- Slides: 21
Born Yesterday Philip Larkin
Born Yesterday STARTER: n What sorts of wishes and things do people often say to the parents of new-born babies? n What is happiness? (If you could wish for three things to bring you happiness, what would they be? ) n Do some things bring problems with them? Exceptional beauty? Immense wealth? What are the downsides?
Philip Larkin (1922– 1985)
Philip Larkin (1922– 1985) n Philip Larkin was born in Coventry and went to school there. During the war, he went up to Oxford to read English. While at Oxford he met Kingsley Amis, who became a lifelong friend. ‘Born Yesterday’ is about Amis’s daughter.
Philip Larkin (1922– 1985) n After graduating from Oxford, Larkin began a career as a librarian. In 1955, he became the librarian at the University of Hull, and held that post for 30 years until his death in 1985. n Principally known for his poetry, Larkin also wrote novels and jazz criticism.
Philip Larkin (1922– 1985) n Larkin never married, had no children, and never travelled abroad. His life seems ‘dull’ – the very theme of ‘Born Yesterday’. His poetry, however, records experience very accurately with a sort of world-weary, sceptical eye – and it communicates effectively in straightforward language. Despite their apparent plainness, many of his poems have meanings that are carried in symbols and metaphors. His poetry has been very popular with readers and critics alike.
Like Charlotte Mew, Larkin didn’t want to have children for fear of passing on aspects of mental illness His poem ‘This Be the Verse’ exemplifies this (caution swearing)
Philip Larkin - This Be The Verse 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.
Born Yesterday for Sally Amis Tightly-folded bud, I have wished you something None of the others would: Not the usual stuff About being beautiful, Or running off a spring Of innocence and love – They will all wish you that, And should it prove possible, Well, you’re a lucky girl. But if it shouldn’t, then May you be ordinary; Have, like other women, An average of talents: Not ugly, not good-looking, Nothing uncustomary To pull you off your balance, That, unworkable itself, Stops all the rest from working. In fact, may you be dull – If that is what a skilled, Vigilant, flexible, Unemphasised, enthralled Catching of happiness is called.
‘Born Yesterday’ This poem takes a softer, more tender tone than many of Larkin’s poems. He admired the writing of Yeats and it’s easy to see echoes of Yeats’s poem ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’ in ‘Born Yesterday’. Below is an extract from ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’: May she be granted beauty and yet not Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught, Or hers before a looking-glass, for such, Being made beautiful overmuch, Consider beauty a sufficient end, Lose natural kindness and maybe The heart-revealing intimacy That chooses right, and never find a friend.
When? The poem was written on the 18 th January 1954, the day after Sally Amis’ birthalthough we know that he didn’t complete it until Jan 20 th
Born Yesterday In the title Larkin may be referring to the idiomatic expression ‘Do you think I was born yesterday’ meaning… ‘Do you think I’m stupid? ’ This could be said to fit with what he says in the poem because part of what he wishes for Sally Amis is being alert and happy
‘tightly-folded bud’. What images does it bring to mind? Who or what is the tightly-folded bud in this poem? Larkin then follows with some ordinary language in a conversational tone Tightly-folded bud, I have wished you something None of the others would: This metaphor suggests something beautiful and full of life that is about to burst into blossom Why do you think Larkin says he has wished for something ‘none of the others would’? Who might ‘the others’ be?
What is ‘the usual stuff’, and what does the poet think of it? Can you tell his opinion from the words he uses? Not the usual stuff About being beautiful, Or running off a spring Of innocence and love – Do you get a sense of whether Larkin thinks ‘the usual stuff’ is likely to be possible or realistic?
Other people are referred to rather dismissively as ‘they’ as if their wishes are stereotypical They will all wish you that, And should it prove possible, Well, you’re a lucky girl. Look at the word ‘well’. Does this give us any clues as to Larkin’s attitude? If so, what might his attitude be?
What might Larkin mean when he says ‘An average of talents’? Think about the effect of combing the words ‘average’ and ‘talents’. (Is it possible to be averagely talented or have average talents? ) But if it shouldn’t, then May you be ordinary; Have, like other women, An average of talents: What sort of things do we usually associate with this word? (Think about whether it’s something you’d like to be called. )
Not ugly, not good-looking, Nothing uncustomary To pull you off your balance, That, unworkable itself, Stops all the rest from working. The lines suggest that having some unusual talent or gift will upset your balance and lead to unhappiness
Consonance- repetition of ‘l’ sound. These adjectives speed up the tempo of the poem- builds towards the final line- as if emphasising it Makes being dull something to aspire to In fact, may you be dull – If that is what a skilled, Vigilant, flexible, Unemphasised, enthralled Catching of happiness is called. Final line is bound together by assonance, and finishes with a rhyme- ends the poem with a neatness that proves Larkin’s point: being dull can be an extraordinary thing- because the language he uses to describe it is extraordinary The dash marks a distinct break in the poem- followed by list of 5 adjectives with positive connotations.
Form n Each stanza is one complete sentence n The first stanza refers to what other people might have wished Sally on her birth n The second stanza then changes to the present tense and reveals Larkin’s wish- that Sally be ordinary. This is immediately a paradox because we do not associate being ordinary with being happy and fulfilled
Questions In ‘Born Yesterday’, Larkin doesn’t just say what he does wish for the little baby, he also lists what he isn’t going to wish for her. So you get a positive and a negative list. • In the poem ‘Born Yesterday’, does the positive balance with the negative? • Now look back at stanza 1 in which Larkin talks about ‘the others’. What do they wish for? • Why do you think Larkin refuses to wish for these things for the new baby?
Questions See if you can define these words: skilled, vigilant, flexible, unemphasised, enthralled. Compare your definitions with those in a dictionary. n Larkin (like all good poets) is extremely precise in his word choices. Why do you think he chose to use each of the above words? n Now see whether you can explain why Larkin wishes that the baby will be dull. n