Philip Larkin and the Modern Poetry

Philip Larkin and the Modern Poetry

Critics and their views with respect to Philip Larkin’s poetry are divided into two groups; the first group says that Philip Larkin is a modern poet, whereas the second group considers him anti-modernist. Majority of critics agree that Philip Larkin was the member of “movement”. Indeed, it is true. Plenty of Philip Larkin’s poems show that he was firstly impressed by Yeats but subsequently diverted his attention towards Thomas Hardy. Before adjudging the work of Philip Larkin, it is necessary to differentiate modern poetry form the poetry of movement.

The name “Movement” was given to a group of poets, including Philip Larkin, who were anti-modernist. Although it was loosely group of English poets yet they have great importance in the history of English literature. Their work is regarded as victory of common sense and clarity over obscurity and mystification and verbal restraint over stylistic excess. Clear definition of “movement” has been given by John Press. He writes:-

“They all display a cautious skepticism and favour an empirical attitude. Aiming at colloquial ease, decorum, shapeliness, elegance, they are trying to bring back into the currency of the language the precision, the snap,, the gravity, the decisive, clinching finality which have been lost since the late Augustan age.”

Modern poets, on the other hand, are entirely opposite to the poets of movement. Modern poets have preferred intellect over emotion; they have illustrated the themes of alienation and isolation. Free verse, stream of consciousness and ambiguity in the ideas is also the key factors of modern poetry. T. S. Eliot is famous among the modern poets.

In simple words, modern poetry is for elite class people. Strong knowledge is required to understand it. Ambiguity is always there in modern poetry. It does not establish a direct connection between the poet and reader. It has unusual themes. Language is not simple but vague and unclear, whereas, movement poetry deals with common people. It establishes a strong and direct relationship between the poet and readers. Mostly, themes are common. Language is clear and colloquial. It has realistic images. Moreover, movement poetry is rational, empirical, and argumentative.

As far as Philip Larkin is concerned, he is definitely anti-modernist. As mentioned above, majority of critics consider him poet of movement. He is rebel for modern poets. However, many critics have appreciated Philip Larkin and his fellow poets. They say that movement poets are not rebels but conservative. Be that as it may, number of poems of Philip Larkin reveals that his poetry is entirely different from modern poetry, therefore, they are rebel for modern poets as Alverz has described them. Let’s elaborate it with examples:-

“The Whitsun Weeding” is undoubtedly a movement poem. Blake Morrison has rightly defined the ideology of this poem. He says that movement poetry shares some common themes such as sex, religion and politics. He has interpreted the above said poem. While considering “The Whitsun Weddings” as a poem of movement, he says that Philip Larkin continued to defend and develop the principles central to the Movement Programme. Thus, if the poem belongs to movement poetry then it is obviously anti-modernism.

 Similarly, “Church Going” has every element of movement poetry. Speaker of the poem is an ordinary, frustrated and clumsy person. In this poem the concept of T. S. Eliot has been ignored. He says that the poets should concentrate on less but educated people instead of more but uneducated people. The person, who visits the church in “Church Going” does not seem a highly educated person. This poem completes every feature of movement poetry. Due to this poem many critics consider Larkin’s poetry better than other movement poets.

“Talking in Bed” is also an important example in this regard. This poem also has every feature of movement poetry. It fulfils requirements, which are necessary for movement poetry; the same requirement which have been mentioned above. The poem deals with common experiences of life. So far as its structure is concerned, it is very much clear; the language is very plain and straightforward; subject matter of the poem is the ironic viz. relationship between nature and people; the poem is clear; there is no ambiguity in it. Moreover, there is no mystification in it. Hence, there is no denial the fact that this poem also proves that Philip Larkin is movement poet and his poetry is anti-modernism.

“Mr. Bleaney” is yet another movement poem. This poem is entirely realistic. Lack of commons sense in people has been targeted by the poet; we know that movement poetry also deals with common sense. This poem displays cautious skepticism, which is necessary for movement poetry. There are a lot of similarities between the speaker and character of Mr. Bleaney. Every word of the poem is clear. Reader finds no ambiguity in it. On the other hand, modern poetry, as of T. S. Eliot, prefers mystification. There is always ambiguity in it. Farfetched words are necessarily used by the modern poets. But for movement poets, realism, rationalism, empiricism and strong arguments are important things. This poem has simple and colloquial language. It has clarity in it. In fact, it is self-explanatory, therefore, needs no explanation. “Mr. Bleaney” is great example of movement poetry. Philip Larkin has left no ambiguity in this poem, therefore, the same is also anti-modernism.

Some other poems of Philip Larkin, which strengthen the stance of critics to the effect that Philip Larkin is anti-modernist simultaneously movement poet are: “Faith Healing”, “Dockery and son”, “Water”, “High Windows”, “Sad Steps” etc. There is a direct relationship between the poet and audience in these poems. Themes of these poems are common. In fact, these poems are especially written for common people. 

Robert Forest has paid tribute to movement poets. He emphasizes Philip Larkin’s importance in the movement poetry. He has declared Philip Larkin anti-modernist. Many critics like Alverz have criticized the movement poetry. They have also given some logical reason. Some critics have spoken against movement poetry, whereas others defended it. Nevertheless, Philip Larkin belongs to “movement poetry”. Indeed, he is not modern but anti-modern.

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