Exam Centre: Larkin
Previous questions on Larkin
“Larkin’s poems often reveal moments of sensitivity which lessen the disappointment and cynicism found in much of his work.”
To what extent do you agree with this statement? Support your answer with suitable reference to the poetry of Philip Larkin on your course.
(from the examiner’s marking scheme for 2012)
Candidates are free to agree and/or disagree with the statement, but they should engage with “moments of sensitivity” and “disappointment and cynicism” (though not necessarily equally) in Larkin’s poetry. Allow that “lessen” may be addressed explicitly or implicitly.
Code S +/– for moments of sensitivity.
Code D+/– for disappointment/cynicism.
Material might be drawn from the following:
– acerbic poetic voice criticises/celebrates ordinary life
– sympathetic treatment of transience, love, death
– disillusionment reduced by touching/nostalgic impulses
– revealing imagery can be pessimistic/hopeful/realistic
– stoicism and indifference evident in the irony, dark humour etc.
“Writing about unhappiness is the source of my popularity.” (Philip Larkin)
In the light of Larkin’s own assessment of his popularity, write an essay outlining your reasons for liking/not liking his poetry. Support your points with the aid of suitable reference to the poems you have studied.
(from the examiner’s marking scheme for 2008)
Reward responses that show clear evidence of personal engagement/involvement with the poetry of Philip Larkin. Candidates are expected to outline their reasons for liking/not liking Larkin’s work in the light of his comment: “Writing about unhappiness is the
source of my popularity”.
Code LU+/– for Larkin’s assessment of unhappiness as the source of his appeal/lack of
Code LL+/– for liking/not liking Larkin’s poetry.
Material might be drawn from the following:
– ambivalent attitude to love, death, religion, etc.
– Larkin projects a misleading/enigmatic persona
– accessibility in terms of language and tone
– can be seen to celebrate/criticise ordinary English life
– ambiguous interpretation of his imagery
– fatalistic/pessimistic attitude
“Philip Larkin’s poetry, though rich in imagery and symbolism, deals with ordinary events in language close to everyday speech.”
To what extent do you agree with this statement? Support your answer with suitable reference to the poetry on your course.
Click here to see how a possible answer to this question -that uses the points you know about Larkin and fits them into the question asked – might be structured. It also includes sample openings, first Point/paragraph (accessible language) and closing paragraphs.
As you can see from the marking schemes for previous questions, it is acceptable to use a range of different points to construct paragraphs in your answer – depending on the question asked. However, it is crucial that you know the following main points about Larkin. It is also essential that you are able to refer to the poem(s) and the quotes that prove these particular points.
Below are only some of the quotes you could use. You do not need to know every quote – just enough relevant quotations for each point/paragraph. You can then use some of these points as paragraphs in your poetry answer. Again, it depends on the question asked (look carefully at the wording.)
Philip Larkin Key Points and Quotations
(1) Variation in Language –
Accessible – ‘Down the lane came men in pit boots’ (‘The Explosion’)
‘The thousands of marriages lasting a little while longer’ (‘MCMXIV’)
‘Or gallop for what must be joy / And not a fieldglass sees them home’ (‘At Grass’)
Alliteration – ‘Past smells of different dinners, see a wild white face’ (‘Ambulances’)
‘silks at the start against the sky (‘At Grass’)
‘Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases’ (‘Church Going’)
Repetition – ‘Never such innocence’ (MCMXIV)
Personal – ‘Yet stop I did: in fact I often do’ (‘Church Going’)
(2) Striking/Memorable Imagery –
Simple yet evocative – ‘squadrons of empty cars, and heat,/ And littered grass’ (‘At Grass’)
‘The Crowns of hats, the sun/ on moustached archaic faces’ (‘MCMXIV’)
Poignant: ‘Wheat’s restless silence’ (‘MCMXIV’)
Dark: ‘solving emptiness’ (‘Ambulances’)
Memorable: ‘This special shell’
Unusual: ‘accoutred frowsty barn’ (Church Going)
Rhetorical: ‘Do memories plague their ears like flies?’ (‘At Grass’)
Powerful: ‘Closed like confessionals’ (‘Ambulances)
(3) Innovative structure – Descriptive followed by reflective.
Uses a simple experience to reflect on broader issues of human nature and faith (‘ Church Going’)
Uses a typical scene of nature to reflect on human behaviour/ needs (‘At Grass’)
Analyses in a symbolic way the routine sight of an ambulance in a city (‘Ambulances’)
(4) Modern, Contemporary Themes: Fame (‘At Grass’)
Reflects on the transient nature/hollowness of fame
‘the unmolesting meadows’ or the ‘littered grass’
‘gallop for what must be joy’ versus the ‘Cups and Stakes and Handicaps’
(5) Ability to confront challenging themes – Religion (‘ Church Going’)
Recognises the appeal – ‘it held unspilt so long and equably’
‘It pleases me to stand in silence here’
‘In whose blent air all our compulsions meet……..that much can never be obsolete.’
What does the future hold? – ‘wondering , too,/ When churches will fall completely out of use.’
‘A Shape less recognisable each week,/ A purpose more obscure.’
‘But superstition, like belief, must die.’
(6) Obsession with the theme of death (‘Ambulances’)
Random nature of death – ‘They come to sleep on any curb’
Inevitability of death – ‘All streets in time are visited.’
Loneliness of death – ‘Far from the exchange of love to lie/ unreachable inside a room’
Futility of life – ‘the solving emptiness that lies just under all we do’
Life goes on? – ‘children strewn on steps or road,/ Or women coming from the shops/ Past smells of different dinners’
– ‘the eggs unbroken’ (‘The Explosion’)