Larkin sample answer
“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.
Philip Larkin’s poetry has deservedly earned him a reputation as one of the greatest English poets of the last century. He has been described as ‘an extraordinarily various and accomplished poet,’ and I would completely agree with this view. His gift certainly seems to have lain in his extraordinary ability to confront the ordinary events of everyday life, in a form and language that is immediately both accessible and profound. The rich and powerful imagery with which he interprets his world are typical of a poet whose work has both a timeless and a universal appeal. Larkin may have been a conservative librarian from Middle England, but to me, his poetry is as fresh and relevant today as it was when he was first inspired to write it. It was through studying poems like ‘At Grass’, ‘MCMXVI’, ‘Ambulances’, ‘Church Going’, and ‘The Explosion’ that I was able to appreciate the work of this dark but deeply rewarding poet.
(1) Accessible (everyday) language (sample paragraph) <Style>
As a teenager in the Ireland of 2013, my experience of poetry has really only been in the context of being ‘forced’ to study different poems and poets as preparation for various exams. I can’t say that I’ve always found the experience enjoyable. A lot of the time I’ve found the language dense and difficult – and needed the teacher’s help to even get started with a particular poem. So, when I came across Larkin and his poetry – with its everyday accessible language – I was delighted. Finally here was a poet that wrote poetry for the people (and of course about the people). The ordinary, yet evocative, image of the miners who ‘came down the lane in their pit boots’ in poems like ‘The Explosion’, or the beautiful sibilant description of a typical English race meet in ‘At Grass’ with its ‘silks at the start against the sky’ may be simple, but at the same time I found them richly rewarding. The fact that he is prepared to include us as readers as he journeys along some of these simple narratives really impressed me. I though the conversational – and very honest – language he uses in admitting in ‘Church Going’ that ‘stop I did: in fact I often do’ reflects why he is a poet that is so widely read and appreciated. This I think is Larkin’s greatest gift – that his use of everyday language opens the door for the reader to join him as he explores various ideas and issues.
(2) Rich Imagery <Style>
(3) Everyday events : Religion ‘Church Going’ <Themes>
(4) Everyday events: Death ‘Ambulances’(symbolism) <Themes>
Studying the poetry of Philip Larkin was a real challenge, and at first I felt that the bleak tone and generally pessimistic world view would be more than I could take in the throes of an exam year – particularly following on from the misery of Sylvia Plath (not to mention Macbeth!) However, as I dug deeper I really found myself starting to admire both the rich imagery and the searing honesty of his work: the idea that these monumental issues should be confronted and challenged – and in the everyday language that would allow all readers to join him in his reflections. It has been noted by critics that ‘Larkin found the perfect voice for expressing our worst fears’ and I think that really sums up his appeal to me. Having found myself – as many others have over the years – becoming absorbed in his poetry, I don’t think there can be any doubt that he truly is ‘an extraordinarily various and accomplished poet.’
N.B. Note that in this case I have used two ‘style’ paragraphs (language and Imagery) and two ‘theme’ paragraphs (religion and death). This is because the question expected it. This may not always be the case. The question may be more balanced towards one or the other (style or theme). However, when possible, it is best to focus more of your points/paragraphs on theme as this generally allows more authentic personal responses in your answer. The key is to read the question carefully.
*Another acceptable approach would be dedicate one paragraph to a particular poem; and to deal with both aspects of the question in each paragraph.