Philip Larkin pp 172-201 | Cite as

Empty Gestures

  • James Booth


Mortality is our common lot, and for a lyric poet concerned with the liminal plight of ‘being here’, death, the ultimate threshold, is an inevitable theme. Few poets of the twentieth century are so consistently death-obsessed as Larkin. Sitting on a gravestone in Spring Bank Cemetery in 1964 he told John Betjeman: ‘everything I write, I think, has the consciousness of approaching death in the background.’1 His inner biological clock ticked loud, and he could always hear it distinctly. His poetry is fundamentally elegiac. It seems surprising, therefore, that his name scarcely features in recent theoretical treatments of elegy. This is largely because he writes the less-theorised genres of meditative elegy or self-elegy rather than mourning elegy, which has received by far the greatest attention from commentators. It is mortality as our common fate, or more immediately his own death, which concerns him.


Complicated Grief Lyric Poet Love Song Familiar Image Ambiguous Tone 
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© James Booth 2005

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  • James Booth

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