Philip Larkin as a Modern Poet | Modern Vs. Movement Poetry

Philip Larkin as a Modern Poet | Modern Vs. Movement Poetry

Critics and their views with respect to Philip Larkin’s poetry are divided into two groups. First group says that Philip Larkin is a modern poet whereas the second considers him anti-modernist. Majority of critics agree that Philip Larkin was the member of “movement”. Indeed, it is true. Plenty of Philip Larkin’s poems show that he was firstly impressed by Yeats but subsequently diverted his attention towards Thomas Hardy. It is necessary to differentiate modern poetry form the poetry of movement before adjudging Philip Larkin as a modern poet.

Name “Movement” was given to a group of poets and Philip Larkin was one of them. Poets of movement were anti-modernist. Although it was loosely group of English poets yet they had great importance in the history of English literature. Their work is declared as victory of common sense and clarity over obscurity and mystification and verbal restraint over stylistic excess. Clear definition of “movement” has been given by John Press. He writes:-

“They all display a cautious skepticism and favour an empirical attitude. Aiming at colloquial ease, decorum, shapeliness, elegance, they are trying to bring back into the currency of the language the precision, the snap, the gravity, the decisive, clinching finality which have been lost since the late Augustan age.”

John Press on Poets of Movement

Modern poets, on the other hand, were entirely opposite to the poets of movement. They preferred intellect over emotion. They illustrated themes of alienation and isolation. Free verse, stream of consciousness and ambiguity in the ideas are also the key factors of modern poetry. T. S. Eliot is famous among modern poets.

In simple words, modern poetry was for elite class. Strong knowledge was required to understand it. Ambiguity was always there in it. It did not establish a direct connection between the poet and reader. It had unusual themes. Language was also not simple but vague and unclear. Following were some characteristics of modern poetry:

  • Strong knowledge was required to understand it.
  • Ambiguity.
  • No direct connection between poet and reader.
  • Unusual themes.
  • Vague and unclear language.
  • Elite class was targeted .
  • Mystification.

Movement poetry dealt with problems of common people. It established a strong and direct relationship between the poet and readers. Mostly, themes were common. Language was clear and colloquial. It had realistic images. Moreover, movement poetry was rational, empirical, and argumentative. Some common attributes of movement poetry are:

  • Common people were targeted.
  • Strong relationship between poet and reader.
  • Common themes.
  • Clear and Colloquial style.
  • Realistic images.
  • Rational.
  • Empirical.
  • Argumentative.

As mentioned earlier, majority of critics consider Philip Larkin poet of movement instead of modern poet. They appreciate him and his other fellow poets. However, modern poets call all movement poets rebel. Critics defend them. They are of the view that movement poets are not rebels but conservative.

Be that as it may, Alverz describes Larkin a rebel for modern poets. Numbers of poems of Philip Larkin reveal that his poetry is entirely different from modern poetry. “The Whitsun Weeding” is an example of movement poem. Blake Morrison defines its ideology and says that movement poetry shares some common themes such as sex, religion and politics. He expresses his views on “The Whitsun Weddings” and declares it a pure poem of movement. He further says that Philip Larkin continues to defend and develop the principles central to the Movement Programme. The poem belongs to movement poetry and it is entirely anti-modernistic.

Similarly, “Church Going” has every element of movement poetry. Speaker of the poem is an ordinary, frustrated and clumsy person. In this poem concept of T. S. Eliot is ignored. He says that the poets should concentrate on less but educated people instead of more but uneducated people. The person, who visits the church in “Church Going” does not seem a highly educated person. This poem completes every feature of movement poetry. “Church Going” is evident that Philip Larkin is a movement poet instead of modern poet.

“Talking in Bed” is also an important example in this regard. This poem also has every feature of movement poetry. It fulfills every requirement of movement poetry. It deals with common experiences of life. So far as its structure is concerned, it is very much clear; language is plain and straightforward; subject matter of the poem is the ironic viz. relationship between nature and people; the poem is clear; there is no ambiguity in it. Moreover, it is free from mystification. Hence, there is no denying the fact that “Talking in Bed” proves Philip Larkin a poet of movement instead of modern poet and his poetry anti-modernistic.

“Mr. Bleaney” is another movement poem. This poem is entirely realistic. Lack of common sense in people has been targeted by the poet. We know that movement poetry also deals with common sense. This poem displays cautious skepticism that is necessary for movement poetry. There are a lot of similarities between the speaker and character of Mr. Bleaney. Every word of the poem is clear. Reader finds no ambiguity in it.

On the other hand, modern poetry, as of T. S. Eliot, prefers mystification. There is always ambiguity in it. Far-fetched metaphors are necessarily used by the modern poets. But for movement poets, realism, rationalism, empiricism and strong arguments are important. This poem has simple and colloquial language. It has clarity in it. In fact, it is self-explanatory, therefore, needs no explanation. “Mr. Bleaney” is great example of movement poetry. Philip Larkin has left no ambiguity in this poem, therefore, the same is also anti-modernistic.

Some other poems of Philip Larkin, which strengthen the stance of critics to the effect that he is a poet of movement instead of modern poet are: “Faith Healing”, “Dockery and son”, “Water”, “High Windows”, “Sad Steps” etc. There is a direct relationship between the poet and audience in these poems. Themes of these poems are common. In fact, all these poems are written for common people. 

Robert Forest has paid tribute to movement poets. He emphasizes Philip Larkin’s importance in the movement poetry. He has declared Philip Larkin anti-modernist. Many critics including Alverz have criticized the movement poetry. They have also given some logical reasons. Some critics have spoken against movement poetry whereas others defended it. Nevertheless, Philip Larkin belongs to “movement poetry” hence he is not a modern poet. Indeed, he is not modern but anti-modern.

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