A reading of a Larkin poem
‘Self’s the Man’ was completed in November 1958, and was published in Philip Larkin’s third major poetry collection, The Whitsun Weddings, in 1964. In some ways it might be regarded as the lighter precursor to a more elusive later poem, ‘Sympathy in White Major’, which we’ve analysed here. But the present post constitutes some notes towards an analysis of ‘Self’s the Man’, which you can read here.
In summary, ‘Self’s the Man’ contrasts Larkin’s bachelorhood with the life of a married colleague, named Arnold, who is widely viewed as less selfish than the unmarried Larkin. Larkin begins by agreeing with this unspecified group of people who view Arnold as the less selfish one. Through marrying, Arnold has committed himself to a life devoted to other people, namely his wife and children. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a classic poem about advertising
‘Essential Beauty’ (1962) is one of several poems Philip Larkin wrote about the gulf between advertising and the real world. Like another poem he wrote in 1962, ‘Sunny Prestatyn’, ‘Essential Beauty’ examines the promises that billboard advertisements make to us and how starkly the reality of people’s lives differs from such aspirational messages. You can read ‘Essential Beauty’ here.
Before we proceed to an analysis of this poem, a quick summary. ‘Essential Beauty’ is divided into two stanzas. The first offers a series of images from contemporary posters advertising a range of products: Oxo (‘that small cube’), Ovaltine (‘cups at bedtime’), and so on. Many of these were genuine adverts, or Larkin’s distilled summary of their typical contents. These advertisements offer their products as the key to attaining the perfect life: a well-balanced family, a life of ‘smiles’, ‘how life should be’. The second stanza then contrasts these billboard advertisements with the world – the actual world – these posters hide from our view. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a classic Larkin poem
‘Ambulances’ was completed in January 1961 and published in Philip Larkin’s third major collection, The Whitsun Weddings (1964). You can read ‘Ambulances’ here; this post offers some notes towards an analysis of Larkin’s poem.
‘Ambulances’, in summary, is a poem about death. The poem describes what happens when somebody critically ill is taken away to hospital in an ambulance. Passers-by witness the ambulance as they are going about their ordinary lives, catching a glimpse of the person’s white face (denoting sickness) as they (the gender of the person is not specified) are placed in the ambulance on a stretcher. Witnessing this scene prompts these observers to muse upon their own mortality, because they sense that the person who has just been carried away in the ambulance – and many ‘poor souls’ carried away in ambulances – never come out of hospital alive. Read the rest of this entry