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February 2010

Nomination: Absences [28 November 1950. From The Less Deceived]

Larkin thought of the last line as sounding ‘like a slightly unconvincing translation from a French symbolist’ – and surprisingly went on to say that he wished he could write like this more often. Coming from a background of research into French poetry, I have naturally been intrigued by this confessional analysis. And all the more so since Larkin’s wish wasn’t a casual comment – there is plenty of evidence that, of all his poems, ‘Absences’ held a special place in his eyes. When asked to choose a poem that represented his work, he submitted ‘Absences’ to an anthology called Poet’s Choice in 1962. Elsewhere in his selected letters, he writes ‘I have…special affection for ABSENCES’ and in his famous interview with John Haffenden he again mentions ‘Absences’ as a candidate for his most typical poem. So I could hazard a guess that if Larkin were asked for a Poem of the Month he would choose this little ten-liner whose deceptively objective sea- and cloudscape is shattered by that explosive and bewildering last line.

Graham Chesters

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