(Pink perfume, blue tobacco-smoke)*


From the website of the Poetry Foundation:

“…Larkin’s Selected Letters, edited by his longtime friend, poet Anthony Thwaite, reveals much about the writer’s personal and professional life between 1940 and 1985. Washington Post Book World reviewer John Simon noted that the letters are “about intimacy, conviviality, and getting things off one’s heaving chest into a heedful ear.” He suggests that “these cheerful, despairing, frolicsome, often foul-mouthed, grouchy, self-assertive and self-depreciating missives should not be missed by anyone who appreciates Larkin’s verse.”

In a Paris Review interview, Larkin dismissed the notion that he studied the techniques of poets that he admired in order to perfect his craft. Most critics feel, however, that the poems of both William Butler Yeats and Thomas Hardy exerted an influence on Larkin as he sought his own voice. Hardy’s work provided the main impetus to Larkin’s mature poetry, according to critics. A biographer in Contemporary Literary Criticism claimed “Larkin credited his reading of Thomas Hardy’s verse for inspiring him to write with greater austerity and to link experiences and emotions with detailed settings.” In Nine Contemporary Poets: A Critical Introduction (Methuen, 1979), Peter R. King contends that a close reading of Hardy taught Larkin “that a modern poet could write about the life around him in the language of the society around him. He encouraged [Larkin] to use his poetry to examine the reality of his own life.” In his work Philip Larkin, Martin also claims that Larkin learned from Hardy “that his own life, with its often casual discoveries, could become poems, and that he could legitimately share such experience with his readers. From this lesson [came Larkin’s] belief that a poem is better based on something from ‘unsorted’ experience than on another poem or other art.”…”

In The Telegraph of 16.11.02, Tom Payne selected his “Top five Philip Larkin lines”:

“1 “They tuck you up, your mum and dad” Not Larkin’s original line, I know. A prize was once offered to the person who could make the biggest difference to a poem by a single letter. All This Be the Verse needs is a flip of the “f”, and suddenly our most misanthropic poet becomes as benign as A A Milne. Fellow angry poet Adrian Mitchell took the lead, and went on with the poem in the same spirit: “They read you Peter Rabbit, too.” This reminds us not only what a miserable sod Larkin was, but also how familiar his lines are. His lunge for the vernacular here gives pupils the joy of swearing at their English teachers. And they can keep swearing: as Larkin wrote in another persona, “Books are a load of crap” (from A Study of Reading Habits).”

They tuck you up, your mum and dad,

They read you Peter Rabbit, too.

They give you all the treats they had

And add some extra, just for you./


They were tucked up when they were small,

(*Pink perfume, blue tobacco-smoke),

By those whose kiss healed any fall,

Whose laughter doubled any joke./


Man hands on happiness to man,

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

So love your parents all you can

And have some cheerful kids yourself.

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