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PNR 277
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This item is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

Letter from Trevor Toley
Young Larkin


 My thanks to you and to Neil Powell for the extensive and respectful review of my edition of Philip Larkin's Early Poems and Juvenilia (PNR 167). Neil Powell, like many other reviewers, asked himself what justification there could be for publishing so much undoubtedly minor work; though the interest and concern of his discussion and the number of poems he found worth talking about seems to be a strong demonstration of why it was justified. He, like other reviewers, did not point to any poem that he felt was worth reading for its own sake, other than the well-known 'Wedding Wind'. Yet there are quite a few among those never published before, such as 'When this face was younger', simple but touching in its economy and directness:

When this face was younger,
               One man and I
Heaped love on each other
               Till love ran dry;
Since mine was the stronger
               Mine is the more pain:
He loves no longer:
               I love not again.

I was impressed by the amount of attention Neil Powell gave to the influence of Auden, and particularly by his remark that 'If the voice of early Auden won't go away (and it never did completely), this is because Larkin owed almost everything to it.' No doubt the reading of Hardy was liberating for Larkin and led him to see, as he put it, 'that here was someone writing about things I was beginning to feel myself... not a transcendental writer... not a Yeats...' Yet the idiom to which Larkin turned, after his father's death in 1948, to write 'An April Sunday brings the snow' and 'And yet - but after death there's no "and yet"...' was not that of Hardy, but an idiom that he had developed from that of Auden in his earlier years, particularly from Look Stranger! (1936) and Letters from Iceland (1937). This was the idiom that became firmly his in the following year with 'At Grass'.

Neil Powell adventurously explores the influence of Dylan Thomas and D.H. Lawrence on the early poems. In discussing Thomas's influence, it has to be remembered that Deaths and Entrances was not published until February 1946, and that, of its twenty-four poems, eleven of the most celebrated were not published before May 1944. I myself found the 'Lawrence' poem, 'Leap Year', 'uncharacteristic'. It is one of five poems of the same style; and I would have been left wondering if they were indeed by Larkin, if 'Leap Year' had not been typed on the same page as a continuation of an essay 'The Art of Jazz'.

 There always seems something new popping up about Larkin. The first poem in Early Poems and Juvenilia came, as I noted, from a letter to Colin Gunner. Larkin did not need to tell Gunner what he was doing; but, after my edition appeared, Jeff Vent, who taught for 41 years at King Henry VIII School, wrote to tell me. It was a parody of the School Song.


This item is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

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