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This article is taken from PN Review 2, Volume 4 Number 2, January - March 1978.

Descending to the Commonplace Richard Swigg

WE SHOULD not be totally surprised at the progress in reputation made by the poetry of Philip Larkin in recent years, and especially since the publication of The Whitsun Weddings in 1964. The claims made then and since, the readiness to proclaim him as the true voice of our contemporary English experience, the instituting of him as Laureate of the Ordinary, make up the agreed basis of his general acceptance in a manner that brings one fact home with depressing clarity: the place which Larkin occupies in the esteem of many, as spokesman of the English sensibility, has not had to be arduously won-changing our consciousness, for instance, that we may appreciate the language of his-but is there and ready for him more by default than by pronounceable achievement, like an inheritance which at last, in slow, permeating obviousness, can no longer be denied him. The meek shall inherit the earth, but only, it seems, when the great have left it, together with our contentiously vital scepticism, or when the humane mind of an age is too worn down, enervated, or badly frightened to enable it to challenge not only the dubious humility of a Larkin but the kind of accepting vision which could possibly conceive of him as a major poet. For what essentially disturbs, beyond the fact that his poetry is found important or congenial, is the existence of the larger phenomenon which such popularity confirms-that is to say, the lineage of commonplace writing (and defences of ...


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