Review: Philip Larkin, Collected Poems

This full collection of Larkin’s poems exhaustively explores his main preoccupations: death, sex and a sense of being set apart that’s simultaneously embraced and lamented. He’s at his best when the loss is leavened with humor, as in the famous Annus Mirabilis. Several of the poems suggest deep relationships with women, but many more objectify them, often in a juvenile “every woman excites the flesh” manner.

On whole the poems are excellent, though. They contain wry, understated takes on social living and limitations. The contradictions he suggests are fun to spend time with. However, for first exposure to Larkin, I would suggest “High Windows,” which contains most of his best poems.

Favorites here include “Mother, Summer, I“; “At thirty-one, when some are rich”; “MCMXIV“; “High Windows”; “Annus Mirabilis“; “This Be the Verse“; and “Vers de Societe.”