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December 2008

Nomination: Money [19 February 1973. From High Windows]

‘Money’ has never been chosen so far. Perhaps it takes an age of inflation to fully appreciate a poem written in the aftermath of the oil shock in 1973. Now that governments are frantically trying to ‘boost consumer spending’ and that the wisdom of ‘banking your screw’ (i.e. salary) has been questioned by the credit crunch, some of Larkin’s lines are once again eerily topical.

Beyond those circumstances, however, ‘Money’ remains to me a quintessential Larkin poem. The first three stanzas accumulate disenchanted commonplaces and crass colloquialisms in the same way that a miser might hoard up increasingly worthless banknotes. The final stanza, then, exchanges the end-stopped trivialities of the preceding stanzas for an almost visionary mode. The full stop after ‘singing’ forces us to stop in mid-line and ponder the comparison of money to tempting sirens. The enjambments then take us through a plunging vision that brings out what looks surreal in an ordinary townscape. The final rhyming couplet, while confirming the basic rhyme scheme of the whole poem, associates madness and sadness, as if to give the lie to the poem’s initially casual, mundane tone. Achieved with such economical means, the effect is breathtaking.

Raphaël Ingelbien

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