This Be the Verseby Philip LarkinThey fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they hadAnd add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turnBy fools in old-style hats and coats,Who half the time were sloppy-sternAnd half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,And don’t have any kids yourself.
Lately, I have read a good deal of poems by Philip Larkin, and one unifying factor that I have noticed is that Larkin never seems to use a filler. Every word in every one of his poems seems to be carefully crafted and placed, to the point where the flow and rhythm of the poem seem almost an accident. One poem I read that really stayed with me is the above poem, “This be the Verse.” I will now show you how this poem, which at first glance seems to be written only to amuse, really has a much deeper meaning. I will examine the poem in several parts. First, I would like to examine the use of curse words in the poem, or why other words that would be considered more acceptable to the general public were not used. Then, I will discuss the three stanzas of the poem and what they were meant to do for the audience. Lastly, I will explore why Larkin would write such a poem, and what he was trying to get across to his audience by writing it.
The second line in this poem contains the word “fuck,” a word that is usually not considered acceptable for the general public. Yet Larkin incorporates it almost immediately into his poem. I can think of four possible reasons why. Firstly, words such as fuck quickly and easily grab the audiences attention. This is similar to yelling “sex” in a crowded marketplace, everyone wants to know what is being discussed. Also, words like fuck prepare the audience for a humorous bit of poetry, and this perks the audience’s attention, and lets them know off the bat that this will not be another long and boring verse.
Secondly, words such as fuck produce an atmosphere for adults, or mature people. One term that is used quite extensively lately is “adult language.” This term branches off of the common idea that children should and would not use such words until they are older and have a more concrete knowledge of what they are really saying. Thus, by using a word such as fuck, Larkin creates a poem that will most likely not be read to children. Also, such a poem would not be read at certain social gatherings (i.e. church meetings) where such words are considered unacceptable, further narrowing the audience for this poem. That brings me to my third point: that the people who read such a poem know, whether consciously or not, that they are in a distinct group, and that this poem was written for them. This allows Larkin to establish a closeness with his readers, now that they know that he is writing for them. This also implies to the reader that Larkin is one of them, that he knows the reader well, because he is in the same social class. To sum it up, by using a word considered to be socially incorrect, Larkin has managed to establish more credibility with the reader, which inherently forces the reader listen up, and pay attention to what Larkin has to say.
Lately, “modern” art and poetry are showing more and more “unacceptable” words. This is because such words have become synonymous with “truth.” In other words, the general public seems to feel that if an artist is using curse words, then he must be “telling it like it is.” Thus, using such words helps Larkin’s credibility as a man who has seen and will now tell. Larkin’s poem is divided into three stanzas, each with it’s own meaning and objectives. The first stanza is the introduction. As discussed above, the first stanza singles out a select group of people and builds Larkin’s credibility with them. But beyond that, the first stanza also inspires several other feeling in the reader, just from the actual words it uses. The very first line, in fact, insults your own parents. Larkin did this in order to provoke a slight feeling of anger, one which he will dispense soon afterward. By the second line, Larkin has already started to divert the initial blow to your parents, saying that it is not their fault for what they did to you. By the third and forth line, the insult has been successfully shifted from your parents to you, the reader. However, Larkin manages to shift not only the insult, but that same feeling of anger toward the author, except that now the anger is there because the author insulted you. In the second stanza, Larkin again justifies why it is not your parents fault for what they did to you. Instead, he shifts the blame to your grandparents. However, if this poem were read by your parents, then the blame would be shifted back another generation. And so on, until it is clear that the corruption of children has been going on for ever, back to the first humans. On the other hand, should this poem be read by your children, then it would once again be your parents fault. And so on, into infinity, it is everyone’s fault, for somewhere there will be someone to blame their faults on you. The last two lines of the second stanza describe how the readers grandparents (or whomever the blame is being shifted on) went about “fucking you up.” However, the description that Larkin uses is a very typical description of what is considered a modern household, again implying that nothing is anyone’s fault, but that we are all contributing to “fucking up” of the world.
The third stanza presents the problem in it’s simplest form, and then provides the solution to the problem. The problem is stated on the first line, and the second line emphasizes the fact that this is a growing problem that seemingly can’t be stopped. The last two lines of the poem then provide the solution: to stop reproducing. This is where Larkin says to the world that there is no way out of this problem. That the human race will either have to cease to exist, or simply live with all of it’s problems. Like all of his poems, Larkin wrote “This be the Verse” with very careful planning and word placement. And even though this is a funny poem, it has a very deep message to share with the world. Everyone knows that the world is full of problems, and that hundreds of organizations are trying hard to fix all of the problems in order to make our lives better. However, as demonstrated in the poem, we can never absolve all our problems because we keep handing all of our flaws on to posterity. Thus, the human race will forever have problems, and although we work hard to decrease some, we will always have new problems, and there will never be a completely happy world. And this lesson can be applied to a smaller environment as well. All the way through a country’s internal problems, a city’s problems, a family’s problems and the problems one has with oneself. No one can ever lead a perfectly happy life. There will always be problems to overcome. English