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A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s ‘Essential Beauty’

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

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A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s ‘Ambulances’

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

A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s ‘Going, Going’

A reading of one of Larkin’s most famous poems

We’ve analysed a fair few Philip Larkin poems over the last year or so, and had largely said everything we had to say about his work. But we’ve been inspired to write about ‘Going, Going’ because of popular demand, of a kind. Another of our posts, an analysis of another Larkin poem titled simply ‘Going’, has been receiving a great deal of traffic, but people have reached it by searching for an analysis of ‘Going, Going’. Which is a completely different poem. Since ‘Going, Going’ is fine late Larkin, we thought we’d offer some thoughts on this poem, which you can read here.

‘Going, Going’: the title immediately summons the third, unspoken word in the usual auctioneer’s phrase: ‘Going, going, gone.’ Britain is not quite gone altogether, but it is going, and it is being auctioned off, sold to the highest bidder. This, in a sentence, is the ‘gist’ or meaning of Larkin’s poem. But as ever with Larkin, the way he explores and puts across this idea is a masterclass in verse-making. Read the rest of this entry