Various Themes in the Poems of Philip Larkin
Theme, the subject matter of an art, indicates the knowledge, experience and contention of the artist. Whether a person is a poet, novelist, dramatist or a painter by profession, theme has its own importance in every field of art. Some poets have a large collection of themes but some have limited collection but their representation technique is authentic. Philip Larkin belongs to the second category; he is time and again criticized because of the narrowness in his themes. His collection is although limited yet his method of presentation is above board. Undoubtedly, he has limited subjects but he is master in elucidating them and it is the reason, he is known as best poet, who will be remembered in every era. Some of the common themes, which the poet uses in his poems, are: time, death, chances, choices, change, disillusionment, mystery, desire, disappointment and inexplicableness. In addition, some other leading themes, identified by the critics are: failure, the fragility of human choices, the importance of vocation in life, the horrifying reality of death, the struggles of the common people, and the universality of human misery and sadness, isolation from environment and nature. David Timms admires the Larkin’s collection of themes and comments:
“The poem how constant Larkin’s themes have remained since 1946: disappointment in life, the pressure of society on the individual, the desire to escape those pressures together with the fear of the isolation such escape brings the encroachment of time.”
In order to explain and prove that Philip Larkin uses above said themes in his poetry, all the poems are not necessary to be referenced but some of them are worth mentioning. First one in the list is “Church Going”; the poem is about beliefs of the people on churches, which are going to be faded in the upcoming years. The poet does not say that faith of people on God or churches must be faded but he predicts that a time is coming when people will no longer attend the churches. He mocks on the beliefs of people and consider it boring to attend a church. He, often, stops and enters in the church but every time he comes out, he laments that why he entered in it. The poem deals with the distrust of people on God and religion. Attending a sermon in the church is a formality for Philip Larkin. In addition to distrust, superstition beliefs are also thematically discussed by this great poet. We know that where there is religion there must be superstition beliefs but these beliefs come into existence when religion becomes paler. Philip Larkin is of the view that when the religion will be faded, superstition beliefs will become stronger. At the end, he believes that superstition beliefs will also come to end one day. What will not end is the spirit of tradition represented by the English Church. Some of the critics say that Philip Larkin is not against churches but he is against church going; it is not true. It is evident from the poem that he is expecting the downfall of religion and what remains before us is the tradition of going to churches on birth, marriage and death ceremonies. Nonetheless, the poem deals with the themes of distrust on religion, superstition beliefs, spirit of tradition, ruination of inner peace with respect to religion, decline of religion, disenchantment and disappointment.
The second poem in the list is “Ambulances”. It is a pessimistic poem about illness and death. Ambulance signifies the illness and when a person sees it, death comes in his mind. It is the poem, which is hallmark of the poetic genius of Philip Larkin. Like every artist, he also discusses death as a trouble for everyone. Whenever a spectator glances on the ambulance, he thinks that his life is near to end. The poet says that the person, who is lying in the ambulance and whose life is about to over, had a wonderful life, which was mixture of family relationships and current fashion but after death, these things have no value at all. The true fact of death cannot be ignored nor can it be underestimated. No matter how painful or beautiful life a person has spent, the fact of death is common for everyone. The subject matter of the poem is that the fact of death is universally acknowledged by everyone. The poem also deals with the themes of fear, horror, meaninglessness, futility and utility of life and pessimism.
Some other poems of Philip Larkin, which are excellent to be referenced, so far as his common themes are concerned, are: “Mr. Bleaney” and “MCMXIV”. The main theme, used in “Mr. Bleaney” is the theme of isolation; the connection of an individual with the society. The poem is based on the habits of a person named Mr. Bleaney, who has no taste of reading books. He does not have any artistic quality. It also suggests a dull life, which is being spent by an individual. Boredom is also another theme of this poem. “MCMXIV” is the real definition of disillusionment. The poem contains sad imagery and gloomy themes. Again, approach of the poet is pessimistic. The condition of a society, before the world war, is presented in this poem. The difference between rural and urban life, with the background of war, is contrasted by the poet. Poem reflects the sadness on the face of society before World War I.
To concise, Philip Larkin may have a short combination of themes but his approach is universal. Every theme in his poetry is unique and at the same time acknowledgeable. Literature has universal appeal and it is proved by Philip Larkin. Most of the themes are common in every poem but style is totally in contrast. The poet has a God gifted talent to dramatize a simple theme. Numerous poems of Philip Larkin are based on dramatic monologue. There is no denial the fact that his grouping of different themes is appreciated in every age. In short, he does not have a wide collection of themes but the collection which he has, is enough for him to present his knowledge and experience.