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The North Ship -- Philip Larkin

Another of those magical mystery poems...
(Poem #254) The North Ship
I saw three ships go sailing by,
Over the sea, the lifting sea,
And the wind rose in the morning sky,
And one was rigged for a long journey.

The first ship turned towards the west,
Over the sea, the running sea,
And by the wind was all possessed
And carried to a rich country.

The second ship turned towards the east,
Over the sea, the quaking sea,
And the wind hunted it like a beast
To anchor in captivity.

The third ship drove towards the north,
Over the sea, the darkening sea,
But no breath of wind came forth,
And the decks shone frostily.

The northern sky rose high and black
Over the proud unfruitful sea,
East and west the ships came back
Happily or unhappily:

But the third went wide and far
Into an unforgiving sea
Under a fire-spilling star,
And it was rigged for a long journey.
-- Philip Larkin
One of those poems with which I'd be quite irritated, if it weren't done very
well indeed. Fortunately, it is, so I'm not :-).



Philip Arthur Larkin (1922-1985): English poet, novelist, and critic, a leading
figure of The Movement, a term coined to describe a group of British poets that
coalesced during the 1950s, about the same time as the rise of the 'Angry Young
Men'. The Movement poets addressed everyday British life in a plain,
straightforward language and often in traditional forms.  They first attracted
attention with the publication of the anthology New Lines, edited by Robert
Conquest; among the contributors were Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie
and Thom Gunn.

Larkin was born in Coventry. He attended St. John's College, Oxford, during
World War II, where he met Kingsley Amis. After graduating he became a
librarian, first in the library of an urban district council in Shropshire,
later in university libraries in Leicester and Belfast. From 1955 until his
death he was the librarian of the Brynmor Jones library at the University of
Hull, which he built up from a staff of 11 to one of over 100.

As poet Larkin made his debut with the collection The North Ship in 1945,
written with short lines and carefully worked-out rhyme schemes. The sad songs
showed the influence of Yeats. It was followed by two novels, Jill (1946) and A
Girl In Winter (1947). Among Larkin's major works are The Less Deceived (1955)
and The Whitsun Weddings (1964), whose title-poem describing the poet's journey
by train from Hull to London is his best-known work. Larkin uses the tones and
rhythms of ordinary speech, and focuses on the urban landscape of the industrial
north. High Windows (1974) includes two substantial poems about ageing, illness
and death, 'The Old Fools' and 'The Building'. In these works Larkin explores
the mood of post-war England and its reduced expectations. However, his common
sense, scepticism and cool approach of drab suburbia and welfare state sponsored
lives provoked accusations of emotional cowardice. The urge to self-limitation
appears to have carried Larkin to the point of not writing much poetry and
keeping his deeper feelings out of the poems he did write.

Although he had a number of affairs, Larkin feared marriage and family, and
never married, but he managed to maintain three long relationships. In 1974 he
bought a house in Hull, which he shared with his companion Monica Jones. Shortly
after refusing the Laureateship when his friend John Betjeman died, Larkin
underwent surgery for cancer of the oesophagus, and died within a year on
December 2, 1985. In spite of his wish that his papers be destroyed, some of his
manuscripts were saved, but his voluminous diaries were burnt. In 1993 Andrew
Morton published a controversial biography of the poet, and revealed the Nazi
sympathies and misogynism of Larkin's father and the poet's casual racism and
other political incorrect attitudes.

There's another Larkin biography accompanying I Remember, I Remember, at poem #73


Previous Larkins to have featured on the Minstrels include
I Remember, I Remember: poem #73
Days: poem #100
Water: poem #178

Both Martin and I like reading about voyages, quests and the eternal sea. So
it's no surprise that the Minstrels archive includes lots of poems on these
themes; some of the nicer ones include
Sea Fever: poem #27
Earendil was a mariner: poem #93
The Viking Terror: poem #109
and the Harp Song of the Dane Women: poem #143

[Quotable Quote]

'Deprivation is to me what daffodils are to Wordsworth.'  -- Philip Larkin.

32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

There are lots of errors in this so-called biography. For starters Larkin's biography was written by Andrew Motion not Andrew Morton. His diaries were not burnt they were shredded by Monica Jones shortly after Larkin's death. Please don't believe any thing written about poets on here!

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