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

  • May 15, 2022
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Philip Larkin’s poetry has been divided into two groups in the eyes of critics; the 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 a member of the “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 and started illustrating pessimistic themes in his poetry. 

It is necessary to differentiate modern poetry from the poetry of movement before adjudging Philip Larkin as a modern poet. 

What is Movement Poetry?

Name “Movement” was given to a group of poets and Philip Larkin was one of them. Poets of the movement were anti-modernist. Although it was loosely a group of English poets, 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 scepticism 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

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

Movement Poetry Characteristics

Some common attributes of movement poetry are: 

  • It targets common people.
  • Strong relationship between poet and reader.
  • Common themes.
  • Clear and Colloquial style.
  • Realistic images. 
  • Rational.
  • Empirical.
  • Argumentative.

What is Modern Poetry?

Is Philip Larkin a modern poet? Modern poets, on the other hand, were entirely opposite to the poets of the 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 the 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 the reader. It had unusual themes. The language was also not simple but vague and unclear.

Characteristics of Modern Poetry

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.
  • The elite class was targeted.
  • Mystification.

Philip Larkin as a Modern Poet

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

Be that as it may,  Alverez describes Larkin as a rebel for modern poets. The numbers of poems of Philip Larkin reveal that his poetry is entirely different from modern poetry. Philip Larkin’s A Study of Reading Habits Analysis reveals modernism in his poetry. In addition, “The Whitsun Wedding” is an example of a 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.

Church Going as a Poem of Movement

Similarly, “Church Going” has every element of movement poetry. Speaker of the poem is an ordinary, frustrated and clumsy person. In this poem the 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 to be 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 a modern poet.

Taking Bed is another Poem of Movement

“Talking in Bed” is also an important example in this regard. This poem also has every feature of movement poetry. It fulfils 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 is anti-modernistic.

Movement Vs. Modern Elements in Mr. Bleaney

Mr. Bleaney” is another poem to be referred to in this regard. 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 scepticism 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.

Modern Poetry and the Poet Philip Larkin

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 a 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

There is a direct relationship between the poet and audience in these poems. Themes of these poems are common. In fact, Philip Larkin has written all these poems for common people. 

Realism Makes Philip Larkin a Modern Poet

As mentioned earlier, there are some critics who consider Philip Larkin a modern poet as modernism is there in his poetry. In order to understand that we must first know what is realistic poetry.

Pragmatic expression in poetry creates realistic elements. It is certainly there in the poetry of Philip Larkin. Poetry that deals with reality never gives escapism as a solution to handle harsh problems of life. Poets who portray realism try their best to sketch realities of life Philip Larkin is famous for illustrating realistic images. Besides being a poet of movement he is also called a realistic poet. 

Poetry of movement is much closer to reality, hence some common themes of Philip Larkin poetry are death, religion, fear, dread and isolation. Larkin’s poetry is universal in nature, which is one of the major characteristics of modern poetry. He is a poet for laymen. Moreover, he does not idealise the world that he presents in his poem. A lot of examples  are there that proves Philip Larkin the most realistic poet in the history of English literature. 

Philip Larkin does not present any false idea in his poems nor has he mixed it with artificiality. His poetry appears true. He is a loyal artist who does not sell lies. He talks about common universal problems. 

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

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