A summary of a short Larkin poem
‘Home is so Sad’ was completed on New Year’s Eve 1958, while Philip Larkin was staying at his mother’s house in Loughborough during the Christmas holidays. Larkin was often inspired to write some of his most moving poems about home while visiting his mother, and this is one of his clearest poems written on this theme. It appeared in The Whitsun Weddings in 1964. You can read ‘Home is so Sad’ here; below is our analysis of this lovely little poem.
‘Home is so Sad’ is striking for its contrasting use of very plain, simple, almost childlike statements with more complex and consciously ‘poetic’ language. The two short statements which bookend the poem – ‘Home is so sad’ and ‘That vase’ – are very concise sentences (indeed, the latter isn’t really a ‘sentence’ at all, in lacking a main verb), verging on the overly obvious. They could come from the mouth of a child: ‘That vase’ is an entirely useless marker for us, the reader, who cannot see the vase being so unhelpfully not-described to us by the speaker. But as a counterpoint to this plain vagueness (if that doesn’t sound too much of an oxymoron) we have the more elevated language: ‘bereft’, ‘it withers so’ (the syntax hardly childlike here), and the play on that old proverb, ‘Home is where the heart is’, in reference to the home ‘Having no heart’. The poem moves between this almost naively childlike voice and the more thoughtful, older, ‘poetic’ voice in the middle of the poem.
In summary, of course, ‘Home is so Sad’ explores the notion of ‘home’ when that home is left empty, when the ‘heart’ is removed from it, when it has lost what even makes it a ‘home’ (rather than mere bricks and mortar). The unspoken question seems to be: how can a home be a home when there’s no one around to make it so? But of course the answer, partly, is that the home retains sad memories of the people who once occupied it: it carries a reminder of its occupants, their pictures, the music they played on the piano, their taste in ornaments (‘That vase’). The caesura, or mid-line pause, created by the full stop after ‘piano stool’ in that last line gives us pause, before the dying fall, or anti-climax, of those final two words. The rhyme scheme of the poem, too, hints at change and restoration which does not – perhaps cannot – happen: ababa, with the rhymes seeming to move on and develop only to fall back on previous rhymes, with the fifth line echoing the rhyme of the first, as if nothing has changed, despite the wish that it would and could. The poem itself becomes less certain in the second stanza, with the solid rhyme of left-bereft-theft giving way to the uneasy half-rhymes of as-was-vase, where none of these three words fully rhymes with the others.
‘Home is so Sad’ is one of Philip Larkin’s shortest great poems, and it remains popular with readers. A few words of analysis may be all that are required to tease out its effects; perhaps more remains to be said. What do you think makes this such a moving and effective short poem?
Image: Edwardian interior with fireplace and piano, via James Morley on Flickr.