Saturday, August 9, 2008


Today, August 9, is the birthday of English poet Philip Larkin. Larkin is one of those cursed poets who is as well known for his personal life as for his work. He published only 5 books of poetry during his lifetime, never married, had numerous affairs with married women, and famously rejected official accolades including an appointment as English poet laureate. In recent years he has been the victim of an ill-considered posthumous book of letters and several humorless biographies which have mercilessly exposed his fondness for pornography, a streak of racism, his increasing shift to the political right wing, and his habitual outpourings of rage. But to me, and to many other readers, his poetry remains powerful, forthright, deeply personal and wonderfully entertaining. Larkin had a unique gift for finding significance in the most quotidian objects and events and for making the trivial poetic. As a case in point, I offer his poem "Money."


Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.'

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don't keep it upstairs.
By now they've a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

- In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can't put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won't in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long French windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

1 comment:

patti fundament said...

What a great poem that is. He wrote some wonderful stuff about music, too, it's nice to think of him up late in Hull playing records & drinking bad port, biking to the library job the next morning. I love his ALL WHAT JAZZ book of picky reviews.