We’re All Going to Die: Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”

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I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now…

Thanks, Phil! Philip Larkin’s late, uncollected “Aubade”—now explained on Rap Genius—is one of the most wonderfully depressing and terrifying poems in the English language. Mainly, it’s about death. Death, death, death. Death as a hopeless philosophical quandary. Death as the end of our relationship with loved ones, and with ourselves. Death as a friendly local postman who won’t let rain, snow, sleet, or dark of night prevent him from completing his rounds.

But! If there’s a saving grace amidst all the deathiness, it lies in what we leave behind: the “intricate rented world” to which Larkin pays tribute at the end of the poem. I’m sorry, that’s the “uncaring intricate rented world.” In Larkin poems, silver linings are always a little tarnished.

NEW: Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse”

We’ve had this one on the site for a while, but didn’t get around to fully annotating it till now: Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,

They may not mean to, but they do…

Philip Larkin was a great poet, a decent novelist, a university librarian, and a notoriously cranky bastard. The misanthropic cynicism of his poems isn’t a front; his letters and diary entries (and to some extent his solitary, childless life) make clear that he meant it. Still, he had an ear most writers would kill for and a sharper moral imagination than almost any poet writing in the second half of the twentieth century. His no-frills, no-bullshit style attempted to squeeze every last drop of sentimentality out of poetry. (Except when it didn’t.)

More on Larkin at Poetry Foundation.
More on Larkin at Poets.org.

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