Philip Larkin (August 9, 1922 – December 2, 1985) was an English poet, novelist and jazz critic. One of the most prominent British poets of the second half of the 20th century – he was offered, but declined, the Poet Laureateship following the death of John Betjeman – he spent his working life as a university librarian. In 1972 he wrote the poem “Going Going”, a poem which reveals his ever-increasing streak of romantic fatalism in his view of England in his later years (Reference.com 2006)
An analysis of the poem, the first problematic moment comes in the last line of the first verse. The first five lines acquaint us with Larkin’s ideal England, the one of his youth. But when we read “I knew there’d be false alarms”, we know that he knows that change is coming and that he is perturbed by this. There is a sense of almost stunning bewilderment that accompanies this and is exacerbated throughout the poem. In the second verse, he talks about “bleak high risers” and the need to escape, and the feeling of doubt in the third. There are a variety of meanings that could accompany this. In the fourth verse, the poet asks whether he could just be old and not willing to accept the changes that youth brings. The reader is left wondering what the truth is.
The lines “It seems, just now, to be happening very fast” increase this sense of bewilderment that accompanies us throughout the text. By the end of the poem, we realize that the poet would like to hold onto the England of his past and that he sees doom for the future. “And that will be England gone”. Of course, England would not be gone, but changed – and that for the poet is the same thing. This idea of apocalypse is summed up neatly in the last verse – this dream of Apocalypse is carried, almost to the point of excess, in: “and garbage are too thick-strewn, To be swept up now, or invent, Excuses that make them all needs. I just think it will happen soon.
The poet seems uncertain whether its grand gesture is heroic or mock-heroic. (Neumann 2003). It seems that he doesn’t think the destruction will be intended, but is nonetheless inevitable.
The narrator’s point of view is sentimental but negative. Sentimental about the past – he writes of the “village louts”, the “bad” of the old England in tones close to compassionate, but of the “five percent profit” – something advantageous about the future, with undertones of scorn, as he sees the negative in this – ten percent more pollution. I interpret the poem as the rather nostalgic recording of reminiscence and fear by a person approaching old age. This is enhanced in particular by the words chosen in the eighth verse: ‘And that will be England went, The shadows, the meadows, the lanes, The guildhalls, the carved choirs. There’ll be books; it will linger on, In galleries; but all that remains, For us will be concrete and tires.”
The author had to adopt this point of view in order to make sure that the reader clearly understood the point he was trying to make – the felt that the England of fields and farms was about to become something of the past and that the industrial revolution was going to swallow England and everything that the country was known for. If the author had written from the point of view that there is some good to be found in everything and that we should look for the positive aspects of the change, then it would in effect seem as though he was supporting the change – which he was not. He would have been unable to have made the point as strongly as he did, and his purpose would not have been achieved. As it is, we understand very clearly what it is that he was saying, and realize that the poem is relevant even to today, because we have environmental concerns – one cannot rush headlong into change without first giving copious consideration everyone and everything who may be affected, and what the outcome may be. Decisions of magnitude have to be rational and calculated.
One must read the poem in context. In 1972 Edward Heath the Conservative was in power. The industrial revolution was in full flight, buildings were springing up all over the countryside and there was a steep rise in the price of commodities and oil. For a middle-aged man born between the wars who lived in an era when patriotism was high and change in England low, this could be a scary time.
GOING, GOING by Philip Larkin. (January 1972)
I thought it would last my time –
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms
In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.
Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?
Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more –
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score
Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when
You try to get near the sea
In summer . . .
It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,
That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts –
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.
And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.
Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.
- Larkin, Philip “Going, Going”, retrieved 23 May 2006 from the website http://www.igreens.org.uk/going_going.htm
- Neumann, Fritz-Wilhelm 2003, “The Poet of Political Incorrectness: Larkin’s Satirical Stance on the Sexual-Cultural Revolution of the 1960s” retrieved 23 May 2006 from the website http://webdoc.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic23/neumann/4_2003_fr.php
- Reference.com 2006 “Philip Larkin”, retrieved 23 May 2006 from the website http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Philip_Larkin