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Mother, Summer, I

May 2003

Nomination: Mother, Summer, I [August 1953. From Collected Poems(1988)]

For anyone who enjoys reciting Larkin, as I do, this is a delightful little poem whose simple construction and language make it easy for listeners to absorb at first hearing. It seems a particularly personal poem, both tender and sad, in which the closeness of the bond between mother and son is evoked more clearly than anywhere else in Larkin’s work. His mother’s foibles, so often exasperating to Larkin, are here treated with affectionate sympathy, as he recognises the similarity of their distrust of apparent perfection.

For all the poem’s simplicity, there is richness, too. Take the fine ambiguity of that surprising word “confront”. Does Larkin see happiness, or its emblems, as an adversary – a threat to his habitual, treasured sense of disappointment? Or is he regretfully admitting his inability to face up to the possibility of being genuinely happy? As always, one of the pleasures of a Larkin poem is the ability to choose your own interpretation of it.

Chris Lamb

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