the Andrew Motion-authored Philip Larkin biography. Motion says in the introduction that learning more of Larkin’s life can only increase “our sense of his achievement.” I think he’s right, but it has decreased my sense of almost everything else, including my hitherto uncomplicated enjoyment of the poetry and admiration of the writer. I started typing up a couple of passages for this blog, including the one relating the events of exactly how Larkin died, on November 29, 1985, and then decided I would prefer not to. They are not pleasant to contemplate. I recommend reading the book, but I don’t recommend dwelling on it.

Motion is a very good and very restrained writer. This biography has also increased my sense of *his* achievement. The passage which I was going to quote but now am not is one of the best-written biographical passages I’ve ever encountered.

If you want to know exactly why, how, and to what extent Larkin deserves the ___ist labels (fill in any blank you desire) the book will tell you. If you want to be brought nose to nose with a portrait of human suffering, the book will show you that, as well. It shows many things. It’s best, I think, to encounter them in context, though, rather than excerpted.

Larkin’s way of life and way of death was so bleak that I am actually looking forward to the next biography–Ted Hughes–as a respite. Which tells you something. Hughes may have had a life which was, in many ways, agonizing, but the man who wrote “Full Moon and Little Frieda” was not someone who didn’t know how to enjoy himself.

At least I hope so.


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