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In Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse,” readers see a swing of three different emotions and opinions from Larkin, in just a short three stanzas: finger pointing, acceptance, and a suggestion. By instantly roping readers in with a risky first line, the poem “goes on to convey emotions like hopelessness and bitterness, then ends with an imperative”. This paper will examine the tone of the poem, changes in subject matter from each stanza, and review key images that associate one element of the poem to another.
From the title of Larkin’s poem “This Be The Verse,” readers can construct an initial impression that the tone of something severe will be discussed. Upon further reading into the piece of writing, the reader can recognize that the poem has strong undertones of an important lesson to be known by all, which sets a tone for Larkin’s writing. However, the conventionality of his insight is impaired by the first line in the poem “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” (Larkin 1). This introduction sets a standard that even though Larkin is trying to advise the reader on a topic of importance, he also wants the reader to understand that not everything in life has to be completely serious.
Readers can clearly see Larkin’s position on reproducing and raising children: “the poem is focused around a very misanthropical perspective with misery being handed on from generation to generation” (Stuart 2011). Not only does Larkin refer to this in the first line of the third stanza when he says: “man hands on misery to man,” (Larkin 9) but he advances in implying that the issue with procreation is the generation that came before: “they were fucked up in their turn”. With that being said, author Bethany Stuart introduces a very good point, when referring to the second to last line in the poem: “Get out as early as you can” (Larkin 11). Stuart says: “Larkin does provide a solution, which in the literal sense would prevent conception in the first place” (Stuart 2011). This constant tone of displeasure seen throughout the poem is a constant reminder of Larkin’s point of view on reproduction: don’t do it.
Throughout “This Be The Verse,” the subject matter changes from stanza to stanza. In stanza one, Larkin writes: “They fuck you up your mum and dad” (Larkin 1). This opening line sets up the reader with a harsh first impression of the subject matter of the poem. However, between the first and second stanza, readers see the subject matter revolve. In stanza two, Larkin writes: “who half the time were soppy-stern and half at one another’s throats,” (Larkin 7) embodying the reality that familial disputes are a standard concept in almost every household.
Carriere addresses this change of subject matter, to which she has to say that “no longer is Larkin speaking directly to you about your parents, but he is now, in a sense, addressing parents of different generations and creating a sense of equality among each of them” (Carriere 2012). In the third stanza, “Larkin’s poem has transformed from merely an angry statement into a letter of advice for any children reading it” (Commis 2012). In this final stanza, Larkin writes: “Get out as early as you can, and don’t have any kids yourself” (Larkin 11-12).
At this point in the poem, Larkin has gone from a state of anger to a feasible understanding for the cycle of a parent raising a child, to merely giving up. This shift is seen in the final stanza and the quote shown above shows that Larkin recognizes the “continuing cycle of corrupted mind after corrupted mind” (Carriere 2012). To this, he offers his quick fix; don’t have kids at all. From Larkin’s finger pointing in stanza one to moderate acceptance in stanza two to his suggestion of not reproducing in stanza three, it is clear that there is a change of subject matter in each stanza, and “as the reader continues to fall into Larkin’s words, the narrator replaces his aggressive tone with a more understanding one that is accepting of parents’ faults” (Carriere 2012).
Repetition is seen often in this poem, with the word “they” being used frequently. It is used six times, “five of which only in the first stanza, as a leitmotif” (This Be the Verse | Analysis). Each time it is used, it is remarking to parents and their predecessors (This Be the Verse | Analysis). Rhythm is also seen in this poem. There are four lines in each stanza, and in each line, the rhythm is alike. This exhibits to the reader that “the ‘cycle’ is the same for every generation and that it never changes” (Newman). Katie Newman expressed that by having three stanzas, all with the same rhythm, these identically rhythmic stanzas “could represent a family unit, a mother, father and child or 3 generations in a family” (Newman). The poem also has a repetitive rhyme scheme, and much like above where Newman compared the rhythm of the poem to the ‘cycle’ of generations, readers can also see how the rhyme scheme used in this poem supports Larkin’s message. In this sense, his rhyme scheme becomes “ a pattern from which we cannot escape” (Churchill 2016).
Everything considered, Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse” is an ideal precedent of a poem because it has such considerable tone, changes in subject matter from each stanza, and key images that associate one element of the poem to another. With a unique opinion that on the familial status quo, “Larkin is very successful in creating a cynical view on the relationship between parents and children in our society, one that will not be forgotten”.
The poem “This be the verse” by Phillip Larkin expresses the idea that parents have a negative influence on their children’s life. It displays that parents unintentionally mess up their offspring, they plant all of their emotional weight into their children which in turn leads the child to a road of destruction. It is made apparent that the curse is generational and unavoidable, parents may wound their children simply by parenting them; sons and daughters carry pain into adulthood and then pass the wounds on, in turn, to their offspring. Philip Larkin further establishes the theme of his poem by utilizing literary devices such as irony, internal rhyming, alliteration, and repetition.
The title of the poem “This Be the Verse” is ironic, the self-importance given in the word “the” and grandeur of the phrasing mockingly demands that the reader pay attention to the poem as it is “the” poem that contains great wisdom. Larkin also plays on the word “verse”, which can be used to refer to poetry in general, as well as specific stanzas but also the Bible. Here there is an ironic echo of phrases such “This is the word of the Lord”
The fact that there are 4 lines in each stanza and that the rhythm in each line is the same shows to the reader that the ‘cycle’ is the same for every generation and that it never changes. This idea is mirrored in the third stanza in the quotation “deepens like a coastal shelf”, with this simile Larkin shows how the ‘cycle’ is difficult to escape from as the deepening of a coastal shelf is a natural process that occurs on every coastline in the world and this image conveys to the reader the impossibility of fighting it. Also the image of waves reinforces the repetitious nature of the ‘cycle’ as they are constantly happening.
Larkin’s use of alliteration in the quotation “Man hands on misery to man” draws the reader’s attention to it and emphasises the point he is making to the reader. And this is that humans create their own “misery” and are responsible for their own mistakes and that we (humans) are our own worst enemy. The words “hands on” also imply that the problems that mankind face today were created by our ancestors, perhaps here Larkin is suggesting to the reader that issues such as global warming are as a result of generations of people’s mistakes.
Larkin begins the last line of each stanza with the word “And” and in doing so has again shown to his readers the cyclical nature of our lives as they are all the same. Also it creates the sense of each stanza being a list of things that is never ending and that has been passed on through the generations and will always be there.This idea is supported by Larkin’s use of anaphora in the first stanza with the use of the word “They”, this again shows our cyclical way of life. Alternatively it could suggest that we (man) have no real power over our lives and that we have no real independence over ourselves as we are all the same as our ancestors. In the last line of the poem Larkin suggests that there is a way of escape from the ‘cycle’ and that is to not “have any kids yourself”, with this he shows the reader that the only way of ending this ‘cycle’ is to stop it from repeating and thus breaking its grip on humanity. With this message Larkin suggests to the reader that our lives will only be different if we end the cycle and also that if we don’t break the ‘cycle’ nothing will ever change. Adding to this by making the above quotation the last line in the poem it gives the reader the impression of hope, that this seemingly unending ‘cycle’ can be broken and that our lives can be changed.
In conclusion, Phillip Larkin used a series of literary devices that all worked together to convey the strong message he was bringing forth. Parents by their style of parenting unknowing place seeds inside of their children that begin to bloom and become negative things. Life is a cycle of tainting children generation after generation in turn crippling the children.
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