Poem: “Mr. Bleaney” by Philip Larkin Essay
Poem: “Mr. Bleaney” by Philip Larkin
The poem Mr Bleaney has three characters: Mr Bleaney; the house owner; and the new tenant, but centres around the life of one character, Mr Bleaney. The poem focuses on the house in which Mr Bleaney had a rented room for a number of years, until he moved out, or perhaps died. A new tenant is introduced to the vacated room, and he decides to stay. From the description of his old room and its contents, we are able to paint a picture of Mr Bleaney’s monotonous existence and lifestyle. There is great irony in that he fails to realise that by wanting to live in the marked room of Mr Bleaney, and by acquiring his habits, he is in fact a replica of the figure he contemplates and condemns; although in the last two stanzas there is a suggested subconscious dread that he is following in the same footsteps as Mr Bleaney.
‘Mr Bleaney’ has seven stanzas, each with four lines, formed with an alternate rhyming scheme. It is written in iambic pentameters.
The very name Bleaney immediately gives a feel of dull blandness, of dreariness and a lack of energy, spirit, colour and light. A Mr Bleaney would perhaps then be a sad, hopeless man, whose boring life is almost a non-event. We never actually get to meet Mr Bleaney in the poem, but we get to learn a lot about him and are left at the end with the feeling that we have. It says in the poem, “How we live measures our nature,” and if this is true, then Mr Bleaney certainly deserves his name.
The poem centres on a description of the room to let, where Mr Bleaney lived for a number of years. The room has Mr Bleaney stamped all over it: his few possessions (a souvenir plate and ashtray), still litter what little space there is. Alliteration adds to the blandness of the room he lived in, with the phrase “same saucer-souvenir,” which is effective as it emphasises the blandness and flatness in the room. It has no lampshade nor curtain hook; curtains too short; furnished minimally with merely a bed and upright chair, leaving no place to relax nor put belongings or ornaments; there is no colour, leaving the room void of character and personality.
Even the view from the window depicts a barren, derelict and littered building site. This incredibly sad and simple abode would suggest a life of poverty. Line two in stanza one mentions “the Bodies,” which is probably a workplace, but connects effectively with the ambiguous phrase one line later: “Till they moved him,” which could mean that he either got the sack, or died. (hence the connection with ‘Bodies’.) This kind of deliberately mysterious phrasing, which makes you stop and think, adds immensely to the atmosphere.
The third stanza begins with another statement describing the basic standard of the room: “No room for books or bags,” which is immediately contrasted by the new tenant accepting the lease, on the next line.
It is now that the new tenant takes over the commentary. In the first stanza it was the house owner who was speaking, and the second stanza was devoted to describing the room.
We now learn that Mr Bleaney was a lonely man. He probably lay on his bed most of the day and smoked, just as the new tenant is doing. He gardened, given away by the landlady as she hints for the new tenant to do likewise: “Mr Bleaney took my bit of garden properly in hand;” he stayed at home a lot, enough to become sufficiently annoyed to get the landlady to buy a radio, so she would leave him alone; he gambled: “He kept on plugging at the four-aways;” he had a monotonous life, his holidays being annual visits to Frinton and Stoke, not the most exciting places on earth. Mr Bleaney had for sure a dull life, set rigid year in year out: “Likewise the yearly frame.”
From now on, after he moved in, the new tenant devotes his time to finding out about Mr Bleaney, and describing the character who emerges with a critical eye. He looks down the end of his nose at him, mocks his lifestyle and finds a sense of achievement in having deduced so much about him. The irony is immense; we can see this new tenant identifying with Mr Bleaney by adopting the same lifestyle as he: Living in the same abode; stubbing his: “Fags on the same saucer-souvenir,” (alliterated for the emphasis of monotony,) and actually becoming another Mr Bleaney. And we can stand by and watch the new tenant judge and condemn the very man he is becoming. It is almost hypocritical.
In the penultimate stanza, nature is used as a comparison to Mr Bleaney, and ultimately, the new tenant too. Words such as frigid and fusty give an air of restraint and stiffness, and maybe impotence and lack of self belief. Personifying such words builds up a character who is dull, flat, uninspired and pathetic. It fits Mr Bleaney perfectly.
The last stanza bears the moral from Philip Larkin, stating that what we do with our lives reflects our character: “How we live measures our own nature.” Also, the mysteriousness surrounding the disappearance of Mr Bleaney is dredged up again, with the ambiguous “Hired box,” – meaning either the rented room, or a coffin.
At the very end a non committal “I don’t know.” reminds us of the fact that the new tenant is merely presuming, and that contrary to what it seems, we don’t know Mr Bleaney after all.