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July 11, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

Going, Going by Philip Larkin

I thought it would last my time –
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more –
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer . . .
It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts –
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.

This is written in typical Larkin style, as those who are familiar will know, and gives off the feeling of a “chap chatting to chaps” as he put it. This is a poem about Larkin’s fear that the countryside is being taken over by ugly buildings (“bleak high-risers”) and industrialisation. There are also some condemnations of materialism (“kids are screaming for more”) and pollution (“chuck filth in the sea if you must”).

Most of all though, I think this is nostalgia. Larkin was good at this – looking back on his past and idealising it. He’s also a bit grumpy and his cynicism shows in his view that England is the “first slum of Europe” and that it will eventually disappear amongst all the grey buildings. Larkin’s nostalgia is something with which I think we can all relate at some point, as well as his admiration for the countryside.

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