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Essential Beauty Analysis

Author: poem of Philip Larkin Type: poem Views: 11

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In frames as large as rooms that face all ways
And block the ends of streets with giant loaves,
Screen graves with custard, cover slums with praise
Of motor-oil and cuts of salmon, shine
Perpetually these sharply-pictured groves
Of how life should be. High above the gutter
A silver knife sinks into golden butter,
A glass of milk stands in a meadow, and
Well-balanced families, in fine
Midsummer weather, owe their smiles, their cars,
Even their youth, to that small cube each hand
Stretches towards. These, and the deep armchairs
Aligned to cups at bedtime, radiant bars
(Gas or electric), quarter-profile cats
By slippers on warm mats,
Reflect none of the rained-on streets and squares

They dominate outdoors. Rather, they rise
Serenely to proclaim pure crust, pure foam,
Pure coldness to our live imperfect eyes
That stare beyond this world, where nothing's made
As new or washed quite clean, seeking the home
All such inhabit. There, dark raftered pubs
Are filled with white-clothed ones from tennis-clubs,
And the boy puking his heart out in the Gents
Just missed them, as the pensioner paid
A halfpenny more for Granny Graveclothes' Tea
To taste old age, and dying smokers sense
Walking towards them through some dappled park
As if on water that unfocused she
No match lit up, nor drag ever brought near,
Who now stands newly clear,
Smiling, and recognising, and going dark.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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Because they are as large as rooms, Larkin’s billboards block the ends of streets and create their own ‘reality’ that does not necessarily conform with the concept of what they should be representing. They impair one’s vision of reality. They screen the reality of death symbolised by the graves and cover the sordid poverty found in the slums. In Larkin the large bill-boards are non-representational symbols of an essential beauty that is, nevertheless, bitter and disappointing when the truth about its reality is contemplated. They are clear, idyllic groves but not of what life really is but ‘of how life should be’. The widely unquestioned notion that balance, happiness, wealth, ideal climate and rejuvenation seem to depend on advertised consumables like Oxo cubes, is presented as a ludicrous sham.
In the second stanza, the tennis-player who is vomiting in the lavatory, perhaps as a result of too much alcohol, is conveniently ignored in the advertisement for beer. Neither are the penalties of old age underlined in the advertisement for Granny Graveclothes’ tea.
Towards the end of ‘Essential Beauty’ we encounter the elusive femme fatale – “that unfocused she” – a recurrent motif in Larkin’s poetry. She seduces the punter with the advertisement for cigarettes. She frustrates and seduces the man because she does not deliver what she seems to be promising – ultimate sexual satisfaction. Moreover, she never provides the actual satisfaction of the cigarette, nor does she even light a match, but when she smiles with recognition, everything goes completely dark succumbing to the inevitable mortality.
Another interpretation of 'she' could be the women who has not allowed herself to be submitted into temptation of the advertising world and the contradiction between the smoker who has given into a consumerist society. 'Smiling and recognising' could be interpreted as a sad smile or realisation that he doesn’t need to be materialistic but unfortunately realises this at the end of his life 'going dark'

| Posted on 2009-11-16 | by a guest

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