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Philip Larkin's "Here"

Updated on December 21, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Philip Larkin

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Here"

The poem "Here" consists of four movements, each an eight-line versagraph. Each versagraph has a virtually undetectable rime scheme. The unobservant reader is likely to overlook the rime scheme entirely. Each versagraph roughly follows the rime scheme, ABABCDDC, with variations.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Here

Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
And traffic all night north; swerving through fields
Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,
And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields
Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude
Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,
And the widening river’s slow presence,
The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud,

Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,
And residents from raw estates, brought down
The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,
Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires –
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers –

A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling
Where only salesmen and relations come
Within a terminate and fishy-smelling
Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,
Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives;
And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges
Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges,
Isolate villages, where removed lives

Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

Reading of Philip Larkin's "Here"

Commentary

First Movement: Driving, While Observing

Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
And traffic all night north; swerving through fields
Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,
And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields
Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude
Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,
And the widening river’s slow presence,
The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud

While driving in an automobile, the speaker makes observations: "Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows." He uses the word "swerving" ambiguously. Upon first considering, a reader might sense that an automobile is doing the swerving. The next line further supports that notion: "And traffic all night north." As the use of the word "swerving" become obsessive, the reader will being to suspect that more than a car is "swerving through fields / Too thin and thistled to be called meadows."

It becomes more likely that it is the speaker's mind doing the swerving, more so than the vehicle which he drives, or perhaps in which he is a passenger: So much swerving continues: "swerving to solitude / Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants / And the widening river's slow presence, / The piled gold clouds, the shining gull- marked mud."

Second Movement: Surprised by a Town

Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,
And residents from raw estates, brought down
The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,
Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires –
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers –

The second movement continues from the last line of the first movement — "The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud, // Gathers to the surprise of a large town." The entirety of the "swerving" eventually "gathers" the speaker to a large town.

His "swerving" from industrial shadows through fields to skies and scarecrows, haystacks, the river, the clouds, and the gull-marked mud "gathers" him in mind and body to a location, wherein he is surprised to find a large town at the end of all that swerving.

The speaker then details what he sees in the "large town": "Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster / Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water." He observes the urban residents and describes how they came to be there, "brought down / The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys, / Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires."

Whitmanesque, he runs a catalogue of other items: "Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies, / Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers."

Third Movement: Home of Wilberforce

A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling
Where only salesmen and relations come
Within a terminate and fishy-smelling
Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,
Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives;
And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges
Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges,
Isolate villages, where removed lives

The third movement finds the speaker qualifying the city dwellers as, "A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling / Where only salesmen and relations come." Then again, he runs s Whitman-like catalogue of what he sees: "Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum, / Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives."

The speaker is dramatizing the town of Hull, located northeast in England. The home of William Wilberforce, the famous abolitionist, appears in the catalogue as "the slave museum."

Fourth Movement: Defining Loneliness

Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

The main theme in Larkin's "Here" is loneliness. Indeed, the speaker offers a virtual definition of loneliness in his description of "mortgaged half-built edges," "Isolate villages," where "silence stands, Like heat." All accumulate to delineate the fact the "Loneliness clarifies." The speaker's desire is to craft a vision of loneliness to support his inner poverty.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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