Matt Merritt linked to an interesting article in the Telegraph recently, addressing Larkin's poetry and its tendency to 'tell the reader what to think'. Of course, all this is a matter of opinion, as Larkin isn't necessarily telling the reader what to think in even his most forthright poems. After all, despite what A.N. Wilson says, 'Life is first boredom, then fear' (from 'Dockery and Son') ultimately amounts to no more than a certain viewpoint, whether or not this particular opinion matches up with the views Larkin held, or indeed, the way he lived his life. Larkin's intention wasn't to tell us what to think, but to offer us a way of thinking. In fact, I still return to his work now, and while I may be more inclined than some to agree or sympathise with a handful of the near-statements Larkin's poems make, I don't see that what he offers us are mere emotional, social or spiritual dead ends. Just think of the possibility of transcendence that concludes 'High Windows', or the varying interpretations one might bring to the aphoristic close of 'Mr Bleaney'. Larkin's poems ultimately serve to offer us a view of the world, and as such, serve to get us questioning and thinking. Whether this infuriates some is besides the point. After all, every poem is in conversation with every other, and just as importantly, in conversation with the reader. Why shouldn't poems serve to anger as well as excite us? That's what provoked Carol Rumens to write her response to 'This Be The Verse'.
Back in October 07, I chose 'As Bad as a Mile' as the Poem of the Month for the Philip Larkin Society, having previously opted for 'Sunny Prestatyn' as my favourite in April 05. Unfortunately, the poem and my comments were only live on the site for a short while, and the website, having undergone many changes, is currently still under construction in parts. Until the archive of previous choices is live, then, I thought I'd post my comments on 'As Bad as a Mile' here: a short little poem that appeared in Larkin's most successful and well-remembered collection, The Whitsun Weddings. The poem is one of many that is testament to both Larkin abilities as a poet and to his work's lasting value, and one that I feel dispels notions of his 'telling us what to think'. Since I do not have permission to reprint the poem here, you can find it in full by clicking here.
As Bad as a Mile
[this analysis can now be found on The Philip Larkin Society's website]