Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Philip Larkin, fully Philip Arthur Larkin

English Poet and Novelist

"Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms inside your head, and people in them, acting."

"Life is first boredom, then fear. Whether or not we use it, it goes, and leaves what something hidden from us chose, and age, and then the only end of age... Time has transfigured them into untruth. The stone fidelity they hardly meant has come to be their final blazon, and to prove our almost-instinct almost true: what will survive of us is love."

"Above all, though, children are linked to adults by the simple fact that they are in process of turning into them. For this they may be forgiven much. Children are bound to be inferior to adults, or there is no incentive to grow up."

"And immediately Rather than words comes the thought of high windows: The sun-comprehending glass, And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless. "

"I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you're an artist, by children if you're not. "

"I'm terrified of the thought of time passing (or whatever is meant by that phrase) whether I 'do' anything or not. In a way I may believe, deep down, that doing nothing acts as a brake on 'time's - it doesn't of course. It merely adds the torment of having done nothing, when the time comes when it really doesn't matter if you've done anything or not. "

"Never such innocence, Never before or since, As changed itself to past Without a word--the men Leaving the gardens tidy, The thousands of marriages Lasting a little while longer: Never such innocence again. "

"Love again: wanking at ten past three (Surely he's taken her home by now?), The bedroom hot as a bakery, The drink gone dead, without showing how To meet tomorrow, and afterwards, And the usual pain, like dysentery. Someone else feeling her breasts and cunt, Someone else drowned in that lash-wide stare, And me supposed to be ignorant, Or find it funny, or not to care, Even ... but why put it into words? Isolate rather this element That spreads through other lives like a tree And sways them on in a sort of sense And say why it never worked for me. Something to do with violence A long way back, and wrong rewards, And arrogant eternity. "

"Death is no different whined at than withstood."

"I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any-after all, most people are unhappy, don't you think?"

"I work all day, and get half drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain edges will grow light. Till then I see what's really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when I shall myself die. Arid interrogation: yet the dread Of dying, and being dead, Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse – The good not used, the love not given, time Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because An only life can take so long to climb Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never: But at the total emptiness forever, The sure extinction that we travel to And shall be lost in always. Not to be here, Not to be anywhere, And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. This is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says no rational being Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anesthetic from which none come round. And so it stays just on the edge of vision, A small unfocused blur, a standing chill That slows each impulse down to indecision. Most things may never happen: this one will, And realization of it rages out In furnace fear when we are caught without People or drink. Courage is no good: It means not scaring others. Being brave Lets no-one off the grave. Death is no different whined at than withstood. Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape. It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know, Have always known, know that we can't escape Yet can't accept. One side will have to go. Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring Intricate rented world begins to rouse. The sky is white as clay, with no sun. Work has to be done. Postmen like doctors go from house to house. "

"Life has a practice of living you, if you don't live it."

"On me your voice falls as they say love should, Like an enormous yes. "

"On pillow after pillow lies The wild white hair and staring eyes; Jaws stand open; necks are stretched With every tendon sharply sketched; A bearded mouth talks silently To someone no one else can see. Sixty years ago they smiled At lover, husband, first-born child. Smiles are for youth. For old age come Death's terror and delirium. "

"Now, helpless in the hollow of An unarmorial age, a trough Of smoke in slow suspended skeins Above their scrap of history, Only an attitude remains: Time has transfigured them into Untruth. The stone finality They hardly meant has come to be Their final blazon, and to prove Our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive of us is love. "

"Nothing, like something, happens anywhere."

"Once more Uncontradicting solitude Supports me on its giant palm; And like a sea-anemone Or simple snail, there cautiously Unfolds, emerges, what I am. "

"Only in books the flat and final happens, Only in dreams we meet and interlock. "

"Originality is being different from oneself, not others. "

"Seriously, I think it is a grave fault in life that so much time is wasted in social matters, because it not only takes up time when you might be doing individual private things, but it prevents you storing up the psychic energy that can then be released to create art or whatever it is. It's terrible the way we scotch silence & solitude at every turn, quite suicidal. I can't see how to avoid it, without being very rich or very unpopular, & it does worry me, for time is slipping by, and nothing is done. It isn't as if anything was gained by this social frivolity, It isn't: it's just a waste. "

"Something, like nothing, happens anywhere. "

"Sex is designed for people who like overcoming obstacles… Sex means nothing--just the moment of ecstasy, that flares and dies in minutes. "

"The breath that sharpens life is life itself. "

"There is bad in all good authors: what a pity the converse isn't true! "

"Time has transfigured them into Untruth. The stone fidelity They hardly meant has come to be Their final blazon, and to prove Our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive of us is love. "

"What will survive of us is love. "

"Why can't one stop being a son without becoming a father? "

"Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life? Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork and drive the brute off? Work is a kind of vacuum, an emptiness, where I just switch off everything except the scant intelligence necessary to keep me going. God, the people are awful - great carved monstrosities from the sponge-stone of secondratedness. Hideous. "

"In everyone there sleeps. A sense of life lived according to love. To some it means the difference they could make. By loving others, but across most it sweeps. As all they might have done had they been loved. That nothing cures."

"You can't put off being young until you retire."

"A good meal can somewhat repair the eatings of slight love."

"An Arundel Tomb: side by side, their faces blurred, the earl and countess lie in stone, their proper habits vaguely shown as jointed armor, stiffened pleat, and that faint hint of the absurd - the little dogs under their feet. Such plainness of the pre-Baroque hardly involves the eye, until it meets his left-hand gauntlett, still clasped empty in the other, and one sees with a sharp tender shock his hand withdrawn, holding her hand. They would not think to lie so long, such faithfulness in effigy was just a detail friends would see, a sculptor's sweet commissioned grace thrown off in helping to prolong the Latin names around the base. They would not guess how early in their supine stationary voyage the air would change to soundless damage, turn the old tenantry away; how soon succeeding eyes being to look, not read. Rigidly, they persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths of time. Snow fell, undated. Light each summer thronged the grass. A bright litter of birdcalls strewed the same bone-littered ground. And up the paths the endless altered people came washing at their identity. Now helpless in the hollow of an unarmorial age, a trough of smoke in slow suspended skeins above their scrap of history, only an attitude remains. Time has transfigured them into Untruth. The stone fidelity they hardly meant has come to be their final blazon and to prove our almost-instinct almost-true: what will survive of us is love."

"And I am sick for want of sleep; so sick, that I can half-believe the soundless river pouring from the cave is neither strong nor deep; only an image fancied in conceit."

"And I, whose childhood is a forgotten boredom, feel like a child who comes on a scene of adult reconciling, and can understand nothing but the unusual laughter, and starts to be happy."

"At death, you break up: the bits that were you start speeding away from each other forever with no one to see. It's only oblivion, true: we had it before, but then it was going to end, and was all the time merging with a unique endeavor to bring to bloom the million-petalled flower of being here. Next time you can't pretend there'll be anything else. And these are the first signs: not knowing how, not hearing who, the power of choosing gone. Their looks show that they're for it: ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines-how can they ignore it? Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms inside your head, and people in them, acting. People you know, yet can't quite name; each looms like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning, setting down a Iamp, smiling from a stair, extracting a known book from the shelves; or sometimes only the rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning, the blown bush at the window, or the sun' s faint friendliness on the wall some lonely rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live: not here and now, but where all happened once. This is why they give an air of baffled absence, trying to be there yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear of taken breath, and them crouching below extinction's alp, the old fools, never perceiving how near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet. The peak that stays in view wherever we go for them is rising ground. Can they never tell what is dragging them back, and how it will end ? Not at night? Not when the strangers come ? Never, throughout the whole hideous inverted childhood? Well, we shall find out."

"Beyond all this, the wish to be alone: However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards..."

"Books are a load of crap."

"Dear, I can't write, it's all a fantasy: a kind of circling obsession."

"But superstition, like belief, must die."

"But, o, photography! as no art is, faithful and disappointing! That records dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds, and will not censor blemishes, like washing-lines, and Hall's-Distemper boards"

"Birthdays are a time when one stock takes, which means, I suppose, a good spineless mope: I scan my horizon and can discern no sail of hope along my own particular ambition. I tell you what it is: I'm quite in accord with the people who enquire 'What is the matter with the man?' because I don't seem to be producing anything as the years pass but rank self-indulgence. You know that my sole ambition, officially at any rate, was to write poems and novels, an activity I never found any difficulty fulfilling between the (dangerous) ages of 17-24: I can't very well ignore the fact that this seems to have died a natural death. On the other hand I feel regretful that what talents I have in this direction are not being used. Then again, if I am not going to produce anything in the literary line, the justification for my selfish life is removed - but since I go on living it, the suspicion arises that the writing existed to produce the life, and not vice versa. And as a life it has very little to recommend it: I spend my days footling in a job I care nothing about, a curate among lady-clerks; I evade all responsibility, familial, professional, emotional, social, not even saving much money or helping my mother. I look around me and I see people getting on, or doing things, or bringing up children - and here I am in a kind of vacuum. If I were writing, I would even risk the fearful old age of the Henry-James hero: not fearful in circumstance but in realisation: because to me to catch, render, preserve, pickle, distil or otherwise secure life-as-it-seemed for the future seems to me infinitely worth doing; but as I'm not the entire morality of it collapses. And when I ask why I'm not, well, I'm not because I don't want to: every novel I attempt stops at a point where I awake from the impulse as one might awake from a particularly-sickening nightmare - I don't want to 'create character', I don't want to be vivid or memorable or precise, I neither wish to bathe each scene in the lambency of the 'love that accepts' or be excoriatingly cruel, smart, vicious, 'penetrating' (ugh), or any of the other recoil qualities. In fact, like the man in St. Mawr, I want nothing. Nothing, I want. And so it becomes quite impossible for me to carry on. This failure of impulse seems to me suspiciously like a failure of sexual impulse: people conceive novels and dash away at them and finish them in the same way as they fall in love and will not be satisfied till they're married - another point on which I seem to be out of step. There's something cold and heavy sitting on me somewhere, and until something budges it I am no good."

"Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth."

"Depression hangs over me as if I were Iceland."

"Far too many relied on the classic formula of a beginning, a muddle, and an end."

"Get stewed: Books are a load of crap."

"He [Llewelyn Powys] has always in mind the great touchstone Death and consequently life is always judged as how far it fits us, or compensates us, for ultimately dying."

"He [Samuel Butler] made a practice of doing the forks last when washing up, on the grounds that he might die before he got to them. This is very much his principle of 'eating the grapes downwards', so that however many grapes you have eaten the next is always the best of the remainder."

"Everyone should be forcibly transplanted to another continent from their family at the age of three."

"Empty-page staring again tonight. It's maddening. I suppose people who don't write (like the Connollies) imagine anything that can be though can be expressed. Well, I don't know. I can't do it. It's this sort of thing that makes me belittle the whole business: what's the good of a 'talent' if you can't do it when you want to? What should we think of a woodcarver who couldn't woodcarver? or a pianist who couldn't play the piano? Bah, likewise grrr."

"Earth never grieves, I thought, walking across the park, watching seagulls cruising greedily above the ground looking for heaven knows what. Don't you think it's a good line? A very good line"