The 'great' post-war poets and their work: Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes

Seminararbeit, 2005

12 Seiten, Note: 2,0


Table of Contents

A. Introduction

B. Philip Larkin (1922-85): Going, Going

C. Ted Hughes(1930-98): Wodwo

D. “The Pleasure Principle”

E. Works Cited

A. Introduction

Maybe two of the greatest poets in Great Britain of the second half of the 20th century were Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes. Both of them were influenced by the First and Second World War. Their whole youth was influenced whether by the situation of people after the First and Second World War or by its consequences. While Philip Larkins´ father admired Hitler and by this influenced the view of the world of his son, Hughes father never wanted to talk about his memories of his service in the First World War. And both poets were disappointed in some way by the modern world. Hughes was shocked by the rough environment in which he grew up because he loved nature. He was also marked by the way people thought during the Great Depression. That´s one reason why Hughes in his later work wrote about nature and the place of men in the universal scheme like in the poem “Wodwo” about which I´m going to talk. Other main themes of his work were the fight between the hunter and the hunted or the human and the divine[1].

Philip Larkin was definitely one of the greatest poets of his time. He was the leading figure of “The Movement”, a group of poets that addressed everyday life in Britain in “plain, straightforward language”; their “rational approach was anti-romantic and sardonic”[2]. Larkin never wrote about great feelings and always avoided great words. He, like Hughes, wrote in plain and easy style. Larkin never really liked modern things because he thought that the modern way, especially modern art That´s why he was also a feared critic. In his poem “Going,Going”, which I´m going to talk about he also doomes the way men handle nature today and where this will all end.

After I have been talking about the two poems “Going,Going” by Philip Larkin and “Wodwo” by Ted Hughes I want to show that the two poems comply with the essay “The Pleasure Principle” by Philip Larkin. In this essay Larkin makes clear what he thinks is a good poem, especially today when literature is changing so dramatically in his eyes.

B. Philip Larkin (1922-85): Going, Going

The poem “Going, Going” by Philip Larkin was written in 1972 and it shows the way people handle nature in the past and present. It also shows what will become of England in future in the eyes of the speaker.

The poem can be divided up into four parts: Part I (verse 1 – 18) is about how the speaker used to think about the environment in the past and how he used to see its future. In part II (verse 19-30) the speaker is looking closer at the society of today as he´s recognizing a change. In part III (verse 31-48) the speaker wants to show what will become of England in the his opinion and finally part IV (verse 49-54) shows that the speaker doesn´t see any chance for a change of the current situation if people don´t change drastically. He thinks that there´s no way back and that all the bad things he iamgined before will happen soon.

The first part of the poem (verse 1-18) shows the way the speaker used to think about the environment and its future in the past. He knew that some things might change some day but he never imagined that it would happen so soon and in this great scale (“I thought it would last my time”, v.1). This first line already shows that something has happened or that it is going to happen very soon, that something will be changing earlier than at least the speaker has imagined. For the speaker nature was a part of everyday life, “where the village louts could climb / such trees as were not cut down” (v.4 and 5). An intact environment is just something natural to him that can´t be lost, that will be there forever. The thoughts the speaker submitts to the reader in the first three stanzas show that the speaker knew in the past that something might happen but he never took it to serious. He was sure that everything´s going to be alright, that all the hysteria about the destruction of nature were just “false alarms” (v.6) He never really took care about what the press said because he had seen that some things the press had said before hadn´t happen (“I knew there´d be false alarms / in the papers about old streets...but some / have always been left so far”, v.6-9). That´s why he never really cared about their warnings. And if something might happen he thought that one could just go somewhere else, that there´s still enough space to flee (“We can always escape in car”, v.12). This is the way of thinking of quite a lot of people in the 1960s. They didn´t realise the way they were destroying nature. They thought that there would always be enough space left. They just turned their eyes away from the bad. And that´s excactly what the speaker does. If something greater happens, like the building of “ bleak high-risers” (v.11) for example,he just thinks about driving away.

The speaker realized that nature is tougher than mankind, but he drew the wrong conclusions out of it: He had the opinion that, no matter how we destroy the earth, everything will be alright in the end as the earth will heal itself (verse 15-17:” However we mess it about; / chuck filth in the sea if you must: / The tides will be clean beyond”). He thought that mankind could never be so powerful to destroy Mother Earth; but he underestimated them.

This whole first part shows the ignorant and blind view of the speaker in former times. But at the end of the paragraph it becomes clear that he himself realizes that he can´t go on thinking like this anymore. The last verse of the third stanza is in connection to the very first verse and as a frame shows that the speaker himself feels doubts about this way of thinking: “ I thought it would last my time- / but what do I feel now? Doubt?” (v.1 and 18). This frame of thought shows that the whole way of thinking of the speaker is destroyed and now he doesn´t know anymore what to think and what is right or not. He has finally realized that things are changing.

In the second part (v.19-30) the speaker looks closer at society and the way it changed, also in combination with the attitude towards nature and its destruction. He looks at a café and sees a lot of young people (v.19) and because of this he´s beginning to think that maybe it´s just his age why he thinks like this (“or age, simply?”, v.19). The young people don´t seem to care about the environment, they´re sitting in the café. They only seem to think about themselves: they want more - “more houses, more parking allowed / more caravan sites” (v.22 and 23). They haven´t learned anything, they´re still destroying nature. That´s why the speaker thinks that maybe it´s just his age that makes him think like this, that maybe he has become sensible because no one else seem to have changed their attitude but him. The way society has changed is not that they realize the destruction of nature and want it to be stopped but that they don´t care about the destruction although they know about it. The speaker had said before that one could always escape in car but this generation doesn´t want to escape, they seem to want the destruction for their own purposes. This becomes clear when the speaker reads the business page where he realizes that people only move to unspoilt dales when the firms grant that there will be industry soon (“move / your works to the unspoilt dales / (Grey area grants)!”, v.28-30). So people don´t seem to want nature anymore, they want money. This is the opposite of the way of thinking of the former generations. Now people escape into the cities, not into nature. This shows that today it is all about money, profit and work: People only move to places where there are enough jobs, they don´t care about nature any more. And the sentence in brackets shows excactly that it is just about profit (“…and ten / per cent more in the estauries”, v.27 and 28).

The third part (v.31-48) tells us something about the way the speaker thinks about the future of England if it all went on like that. In his opinion England very soon won´t be the same, nature will soon be destroyed so much that things will be increasingly different. The first two verses of the sixth stanza already show this :”And when you try to get near the sea…” (v.31 and 32). These days you normally just go to the sea, you don´t have to “try” to get “near” the sea. All these typical things like going to the sea won´t be that easy in the future in the view of the speaker. The three dots show that the speaker thinks that you needn´t even try, that this is an impossible thing. Then there´s a sudden brake in the poem. The whole poem before this brake has told us about the past and the present, now the speaker is talking about the future and how he imagines it to be. Although there´s still enough free land around he recognizes that it won´t last (“Despite all the land left free / for the first time I feel somehow / that it isn´t going to last”, v. 34-36). This shows the change in the thoughts of the speaker ( see l.3: “there would always be fields and farms”). And he also realizes that all the destruction is going to happen faster than he thought (v.33). Now he sees that there´s no escape anymore, that everything will happen just right under his nose and will be gone forever (v.37-38. “That before I snuff it, the whole / boiling will be bricked in”) and because he can´t do anything against it he feels helpless. He also realizes that some parts of nature only remain for special purposes, like the tourist areas, as tourists have money. So the destruction and the protection of nature only serve the purpose of making money. That´s why there won´t be anything left of nature for the “normal” people, as this would just be a waste of land and of money and people don´t want this.




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The 'great' post-war poets and their work: Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes
Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
ISBN (eBook)
401 KB
Philip, Larkin, Hughes
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Claudia Ege (Autor:in), 2005, The 'great' post-war poets and their work: Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes, München, GRIN Verlag,


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