’s sad, really.
Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
Depression hangs over me as if I wereIceland.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
One of the quainter quirks of life is that we shall never know who dies on the same day as we do ourselves.
You can’t put off being young until you retire.
I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any-after all, most people are unhappy, don’t you think?