Philip Larkin

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Philip Arthur Larkin,
Philip Larkin
Philip Larkin
Born August 9, 1922(1922-08-09)
Flag of England Coventry, Warwickshire, UK
Died December 2, 1985 (aged 63)
Hull, Humberside, UK
Occupation Poet, Novelist, Jazz critic, Poet Laureate (declined)
Nationality English

Philip Arthur Larkin, CH, CBE, FRSL, (9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985) was an English poet, novelist and jazz critic. He spent his working life as a university librarian and was offered the Poet Laureateship following the death of John Betjeman, but declined the post. Larkin is commonly regarded as one of the greatest English poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. In 2003 Larkin was chosen as the "nation's best-loved poet" in a survey by the Poetry Book Society [1].

Larkin was born to Sydney and Eva Larkin in Coventry, a large provincial city in the English Midlands. He was educated at King Henry VIII School in Coventry, and St John's College, Oxford where he met Kingsley Amis, a lifelong friend and frequent correspondent. In late 1943, soon after graduating from Oxford, he applied for, and was appointed to, the position of municipal librarian at Wellington, Shropshire. In 1946, he became assistant librarian at University College, Leicester (Kingsley Amis got his idea for Lucky Jim on visiting Larkin and seeing the common room of Leicester University). In March 1955, Larkin became librarian at the University of Hull, a position he retained until his death.


  • 1 Career
  • 2 Legacy
  • 3 Bibliography
  • 4 Notes
  • 5 External links


Larkin's early work shows the influence of Yeats, but his later poetic identity was influenced mainly by Thomas Hardy. He is well known for his use of colloquial language in his poetry, partly balanced by a similarly antique word choice. With fine use of enjambement and rhyme, his poetry is highly structured, but never rigid. Death and fatalism were recurring themes and subjects of his poetry; "Aubade" being an example of this. The Less Deceived, published in 1955, marked Larkin as an up-and-coming poet. He was for a time associated with "The Movement".

The publication of The Whitsun Weddings in 1964 confirmed his reputation. The title poem is a masterly depiction of England seen from a train on Whitsun. In 1972 he wrote the oft-quoted "Going, Going", a poem which expresses the romantic fatalism in his view of England which was typical of his later years. In it, he prophesies a complete destruction of the countryside, and expresses an idealised sense of national togetherness and identity. The poem ends with the doom-laden statement, "I just think it will happen, soon". High Windows, his last book, was released in 1974; for some critics it represented a falling-off from his previous two books,[1] yet it contains a number of his much-loved pieces, including "This Be The Verse" and "The Explosion", as well as the title poem. "Annus Mirabilis" (year of wonder), also from that volume, contains the frequently quoted observation that sexual intercourse began in 1963 ("rather late for me").

Besides poetry, Larkin published two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), and several essays. Larkin was also a major contributor to the re-evaluation of the poetry of Thomas Hardy, which had been ignored in comparison to his work as a novelist. Hardy received the longest selection in Larkin's idiosyncratic and controversial anthology, The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (1973).

Larkin was by contrast a notable critic of modernism in contemporary art and literature; his scepticism is at its most nuanced and illuminating in Required Writing, a collection of his book reviews and essays; it is at its most inflamed and polemical in his introduction to his collected jazz reviews, All What Jazz, 126 record-review columns he wrote for the Daily Telegraph between 1961 and 1971, which contains an attack on modern jazz that widens into a wholesale critique of modernism in the arts.

On the death of John Betjeman, Larkin was offered the post of Poet Laureate, but declined it. Larkin, who never married, died of oesophageal cancer, aged 63, and is buried at the Cottingham Municipal Cemetery near Hull.

Larkin's career-long companion and muse was the academic Monica Jones. She and Larkin had a holiday cottage at Haydon Bridge where they spent many summers together.


Larkin's posthumous reputation was affected by the publication of Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life (1993) and an edition of his letters (1992), which revealed his obsessions with pornography, his racism, his increasing shift to the political right wing, and his habitual expressions of venom and spleen. These revelations have been dismissed by the author and critic Martin Amis (son of Kingsley Amis), who argues that the letters in particular show nothing more than a tendency for Larkin to tailor his words according to the recipient, rather than representing Larkin's true opinions.

Despite controversy about his personal life and opinions, he remains one of Britain's most popular poets; three of his poems, "This Be The Verse", "The Whitsun Weddings" and "An Arundel Tomb," featured in the "Nation's Top 100 Poems" as voted for by viewers of the BBC's Bookworm in 1995 [2]. Media interest in Larkin has increased in the twenty-first century. His poem At Grass is featured in one Anthology booklet of the GCSE English exam, and Afternoons appears in another, Best Words. Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings collection is one of the available poetry texts in the AQA English Literature A Level syllabus, whilst High Windows is offered by the OCR board and An Arundel Tomb in the Edexcel board Poetry Anthology. The Larkin Society was formed in 1995, ten years after the poet's death; its president is Anthony Thwaite, one of Larkin's literary executors.

In 1964 Larkin was interviewed by Sir John Betjeman for the BBC programme Monitor: Philip Larkin meets John Betjeman [3]. The film, together with the original rushes is stored the Larkin archive at the University of Hull [4].

Larkin was the subject of the South Bank Show in 1982 [5]. Larkin did not appear on camera although Melvyn Bragg, in his introduction to the programme, stressed the poet had given his full cooperation. The programme featured contributions from Kingsley Amis, Andrew Motion and Alan Bennett. Bennett read several of Larkin's works on an edition of "Poetry in Motion", broadcast by Channel 4 in 1990 [6].

In his acclaimed play The History Boys Bennett would quote from Larkin's MCMXIV and the character of the Headmaster, a geography graduate from Hull, referred to Larkin as 'the Himmler of the accessions desk' [7].

Manic Street Preachers included a quotation from Larkin on the sleeve of their 1992 debut album Generation Terrorists and in 1993 Terry Eagleton subjected Larkin to a critical mauling on Without Walls: J'accuse Philip Larkin [8].

In 2002 Sir Tom Courtenay debuted [9] his one-man play Pretending to Be Me at the West Yorkshire Playhouse [10] before transferring the production to the Comedy Theatre in London's West End. An audio recording was released in 2005 [11].

In 2003, BBC Two broadcast a play, titled Love Again, that dealt with the last thirty years of Larkin's life. The lead role was played by Hugh Bonneville [12] and in the same year Channel 4 broadcast the documentary Philip Larkin, Love and Death in Hull [13].

After lying undiscovered in a Hornsea garage for over two decades, an unprecedented collection of Larkin audio tapes were found in 2006. The recordings were made by the poet in the early 1980s [14]. Extracts can be heard during a Sky News report [15].



  • The North Ship (1945)
  • XX Poems (1951)
  • The Less Deceived (1955)
    • "Church Going" (read)
  • The Whitsun Weddings (1964)
    • "The Whitsun Weddings" (read)
    • "An Arundel Tomb" (read)
    • "A Study of Reading Habits" (read)
    • "Ambulances" (read)
    • "Mr Bleaney"
  • High Windows (1974)
    • "Homage to a Government (read)
    • "This Be The Verse" (read)
    • "Annus Mirabilis" (read)
    • "The Explosion" (read)
  • Collected Poems 1938–83 (1988)
    • "Aubade" (read) (first published 1977)
    • "Party Politics" (last published poem)


  • Jill (1946) ISBN 0-87951-961-4
  • A Girl in Winter (1947) ISBN 0-87951-217-2
  • "Trouble at Willow Gables" and Other Fiction 1943–1953 (writing as "Brunette Coleman") ISBN 0-571-20347-7


  • All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961 – 1971
  • Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955 – 1982 (1983)
  • Further Requirements: Interviews, Broadcasts, Statements and Book Reviews 1952 – 1985
  • Brynmor Jones Library, 1929-79 (1979) ISBN 0-8595-8538-7


  • The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (as editor) (1973)

Books about Larkin

  • Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life, Andrew Motion (1993) ISBN 0-571-17065-X
  • Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, Anthony Thwaite editor (1992) ISBN 0-571-17048-X
  • The Philip Larkin I Knew, Maeve Brennan, Manchester University Press (2002) ISBN 0-7190-6275-6
  • Philip Larkin and English Poetry, Terry Whalen, University of British Columbia Press (1986) ISBN 0-7748-0232-4
  • Pretending to be Me: Phillip Larkin, a portrait, Tom Courtenay (2005) ISBN 1-4055-0082-4
  • Philip Larkin: The Poet's Plight, James Booth (2005) ISBN 1-4039-1834-1
  • First Boredom Then Fear: The Life of Philip Larkin, Richard Bradford (2006) ISBN 0-7206-1147-4


  1. ^ see for example, Andrew Swarbrick, Out of Reach: The Poetry of Philip Larkin, Palgrave Macmillan, 1995 (ISBN 0-312-12545-3)
  • Larkin's Grave
  • Poetry Archive: Philip Larkin
  • Channel 4 Philip Larkin biography
  • Homage to Philip Larkin - New York Review of Books
  • The Philip Larkin Centre for Poetry and Creative Writing
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