Going, Going

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August 2003

Nomination: Going, Going [25 January 1972. From High Windows]

‘Going, Going’, being a government-commissioned poem originally titled ‘Prologue’, is seldom considered by literary experts to rank amongst Larkin’s finest work. This may be, but the poem puts over a hard-hitting environmental message and lines from it are frequently in the media, often in the context of some campaign currently raging.

Larkin wrote the poem in 1972 at the same time as he was composing the even bleaker ‘The Building’, and the two could be read together to get some idea of the sense of finality he wished to convey to his readers.

You wouldn’t think that a simple request for a poem to preface an HMSO report on the human habitat called ‘How Do You Want To Live?’ would create problems – but it did. The commissioning committee deliberately deleted Larkin’s lines about ‘spectacled grins’, ‘takeover bids’ and ‘Grey area grants’, for instance, as being too near the truth no doubt and likely to offend the ‘cast of crooks and tarts’ in industry to whom Larkin addressed his lines. Not to be outdone, Larkin pocketed his fee and two years later made sure he included the unexpurgated version of ‘Prologue’ – now retitled ‘Going, Going’ – in his best selling poetry collection High Windows.

Don Lee

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