Letter: How the nation divides over Larkin

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The Independent Online
Sir: It's always good to see someone having a go at a national institution, though it seems a bit premature to put Philip Larkin into this category. The nub of Bryan Appleyard's case ('The dreary laureate of our provincialism', 18 March) against the librarian of Hull University seems to be that he was too deeply attached to a certain kind of insular Englishness to have a wider appeal. He was, and is, 'a major post-war British figure' but not 'a major British poet' (Comment, 18 March).

As one of the 'ordinary' people who read Larkin, not an 'Eng Lit' person anyway, I find this remarkable. I find very little deep regard for English provincialism in the poetry, although there certainly is some envy and anger against the London literary establishment in the Letters - though even there the amount of 'misery' is far outweighed by humour and affection for friends. Larkin's poetry, however, seems universal. Landscape and death are the staple of many great poets, after all.

What is 'great', to my mind, about Larkin is his absolute directness, his facing up to futility, which all of us feel at times, and making poems that Kingsley Amis rightly called 'unimprovably well-judged, clear and attractive'. For once, a blurb gets it right. Why should 'greatness' have to go beyond this? Why should recognition of this gift be 'a drab symptom of a peculiar contemporary national impulse to refuse all ambition, to snigger and skulk defensively at the first sign of difficulty'?

'Church Going' - not my favourite Larkin poem but a very fine one and more parodied than read, perhaps - is not without 'difficulty'; and I wouldn't mind betting it will be read by generations to come, alongside 'Dover Beach' or 'Tintern Abbey', for example, as precise and beautiful expressions of spiritual longing. For, as Larkin wrote in that poem: 'Someone will forever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious'; 'seriousness' - a bitter, jokey, spiky, unresolved seriousness - not 'Englishness' is what Larkin gives me.

Yours faithfully,


Brussels, Belgium

18 March