Critical Analysis of Here by Philip Larkin

Last Updated: 25 May 2023
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‘Here’ is a sprawling, moving and often majestic poem that takes the reader on a strikingly visual journey through the countryside and the town, before finally ending up on the coast. Larkin uses long, flowing sentences which add a sense of continual movement; these sentences are full of rich imagery and description which fully immerse the reader in the poem. The poem is titled ‘Here’, yet in the first three stanzas the poem takes in various locations and never stands still; the reader questions where ‘Here’ is, whether or not it is actually a specific, physical location.

In ‘Here’, Larkin appears to be critical of the urban population, finding more beauty and appeal in the natural world than the human world, demonstrated by the fact that human presence in the poem is only temporary, fading away after the third stanza. The first word of the poem, ‘Swerving’, lends an immediate sense of physical movement to the poem. However, it is not the traditional, vehicular sort of movement; trains and cars do not swerve. The movement in ‘Here’ is immediately free and unrestrained, as the ‘rich industrial shadows’ are left behind.

This freedom of movement however, immediately contrasts with the ‘traffic all night north’, which momentarily stops the poem in its tracks, made clear by the following semi-colon which breaks up the line. However, the poem immediately starts up again, with the repetition of the word ‘swerving’ which reinforces the sense of free movement. Now, Larkin takes us through the ‘fields/too think and thistled to be called meadows’, before the poem is again interrupted by the influence of the human world- the poem halts for the ‘Workmen at dawn’. Larkin then repeats ‘Swerving’ for a third time.

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On three different occasions the word is used; each time to the same effect. By the end of the first stanza the reader can be in no doubt that Larkin is taking them on a journey. In the first stanza, and indeed in the whole poem, there is a clear theme of the industrialized world interrupting the natural, rural world. Larkin presents a series of images; ‘skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hare and pheasants’ along with the meadows and ‘widening river’. These images are marred somewhat by the traffic and workmen, and ultimately the town which emerges in the second stanza. These nterruptions are summed up by Larkin as ‘harsh-named halts’.

The contrast between country and city, between rural and urban, is another key theme in the poem. The freedom of ‘swerving’ through the countryside in the first stanza is replaced by the claustrophobic cluster of ‘domes and statues, spires and cranes’ which fill the large town. Even the water, which in the first stanza takes the form of a peaceful river, is ‘barge-crowded’ in the second stanza, again demonstrating the often negative influence of man. To add to the contrast, Larkin lists elements of the town (domes and statues... in exactly the same manner as he lists elements of the countryside (skies and scarecrows... ).

Here, the ‘piled gold clouds’ have been replaced with the less appealing ‘grain-scattered streets’. Notably, the town is the first thing in the poem that is described as ‘Here’, perhaps hinting at the location of the poem’s title. Another contrast between the rural and urban settings of the poem is the differing types of movement. In the first stanza, the poem moves freely, ‘swerving’. In the second stanza, everything is more rigid; the journey of the city-dwellers from the ‘raw estates’ is described as ‘dead straight’.

At this stage, Larkin is clearly critical not only of the urban population, but of their consumerist culture. They are described negatively as a ‘cut-price crowd’ only interested in their superficial ‘desires’. Larkin presents us with another selection of images; this time of unneeded consumer goods. ‘Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers-’. The hyphen at the end of this list indicates the extreme quantity of these goods, something which Larkin quietly despises. The first stanza contains definite elements of hope; it is dawn, the journey is taking us away from the negatively described ‘industrial shadows’.

Also, the stanza ends on a positive note; ‘the piled gold clouds’ and ‘shining gull-marked mud’ are beautiful descriptions of natural scenes untouched by human influence. However, the second stanza retains none of this positivity; the reader is trapped behind the ‘plate-glass swing doors’ of consumerism. Throughout the poem Larkin’s descriptions tend to rely less on descriptive adjectives, which appear infrequently, and more on series of images relating to the place being described.

When descriptive adjectives are used, they are used to brilliant effect; the ‘luminously-peopled air’ and the ‘piled- gold louds’, but the lists of different images are more frequent and leave more of an impression. In the third stanza, Larkin presents an almost entirely negative list of images that he associates with the town; in fact, each list is almost a spontaneous word-association game for Larkin. When Larkin looks at the town as a whole, the description is not too unfavourable, mainly focusing on the buildings, however when he goes further down and looks at the town on a more personal level, the description is rather more cutting. The ‘fishy-smelling’ town is full of ‘tattoo-shops’ and consulates, and is only visited by ‘salesmen and relations’.

With the latter point, Larkin may well be pointing out that living in a city, surrounded by houses and shops and people doesn’t guarantee fulfilment and fitting in; you can still be isolated whilst living in a town. Another point is that the edges of the town are described as ‘half-built edges’- the building is still in progress and the town is clearly expanding, possibly indefinitely. Larkin touches on the idea of loneliness again between the third and fourth stanzas. Here he describes how out in the countryside, beyond the realm of the city, the wheat-fields ‘Isolate villages, where removed lives/Loneliness clarifies. This full stop is the first in the poem; the three stanza sentence ends here, out in the isolated countryside. However, it is clear that the loneliness experienced in the isolated villages is not the same as that experienced in the towns. In the countryside, Larkin suggests that the loneliness and the isolation ‘clarifies’ your life; perhaps he means that, free from the consumerist ‘desires’ and ‘tattoo-shops’ life is less cluttered and busy, and somewhat perversely, less lonely, in spite of the physical isolation.

The ending of the first sentence suggests that the poem’s journey is over, that we have finally arrived at Larkin’s location, ‘Here’. Here, there are no people; human influence is entirely absent from the final stanza. Instead, Larkin presents an image of intense natural beauty, where ‘Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken/Luminously-peopled air ascends. ’ It’s an interesting idea that beauty is present where we aren’t looking, that it can be right in front of us and still go unnoticed.

The poem comes to a rather sudden halt when the land suddenly ends at the ‘beach of shapes and shingle’. Larkin then states ‘Here is unfenced existence’. It is possible that he is referring to the beach, the coast and the sea, that freedom can only truly be found there, but by this point in the poem it appears more likely that ‘Here’ is less a physical location and more a state of mind. Once you arrive at the perfect mental state (‘Here’), ‘unfenced existence’ is finally possible.

Related Questions

on Critical Analysis of Here by Philip Larkin

What is the theme of "Here" by Philip Larkin?
The theme of "Here" by Philip Larkin is the passage of time and the inevitability of death. The poem reflects on the idea that life is fleeting and that all things will eventually come to an end. Larkin also expresses a sense of nostalgia for the past and a longing for the present to remain unchanged.
What does the poem "Here" mean?
The poem "Here" by W.S. Merwin is a reflection on the idea of being present in the moment and appreciating the beauty of the world around us. The poem encourages readers to take a step back and appreciate the beauty of the world, and to be mindful of the present moment.
What is the theme of the poem here by Philip Larkin?
The theme of the poem is the passage of time and the inevitability of death. Larkin reflects on the idea that life is fleeting and that death is the ultimate end for all of us. He also touches on the idea of how memories and experiences can help us cope with the inevitability of death.
What does the poem here mean?
The meaning of this poem is unclear, as it does not contain any words. It could be interpreted as a visual representation of a feeling or emotion, or it could be a representation of something else entirely. Ultimately, the meaning of this poem is up to the individual viewer to interpret.

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Critical Analysis of Here by Philip Larkin. (2017, Mar 24). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/critical-analysis-of-here-by-philip-larkin/

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