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May 2008

Nomination: Here [8 October 1961. From The Whitsun Weddings]

I was recently doing some work on Larkin when my flatmate came into the room. As she was completely ignorant of Larkin and his poetry I handed her the Collected Poems, opened on ‘Here’ and she duly proceeded to read the poem. It took her some time, being German and not being a literature student, but she finally handed back the volume with tears in her eyes and said: ‘I would never have found these words to say it, but I know exactly what he is trying to say.’ In one single sentence, under the influence of one single poem, my friend had not only captured the essence of Larkin’s poetry but had also involuntarily almost quoted the poet himself: ‘I want people to say: “Yes, that’s it, I know exactly what he means.”‘ It is this recognition of the self that renders Larkin’s poetry and especially ‘Here’ so memorable. Larkin’s skilful play with the notion of the pastoral, his clever alliterations and a rhyme scheme that mirrors the train’s swerving movement in the poem all lead towards one single, memorable climax: ‘Here is unfenced existence’. Unfenced existence, in typical Larkin-fashion, might always remain unattainable, always just out of reach, but it is always here, always close, always a possibility. The ultimate transcendence of unfenced existence is always just at our feet, but as soon as we dare to take a step, it retreats into the distance again. And paradoxically, like a slightly jerky version of the usually impossible perpetuum mobile, this is what keeps us going.

Birte Wiemann

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