Larkin is often thought of as a gloomy poet, describing life and the world around him in a drab and depressing manner. ‘ Explore this idea in light of your reading of ‘This Be the Verse’. Larkin’s ‘This Be the Verse’ delivers a damning message to its reader that could be said to be typical of the man Larkin was. The poem describes how parents have passed on all their faults and bad habits to their children for centuries. The poem’s crude meaning is characteristic of much of Larkin’s other work, for example ‘High Windows’.
Larkin makes no attempt within the poem to conceal the message he is giving to the reader. The message is clear and blunt; the poem certainly contains no hidden meaning. He is basically saying that generations of parents have continued to pass on all the wrong things to the children. The opening line reads: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. ” When you consider that the majority of us look upon our parents as the people who carve our characters, bring us up and support us the first line is quite damning of all mothers and fathers and when put into context is probably a revelation to many of us readers.
When you relate the message of the poem though to Larkin’s own unique childhood, you can begin to try to understand the venom of the poem’s tone and meaning. Larkin, brought up in a secure, middle class family background found his childhood quite intimidating.
His father was very masculine and showed some support for Hitler’s Nazi party. He once took Larkin to Nazi Germany for a summer holiday. It is quite likely that some of the resentment Larkin felt for his own childhood has transferred into his poems as a broader, all-round message for all.
The poem’s title has religious connotations and suggests that the poem is a defined teaching within life. Out of all verses within Bibles, songs, hymns etc. the “This Be the” part of the title advocates that this is the most important verse and adds extra significance to the poem’s substance. The poem has three stanzas made up of four lines each and has an ABAB rhyming scheme. In my opinion it is the sheer simplicity of the poem that adds most effect and clarity to the poem’s meaning. The language is simple and the meaning is clear, even the rhyming scheme is one associated with more child-like poems and nursery rhymes.
The effect of these is that the poem appears blatantly merciless. In some aspects you could say that the poem makes life seem like it is not worth living. Larkin’s intense portrayal of his point of view within the surrounding’s of such a commonly structured and easy to understand poem is quite unparalleled and rather disturbing in my opinion. The poem is written in an aggressive tone and swearing is frequent: “But they were fucked up in their turn”. While this use of colloquial language has lost impact in today’s society, it is still enough to shock the reader and catch their attention.
In contrast to today’s society though, this sort of message and use of language would have certainly been frowned upon during Larkin’s heyday. Throughout the poem Larkin points to a vicious circle of generations of parents passing on their faults to their children: “They fill you with the faults they had, And add some extra, just for you. ” He accepts the circle as part of society and claims that it cannot be stopped or halted. To him, parents have no control over what they do, they pass on these faults whether they like it or not.
In one way he is almost apologetic for those parents who pass on their faults: “But they were fucked up in their turn”. He points to the fact that it was their parents who “fucked them up”. He then points to the idea that a parent’s love cannot overcome the faults parents pass onto their children: “Who half the time were soppy-stern, And half at one another’s throats. ” He alludes to the fact that some of these flaws are inherited: “Man hands on misery to man. ” The poem ultimately points to a bleak future. In the third and final stanza Larkin writes: “Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf. ” This piece of imagery compares misery continuing to eat away at man throughout time with the sea eroding a cliff-side. I personally feel that this idea is fairly chilling as it represents the helplessness of the human race in trying to stop this chain of passing on misery. The sea continues to erode these cliffs just as we continue to pass on despair. We can’t stop the sea so why should we be able to stop this chain? Larkin goes on to say in the final stanza: “Get out as early as you can, And don’t have any kids yourself.
” In today’s society this phrase has become just a throwaway comment, you could easily imagine your mother jokingly saying ‘Don’t have any kids’, but the pure sincerity you know Larkin has put behind the last line is somewhat disheartening and deeply depressing. The ruthless tone with which Larkin writes is common amongst much of Larkin’s other work. He grew up in the Victorian era which was notorious for stifling its youth with religion and its repressed customs. Most middle class children had the same map planned for their life by their parents. They would grow up, find someone and marry, under the strong influence of religion.
The males would go on to work and the females would be housewives. Maybe the Victorian way of life suppressed Larkin so much he used his early poems as a release, a medium with which to vent his anger. In summing up, I personally feel that Larkin’s message throughout the poem is fuelled by his ill feeling toward his own childhood. Another factor that must be taken into consideration is that Larkin was seemingly unable to commit to a relationship. This modest man was unlikely to have any children himself and maybe this poem’s message was driven by jealously although this is only a personal thought.
This poem also mocks religion and what religion stands for. Religion is renowned for showing people the right way to do things and what to believe in, yet the title of this poem sees Larkin casually dismissing religion, pointing to his own teaching as being one of more importance. The poem displays a continuous casual breaking of religious rules and clearly disregards religion’s purpose. What is most intriguing about the poem is that Larkin considers the idea of parents passing on their flaws as a natural process that cannot be stopped.
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