Loves and Muses II

  • James Booth


‘If, My Darling’, completed in May 1950, adopts a tone of combative humour new to Larkin’s poetry at the time. In the title, a comma isolates the heavily-stressed ‘If’, suggesting a direct address to the woman: a question, or a threat. Is she perhaps herself the, or an, intended reader? Then in the poem’s first line the same words are edgily recapitulated, but without the comma, to introduce the consequences of her foolhardiness, as if to say: ‘well, she’s asked for it.’ The poem deploys the coarsest post-war stereotypes of prim young lady and anti-social bachelor with an aggressive edge which seems designed to provoke protest. My darling’s quaint, sentimental world is patently a wilful caricature. The mahogany claw-footed sideboards, the fender-seat, the prissy ‘small-printed books for the Sabbath’, the bibulous butler and lazy housemaids belong to an archaic world of ridiculous Victorian propriety. We might reflect that we have only the male poet’s word that this is indeed what his darling expects of him.


Noun Phrase Late Face Annual Holiday Direct Address Lyric Poetry 
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  1. 6.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘A Dedication to my Wife’, The Complete Poems and Plays (London: Faber, 1969), 206.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Seamus Heaney, ‘The Skunk’, New Selected Poems 1966–1987 (London: Faber, 1990), 122.Google Scholar
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    ‘Philip Larkin reads and comments on’ The Whitsun Weddings, Listen Records (Hull: Marvell Press, 1965).Google Scholar
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    Alan Bennett, ‘Alas! Deceived’, Philip Larkin: Contemporary Critical Essays, ed. Stephen Regan (Basingstoke: Macmillan New Casebooks, 1997), 243.Google Scholar
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    See James Booth, Introduction to Trouble at Willow Gables and Other Fictions (London: Faber, 2002), xxxii-xxxiv.Google Scholar
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    The final incomplete stanza is omitted in Collected Poems (1988). It is discussed by A. T. Tolley in Larkin at Work (Hull: Hull University Press, 1997), 111.Google Scholar
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    Andrew Swarbrick, Out of Reach: The Poetry of Philip Larkin (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1995), 173.Google Scholar
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© James Booth 2005

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  • James Booth

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