October 18, 2017

Philip Larkin: Unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry, England in 1922. He is best known for his clipped, spare poems that explored post-war England. Though he was a very popular English poet, he didn't work very hard at self-promotion.

His father introduced him to the writing of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, and he was sure he would become a novelist. By By the time he enrolled at Oxford in 1940, he had written five full-length novels. He destroyed them but he did complete two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947) and his first collection of poetry, The North Ship (1945).

He tried to write another novel, but couldn't finish it, and so he said, "I didn't choose poetry; poetry chose me."

Philip Larkin spent more than 30 years as a university librarian, never married and lived alone. My first impression of him was a small bio in an anthology we used in school. He sounded like quite  the glum, curmudgeon.

He once said: "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? Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth."

He didn't try hard to promote his work. He never traveled to America. He never gave readings. H was nominated for Poet Laureate but declined the position when it was offered. Still, he is often described as England's best-loved poet.

Sample poems



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