Philip Larkin (1922-1985) remains England's best-loved poet - a writer matchlessly capable of evoking his native land and of touching all readers from the most sophisticated intellectual to the proverbial common reader. The late John Betjeman observed that 'this tenderly observant poet writes clearly, rhythmically, and thoughtfully about what all of us can understand'. Behind this modest description lies a poet who made greatness look, in Milton's prescription, 'simple, sensuous and passionate'.
Almost a decade ago Kingsley Amis pooh-poohed the idea of anyone wanting to read a philosophical poem; others with similarly jaunty malice scorned apoca-??yptic verse or continentalism or indeed any sort of emotional thunder. Thomas and Sitwell, for instance, were Out. Thus the Movement: a group of academic-administrative poets, products of the English Welfare State, anti-romantic, wryly wistful, empirical to a fault. Their master was and is Philip Larkin. His third collection, almost a blueprint, thematically and qualitatively, of his last (The Less Deceived), has a title-poem as splendid as "Church Going", has "An Arundel Tom" and "Ambulances" the equals of, respectively, "At Grass" and "Next, Please"; etc. etc. The only difference now is an occasional Audenesque banter, ambivalently used. A supple middle-range avoiding both the over-charged and over-mild, a queerly personal impersonal voice, cool candid lines so cleverly controlled- these make up the Larkin signature. And he can, like no one else, distill a strange ??laintive music on the slightest theme in the slightest way: "Home is so sad. It stays as it was left/Shaped to the comfort of the last to go/As if to win them back..." Larkin is the sophisticated provincial, the "singer" of an unfevered life, the poet presenting past loves, aging, even death quite as reasonably and rigorously "distant" as his observations on the domestic scene, the "kiddies clobber," the holiday, record favorites and reading habits. If Kipling was the chronicler of Imperialism, Larkin is that of Little England. In his country's unroaring poetic kennel, he is definitely top dog. (Kirkus Reviews)