Larkin’s Legacy

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 8 2012 @ 5:31pm

Later this month, I'll be taking part in a celebration of the publication of Philip Larkin's complete poems in the Great Hall at Cooper Union on Tuesday, April 24th at 7PM. It's organized by the Poetry Society of America. Michael Dirda reviews the book in the New Criterion. It doesn't just have all the poems, but also painstakingly assembled "commentaries" on the poems, culled from Larkin's own letters, notebooks, and drafts. Money quote from Dirda's review:

[Larkin's] reputation has risen and continues to rise. There may have been a slight blip when Larkin’s private life was first revealed, but posterity is concerned with art, not morals. As Auden observed of Yeats: 'You were silly like us; your gift survived it all.'

Larkin may have been lustful, vulgar in his correspondence with friends, casually racist, stingy, and deceptive with the women he loved and two-timed. But he was a man of his age, and not very different from you or me, except that he could write 'The Whitsun Weddings' and we can’t. A recent article in The Times proposed a list of 'the 50 Best British Writers since 1945': Larkin was number one, George Orwell was second."

I have to say it cheered me to find out that Hitch was reading Larkin right up to his death (along with Wodehouse). Larkin's brutal bleakness always gathers depth from a sliver of light. And somehow the cumulative effect of his poetry, for me at least, is to generate hope. And every time I read Larkin now, I think of Christopher. It's the closest I can some to a prayer without hearing his disapproval across eternity.