Philip Larkin a Study of Reading Habits Analysis | Stanza by Stanza

Philip Larkin a Study of Reading Habits Analysis

Philip Larkin wrote many wonderful poems from 1960 to 1964. In fact, these were the years when movement poetry emerged. Philip Larkin wrote “A study of Reading Habits” in 1960 as obvious from critical analysis of his volume “The Whitsun Weddings” in which the poem under discussion was published. Most of the poems of Philip Larkin portray death and despair as their main themes; however, it is not the case with this poem. In it, the speaker portrays a different world. He remembers the old days of his life; firstly in school when he avoided his bad classmates; secondly in teenage when he took interest in sex; finally, in old age when he enjoyed the most, hence, the major theme of this poem is sentimentality.

Click to Read Philip Larkin Poem A Study of Reading Habits Text instead of its analysis.

The poem contains three stanzas and each stanza contains six lines. As a matter of fact, the poet has divided the poem into three parts. In the first part, he shows his own habits of reading books. As the poem illustrates a universal theme of habit of reading books, hence, he does not only talk about himself but about the relationship of people with the books with a passage of time.

Critical Analysis of “A Study of Reading Habits” by Philip Larkin

Mood of the poet somewhere is cynical. He does not lament the habit of not reading books. He humorously presents some situations in the poem to show the importance of books. Symbolically, the poem also talks about the three stages of life; in the first stage, a child likes to learn new things; in the second stage of life he takes interest in physically pleasurable activities whereas in the third and last stage of life a person stops learning new things as he gains much experience which become enough for him.

The poem shows the wit of the poet. Philip Larkin does critical analysis of life and summarises it in his poem “A Study of Reading Habits. Words “dirty dogs” and “twice my size” are highly symbolic and establish a connection between the poet and his classmates in his early school life.

Stanza I

The poem starts with an action of doing something. It is about a situation that is very clear to the readers. The poet uses the phrase “get nose into something” in the first line of the poem. He says that when he (the speaker of the poem, whom we consider definitely Philip Larkin) involves himself in reading books, it gives him knowledge that no school can provide. Needless to mention that there are two ways of learning; firstly, by knowledge and secondly by experience. Analysis of this stanza of “A Study of Reading Habits” in concise words is that Philip Larkin gives a general message. He says that books provide such knowledge that is absolutely rare in real life experiences; things that we expect to learn in the last days of life can be learnt by reading books at any stage of life.

In the next two lines, the poet shows his deep interest in reading books. He used to indulge himself in reading books to that extent that he ruined his eyes. First part of the poem shows the strong love of the speaker with the books; however, in the last lines the poet clears the purpose behind reading so much. He changes his motive and it seems to the readers that the speaker does not read books for learning but to avoid “dirty dongs twice my [his] size”.

Symbolic Significance of Stanza I

Analysis of Philip Larkin poem “A Study of Reading Habits”depicts two symbolic meanings in the last line of this stanza; firstly, the speaker may have read books to show himself busy; secondly, he may want to suggest to us that knowledge is power through which a person can deal with the people who are stronger to him. Whatever may be the message of the poet it is clear to us that the speaker shows his habit of reading books in the early days of his life.

The poet also shows three types of categories of readers. If we talk about only about one individual as a reader of books then the stanza shows interest of the reader in books at early days of his life. If we talk about in general and about all the readers then it shows that there are some readers who like to read books instead of “deal[ing] out the old right hook”. There are some people in the world who like to read books instead of playing games or wasting their time in bad habits. Indeed, reading books is the best habit that one can practice his whole life.

Stanza II Analysis of “A Study of Reading Habits” by Philip Larkin

Interest of every person with the passage of time changes. In childhood, the toys that give pleasure may no longer draw the attention of a child. In the second stanza of “A Study of Reading Habits” Philip Larkin makes an analysis of the interests of young readers. Word “specs” in the first line of the poem shows that the reader has not given up on his habit of reading books. It is not necessary that specs are needed for those who spend most of their time in reading books; however, symbolically it is used for those persons who do so.

Nevertheless, the poet sheds light on the person who diverts his attention towards other activities. This stanza may have also two symbolic meanings; firstly, a person may entirely stop reading books in his young age; secondly, the poet may want to say that the books that a person like in childhood might not attract him in his teenage; however, deeper analysis of last two lines of second stanza of “A Study of Reading Habits” makes it obvious that Philip Larkin talks about change in interests of the readers in middle age.

In the last two lines of the poem, there is a detailed description of the interest of the readers. The speakers explain the area of amusements. If we compare this stanza with the previous one, we realise that the interest of the readers has now changed. He means to say that he stops reading dramatic, action and moral stories and starts reading fantasies and love tales. He talks about the novels when a person starts feelings pleasure in sex. In short, in the second stanza of the poem, the poet talks about the books that engage readers’ attention in pleasurable physical activities.

Symbolic Significance of Stanza II

Stanza II of the poem depicts a natural phenomenon. The speaker involves women and sex in his area of interest; however, there is nothing to be ashamed of as in that these changes are due to natural changes. People in that age do not change only their interests of reading but also their physical activities. People physically involve themselves in these activities. The poem is only about the books; therefore, the poet also elaborates the law of nature in the second stanza of the poem.

Stanza III Analysis of “A Study of Reading Habits” by Philip Larkin

Final stanza is about the final stage of life. Teenage passes and a person becomes conscious about other activities of life. He feels that he has some other responsibilities; however, in this stanza the poet put responsibilities of life aside and talks only about the books. Philip Larkin uses the word “dude” in the last stanza of “A Study of Reading Habits’ ‘ that creates an analysis of a person who does not know about hard labour. It means that the idea behind writing this poem is to portray life as a journey of happiness. Unlike other poems of Philip Larkin this poem is not about thinking and doing something serious. In fact, it is not wrong to say that the poet sets aside all the worries of life and forces us to think about the positivity of life.

In addition, some other words “chap”, “yellow” and “stewed” makes it clear that the mood of the poet is not serious at all. Perhaps, the poet skips the age when a person feels responsible after marriage. It seems that after teenage, he directly refers to the age of retirement from responsibilities; or perhaps he is of the view that when a person has responsibilities, books do not attract him. He cannot not find time for reading books because of the liabilities.

Symbolic Significance of Stanza II

Shakespeare in one of his poem sketches seven stages of life. Philip Larkin in his poem “A Study of Reading Habits” creates analysis of three stages of life; childhood, teenage and the age of retirement. It seems that in childhood a person wants to explore new worlds; in teenage he becomes conscious about sex; therefore, he finds pleasure in them and wastes his time. Last age of a person seems enjoyable. Final stanza of the poem also shows the energetic mood of the poet. It seems that the speaker enjoys it the most in the last days of his life.


The poet depicts a reality and a journey of life. Life is indefinable; there are many ways a person can portray the journey of life. Philip Larkin chooses a general way. Philip Larkin poem “A Study of Reading Habits” seems an analysis of the life of an individual but symbolically it is highly universal in nature. The poem is not only about the experiences of a specific person but about the feelings of every person spending three stages of his life in the world reading books.