The poets and the World War: "MCMXIV" by Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
If we read the biography of Philip Larkin, we will probably concede that this man who spent the biggest part of his life in Hull, North Humberside, was not the nicest guy in the world. Some spoke also about his misanthropy. But this librarian and poet, known also as the "master of the ordinary" (the definition belongs to Derek Walcott) wrote wonderful poems. Recently Farrar Straus & Giroux published The Complete Poems edited by Archie Burnet, a heavy book that becomes the opportunity to discover the author of High Windows and to detect the meeting point between his poetry and the Great War (he was born four years after the end of World War One). We will so enter a remarkable point of view on the First World War, with particular reference to England, by reading the verses of MCMXIV, always sheding a new light on those years and closing with that famous "Never such innocence again". The poem is included in The Whitsun Weddings, his 1964 book.


Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheats' restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.