Philip Arthur Larkin, CH, CBE, FRSL (9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985) is widely regarded as one of the great English poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. His first book of poetry, The North Ship, was published in 1945, followed by two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), but he came to prominence in 1955 with the publication of his second collection of poems, The Less Deceived, followed by The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974). He contributed toThe Daily Telegraph as its jazz critic from 1961 to 1971, articles gathered together in All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961–71 (1985), and he edited The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (1973). He was the recipient of many honours, including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He was offered, but declined, the position of poet laureate in 1984, following the death of John Betjeman.
After graduating from Oxford in 1943 with a first in English language and literature, Larkin became a librarian. It was during the thirty years he served as university librarian at the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull that he produced the greater part of his published work. His poems are marked by what Andrew Motioncalls a very English, glum accuracy about emotions, places, and relationships, and what Donald Davie described as lowered sights and diminished expectations. Eric Homberger called him “the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket”—Larkin himself said that deprivation for him was what daffodils were for Wordsworth.Influenced by W. H. Auden, W. B. Yeats, and Thomas Hardy, his poems are highly structured but flexible verse forms. They were described by Jean Hartley, the ex-wife of Larkin’s publisher George Hartley (The Marvell Press), as a “piquant mixture of lyricism and discontent”, though anthologist Keith Tuma writes that there is more to Larkin’s work than its reputation for dour pessimism suggests. MORE POETRY AUDIO BELOW
Larkin’s public persona was that of the no-nonsense, solitary Englishman who disliked fame and had no patience for the trappings of the public literary life. The posthumous publication by Anthony Thwaite in 1992 of his letters triggered controversy about his personal life and political views, described by John Banville as hair-raising, but also in places hilarious. Larkin was chosen in a 2003 Poetry Book Society survey, almost two decades after his death, as Britain’s best-loved poet of the previous 50 years, and in 2008 The Times named him Britain’s greatest post-war writer.