From your study of Larkin to date, choose and comment on up to 4 poems where you have found this distinctive style at work. Larkin’s style of writing, like most poets, was heavily influenced by the environment and society that surrounded him. It has been suggested by many that Larkin is a bleak, though suitable, social commentator for this era, as Eric Homberger suggests, he is “the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket. ” This role owes a large amount to his technique and approach to poetry.
His sceptical, perceptive and removed outlook is reflected into poems such as ‘Mr. Bleaney’, ‘MCMXIV’ and ‘Essential Beauty’, brilliantly capturing the ironically familiar scenes of post-War Britain. ‘Days’, however, perhaps provides an exception to Larkin’s unique observational style, revealing a more personal, philosophical approach. ‘Mr. Bleaney’ is a good illustration of Larkin’s distinctive style. The poem begins with a description of the character’s room and his situation, such as, ‘Flowered curtains, thin and frayed, Fall to within five inches of the sill’.
This extract highlights the observational aspect of Larkin’s poetry. By using each word to full effect, Larkin’s image is stretched beyond the minimalist language. From that first minor depiction the reader can already tell the atmosphere and state of the room. This style of description is also evident in ‘MCMXIV’, for example ‘the dust behind limousines’, and ‘under wheat’s restless silence’. These both leave distinctive images which details can be filled in by the reader, and therefore building a highly comprehensive scene with very few words.
The subjects Larkin chooses to comment on adds to this effect, and also reveals Larkin’s conscientious eye for social detail, another distinctive element of his writing style. By commenting on social images from this period, such as ‘saucer-souvenir’ in ‘Mr. Bleaney’ it adds familiarity to the scene, and also a certain amount of irony; although Mr. Bleaney’s room is not desirable, the reader scarily recognises the details- perhaps some as their own. It also highlights, perhaps, the empty, mass-produced aspect of commercialism that had began to develop in the 1950’s.
Larkin took this concept further in ‘Essential Beauty’ by contrasting familiar ‘ideal’ images from advertisements and contrasting them with ‘real’ scenes. For example, the billboards ‘Screen graves with custard’ and ‘High above the gutter, A silver knife sinks into golden butter. ‘ This poem shows Larkin’s social and ironic commentary sending a powerful, raw message, though remaining quite unemotional. As C. B Cox suggests ‘”his mood is never one of despair, though there is a deep yearning for an escape from futility. ” This illustrates how Larkin’s distinctive style is highly perceptive, though it also quite objective and detached.
In ‘MCMXIV’ there is no evidence of strong feeling, of love or hate, throughout the poem, even though it often remarks upon quite emotional-filled subjects in relation to WW1. This emotional detachment can also be seen in ‘Mr. Bleaney’ and ‘Essential Beauty’. It can be suggested that Larkin’s indifference adds more atmosphere to the poem, the distantness creating a quite disturbing, tense feeling. Highlighted by rhythm and structure, this aloofness shows a quite negative, cynical yet uninvolved style, which is almost completely unique to Larkin.
In ‘MCMXIV’ it is not until the end of the poem that there is slight evidence of Larkin’s opinion, when he states ‘Never such innocence, Never before or since. ‘ Even when stating his feelings though, Larkin still remains detached. This is perhaps reflecting his view of post-war Britain into his style; revealing a quite blank and impassive era, compared to what Larkin believes of the past. As Seamus Heaney suggests, Larkin’s views “are visions of ‘the old Platonic England,’ the light in them honeyed by attachment to a dream world that will not be denied because it is at the foundation of the poet’s sensibility.
” However, this style can often amplify the observational and ironic qualities in Larkin’s writing, as shown in the line ‘the men leaving the gardens tidy’, which I believe would not have the same effect if charged with direct emotion. Larkin’s writing style is supported and highly added to by the structure of his ideas. By beginning with ironic, detached social commentary of a character or setting, Larkin then typically twists his audience into an often alternative and dramatic direction in his final comments. This is clear in ‘MCMXIV’, ‘Essential Beauty’ and ‘Mr. Bleaney’, which follow a similar observation followed by a comment structure.
In ‘Mr. Bleaney’, Larkin suggests ‘That how we live measures our own nature’, after a description of how Mr. Bleaney lives. Unlike many poets Larkin has decided not to explain and develop his thoughts further and leaves this philosophical suggestion to the end of the poem. By then adding a teasing ‘I don’t know’, Larkin keeps his audience, and perhaps himself, contemplating. This structure adds to Larkin’s objective style, and again adds a twist of irony. However, ‘Days’ does not follow this structure, and Larkin seems to slightly abandon his distinctive style in this poem.
Larkin moves away from post-War social details and instead introduces a philosophical statement at the start of the poem rather than the end. Larkin begins, ‘What are days for? ‘- (perhaps one of the greatest philosophical questions) and continues to explore this idea further, suggesting ‘Days are where we live’ and ‘They are to be happy in’. Although he has forgotten his typical observations, and therefore making the poem considerably shorter, Larkin’s ironic detachment occurs in the second stanza with the witty image of ‘the priest and the doctor, In their long coats, Running over the fields’ and his characteristic tone sets in.
Although, making a valid, serious argument by suggesting that neither Christianity nor science can supply the answer, by adding ‘Ah’, Larkin becomes quite impassive and returns to his distinctive style. Although ‘Days’ is a slightly altered style from ‘Mr. Bleaney’, ‘MCMXIV’, and ‘Essential Beauty’, Larkin’s style remains distinctive throughout all his poems.
It can be suggested, as by Ian Hamilton, that Larkin’s writing style is a “rather narrow range of negative attitudes”, though it can also be forcefully argued that as Larkin’s poetry is so full of uncertainty, indifference, and ironic observational details it does represent the realities of post-war Britain for a lot of people, and many of these attitudes can still be applied today. In conclusion, Larkin’s writing style highlights why Larkin has such a powerful reaction in people, and such a strong following, and why every poem. although similar, remains unique.
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