When Philip Larkin’s High Windows first appeared, Kingsley Amis spoke for a large and loyal readership when he wrote: ‘Larkin’s admirers need only be told that he is as good as ever here, if not slightly better’.
Like Betjeman and Hardy, Larkin is a poet who can move a large audience – to laughter and tears – without betraying the highest artistic standards.
When reading Philip Larkin’s poems during my A-levels I never properly appreciated his poems, which is perhaps to be expected at such an age. Now approaching his work with more life – and reading – experience there is something about his writing that makes it both highly pleasurable and challenging to read.
High Windows deals in some strong stuff; death, failure, and aging are constant (and looming) motifs threaded throughout the book. It’s a sobering composition but utterly compelling which drove me on to read and reread each poem multiple times.
There is a lot of pleasant imagery also, to contrast with the uncomfortable themes which at the same time amplifies them. A real feeling of nostalgia bursts forth, the heart-warming and traditional (villages, seaside memories etc.), this is shot through with jarring images of decay and threats of hell. Larkin does enough to keep the reader off balance whilst examining the reality of life.
There is no holding back from Larkin in either anger or brutal honesty. The aging and ending of things like childhood, and the year, the utter powerlessness of any of us to stop such things is, at times, overwhelming but these feelings are juxtaposed with renewal and its transformative effects.
This maybe a slim volume but is well worth seeking out, its minimalistic yet packs a hefty punch. The atmosphere is both bleak and sparse but also covertly alive with imagery and richness. A strong work that also doubles up as a great introduction to the poet’s writing style and themes, this is not to be missed.