Philip Larkin Themes | Various Issues Covered in his Poetry

Philip Larkin Themes

Theme is also called the subject matter of an art. It indicates knowledge, experience and contention of an artist. Every poet, novelist and dramatist explores an idea in his literary work. So, a theme has importance of its own in every field of art. Some poets elucidate a large collection of ideas in their poems whereas others rely on limited themes. Philip Larkin belongs to the second category as he does not have a wide variety of themes that he can use in his poems. Critics and students of literature criticize him because of the narrowness with respect to themes in his poetry. 

Although Philip Larkin’s collection is limited yet his method of presentation is remarkable. Indeed, he has limited subjects to cover in his poems but he so skillfully writes on them that readers rarely find repetition of ideas in his poems. Perhaps, his versatile style of representation is the reason that critics call him the best English poet. 

Major Themes

Certain themes that Philip Larkin uses in his poems are:

  • Time
  • Death
  • Chances
  • Choices
  • Change
  • Disillusionment
  • Mystery
  • Desire
  • Disappointment
  • Inexplicableness. 

Minor Themes:

In addition, there are some other minor themes that many critics have identified on which Philip Larkin likes to write on are:

  • Failure, 
  • Fragility of human choices, 
  • Importance of vocation in life, 
  • The horrifying reality of death, 
  • Struggles of the common people, 
  • Universality of human misery and sadness, 
  • Isolation from environment and nature. 

It should be noted that we find a long list of themes in the poetry of Philip Larkin yet he has been charged for using very few themes in his poetry. Reason behind it is perhaps that these themes are interlinked with each other. The poet uses them at once in every poem.

David Timms admires the Larkin’s collection of themes and comments:

“The poem how constant Larkin’s themes have remained since 1946: disappointment in life, the pressure of society on the individual, the desire to escape those pressures together with the fear of the isolation such escape brings the encroachment of time.”

David Timms on Philip Larkin Themes

Some poems that contains these themes are:

Theme Distrust in Church Going

In order to explain and prove that Philip Larkin uses above said themes in his poetry, all the poems are not necessary to be referenced but some of them are worth mentioning. First one in the list is “Church Going”; the poem is about beliefs of the people in churches, which the poet says is fading day by day; he predicts that a time would come when people will no longer attend the churches. He mocks the beliefs of people and considers it boring to attend a church sermon. In said poem, he portrays a person who often stops and enters in the church but every time he comes out, he laments why he entered.

The poem deals with the distrust of people on God and religion. Attending a sermon in the church is a formality in the eyes of the poet. In addition, the poet also sheds light on the themes of distrust and superstition beliefs. We know that where there is religion there must be superstition beliefs but these beliefs come into existence when religion becomes paler. The poet expresses his opinion that when a religion fades, superstition beliefs become stronger. In the end, he believes that one day superstition beliefs will also come to an end; however, the spirit of tradition that the English Church represents would never end. 

There is a group of critics who believes that Philip Larkin may portray such themes but he is not against churches but he is against going into churches. It may not be true. It is evident from the poem that he expects the downfall of religion and what remains before us is the tradition of going to churches on birth, marriage and death ceremonies. 

Nonetheless, the poem deals with the themes of distrust of religion, superstition beliefs, spirit of tradition, ruination of inner peace with respect to religion, decline of religion, disenchantment and disappointment. 

Themes of Fear and Pessimism In Ambulances by Philip Larkin

The second poem which should be listed in this regard is “Ambulances”. The poet writes this poem in a pessimistic mode; it is about illness and death as an ambulance symbolizes illness. When a person sees an ambulance he imagines death in his mind. It is the poem, which is a hallmark of the poetic genius of Philip Larkin. Like every artist, he also discusses death as a trouble for everyone. Whenever a spectator glances at the ambulance, he thinks that his life is near to end. The poet says that the person, who is lying in the ambulance and whose life is about to end, had a wonderful life, which was a mixture of family relationships and current fashion but after death, these things have no value at all. 

The true fact of death cannot be ignored nor can it be underestimated. No matter how painful or beautiful life a person has spent, the fact of death is common for everyone. The subject matter of the poem is that the fact of death is universally acknowledged by everyone. Philip Larkin also illustrates some other themes of fear, horror, meaninglessness, futility and utility of life and pessimism in this poem. 

Common Themes in “Mr. Bleaney” and “MCMXIV” by Philip Larkin

Some other poems of Philip Larkin, which are excellent to be referenced, so far as his common themes are concerned, are: “Mr. Bleaney” and “MCMXIV”. The main theme, used in “Mr. Bleaney” is isolation. The poet also shows a connection between an individual and society. The poem is based on the habits of a person named Mr. Bleaney, who has no taste of reading books. He does not have any artistic quality. It also suggests a dull and meaningless life that an individual spends. Apart from that, boredom is also another theme of this poem.

“MCMXIV” on the other hand defines disillusionment. The poem contains sad imagery and gloomy themes. Again, the approach of the poet is pessimistic. The condition of a society, before the world war, is presented in this poem. The difference between rural and urban life, with the background of war, is contrasted by the poet. Poem reflects the sadness on the face of society before World War I. 


To concise, Philip Larkin may have a short combination of themes but his approach is universal. Every theme in his poetry is unique. Literature has universal appeal and the poet proves it with skillful illustration of themes in this poetry. Most of the themes are common in every poem but style is totally in contrast. The poet has a God gifted talent to dramatize a simple theme. Numerous poems of Philip Larkin are based on dramatic monologs. There is no denying the fact that his grouping of different themes is appreciated in every age. In short, he does not have a wide collection of themes but the collection which he has is enough for him to present his knowledge and experiences of life.