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Reference Back

November 2010

Nomination: Reference Back [21 August 1955. From The Whitsun Weddings]

One (NB: one) of my favourite Larkin poems (they tend to change depending on my mood, the time of year, the weather) is ‘Reference Back’ – for the not very simple reason that it contains in a little room a great deal of what Larkin does best: the tender domestic observance, the subtly-enlarged account of a private moment (in this case between himself and his mother), and the magnificent but un-showy shift from something small-scale to a large philosophical utterance (‘Truly, though our element is time/We are not suited to the long perspectives/Open at each instant of our lives…’). Several of his most powerful poems take one or two of these ingredients and amplify them. Here they are all together. It’s a marvel of economy and synthesis.

Andrew Motion

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