Poster—Feb. 5, 2013The One Page Poetry Circle will meet Tuesday, February 5th from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the St. Agnes Branch Library, 444 Amsterdam Avenue (near 81st Street), 3rd floor.

Come and bring a single page of poetry by a known poet on the theme of Poetry and Our Parents—with copies for others, if you can. Whether you can make the circle on February 5th or not, you can join our discussion of Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse.” We would like to hear from you! 

“This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
  By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
  And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
  It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
  And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin was a British poet who lived from 1922 to 1985. He was the recipient of many prizes and refused the title of Poet Laureate perhaps because he didn’t like the publicity it would bring. “This Be the Verse,” written in 1971 is one of his most famous poems; in fact it is one of the most well known of modern poems perhaps because it is short, direct, and uses profanity. The title is taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem”:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Stevenson’s epitaph connects him with mankind; he will be buried in his final home like the sailor and the hunter. Larkin’s advice about the most primary connection—that between parent and child—is to sever it by leaving home, never to procreate.

The poem’s force begins in the first line with the attention grabber, “fuck,” a word we don’t often associate with poetry. Because the parents fuck up the child, the child appears passive and not responsible. Towards the end of the poem Larkin gives us the most sobering view of the continuum of life, when he speaks of the misery of man deepening like a coastal shelf, but then finishes on a note of dark humor that we should end the cycle of misery: don’t have kids yourself.

For Abigail the moral of this poem shows anger and no nostalgia. While Stevenson looks with love towards his eternal home; Larkin sees his temporary home, his nuclear family, with horror. They fuck you up your mum and dad.

For AnnaLee, Larkin’s poem offers a modern poet’s epitaph. In taking the title “This Be the Verse,” from Stevenson’s poem where Stevenson instructs his readers to engrave this verse upon his tombstone, Larkin offers a contrasting epitaph that pokes fun at sentimentality. With his impolite use of the word “fuck” as the second word of the poem, to mean both “mess you up” and “beget you,” and then in repetition throughout the poem, he shows cynicism and irreverence.

But perhaps he is being ironic and is mourning that we are in a different age and can no longer be romantic. While on the face of it, Larkin’s poem paints a harsh view of a human life, AnnaLee thinks the humor of the poem masks disappointment. In comments he made in an interview by Robert Phillips for the Paris Review, Larkin said:

“Some time ago I agreed to help judge a poetry competition—you know, the kind where they get about 35,000 entries, and you look at the best few thousand. After a bit I said, Where are all the love poems? And nature poems? And they said, Oh, we threw all those away. I expect they were the ones I should have liked.”

How do you react to Larkin’s poem?