Thursday, April 4, 2019

This Be The Verse

From the vault: March 13, 2014;

This Be The Verse

Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

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Philip Arthur Larkin (1922 – 1985) was an English poet, novelist and librarian. After graduating from Oxford in 1943 Larkin became a librarian. It was during the thirty years he worked with distinction as university librarian at the University of Hull that he produced the greater part of his published work. His poems are marked by what his biographer Andrew Motion calls a very English, glum accuracy about emotions, places, and relationships, and what Donald Davie described as lowered sights and diminished expectations. Larkin himself said that deprivation for him was what daffodils were for Wordsworth.

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"This Be The Verse” was written by Larkin in 1971. 

Hear him read the poem by clicking on the following link:

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The title of the poem, This Be The Verse, is an allusion to Robert Louis Stevenson’s 's Requiem, which contains the lines:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

* * * * * 

In 2009 the first four lines of the poem were recited by a British appeal court judge as part of his judgement of a nasty and acrimonious divorce case involving the future custody arrangements of a nine-year-old child. Lord Justice Wall referred to the emotional damage caused to the child, saying: 
'They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.'

These four lines seem to me to give a clear warning to parents who, post-separation, continue to fight the battles of the past, and show each other no respect. Separated parents, in my experience, frequently fail to understand that their children love both of them, and have loyalty to both. Such an attitude on the part of children is normally as it should be. The fact that one parent has come to hate the other, or that both hate each other, is no reason for the child not to love both and have loyalty to both. It thus poses the most enormous difficulties for the children of separated parents when each parent vilifies the other, or makes it clear that he or she has no respect for the other. . . . [the parents of the boy] have undoubtedly caused him serious harm by their ongoing mutual dislike and recriminations".

* * * * * 

Criminal Minds, known for well-known quotes at the end of each episode, quoted the first verse in the second episode of Criminal Minds Season 9, but changed the first line instead to "They mess you up, your mum and dad" to omit the swear word.

* * * * *

It was also recited by Dennis Waterman in that wonderful Brit series New Tricks.

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