High Windows

  • Salem K. Hassan
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature book series (STCL)


Strong themes, already dealt with in previous books, such as time, love and death, are approached in this book from different angles with remarkable consistency sharpened by mature experience. Now, one does not have to read far before realising that Larkin’s constant preoccupation with such concepts makes the poems of High Windows confident and sure in getting their effect. To deal with the same subjects is not a defect because what concerns us in the first place is how these subjects are approached rather than what they are. Larkin himself takes this literary principle as guidance in his poetic experience. Interviewed by Robert Phillips, he says:

I think a poet should be judged by what he does with his subjects, not by what his subjects are. Otherwise you’re getting near the totalitarian attitude of wanting poems about steel production figures rather than ‘Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?’ Poetry isn’t a kind of paint-spray you use to cover selected objects with. A good poem about failure is a success.1

In the light of this, what occurs in this book is not the tedium of repeated themes but the pleasure of concepts couched in bright language. They, in Clive James’s words, ‘are being reinforced or deepened rather than repeated’.2


Seasonal Cycle Sexual Freedom Colloquial Language Previous Book Face Spilling 
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  1. 2.
    Clive James, ‘Wolves of Memory’, Encounter, no. 42 (June 1974) p. 65.Google Scholar
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    Cleanth Brooks, The Well-Wrought Urn (London, 1968) p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Philip Larkin, ‘The Writer in his Age’, London Magazine, vol. 4, no. 5 (May 1957) p. 47.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Roman Jakobson, Selected Writings ed. Stephen Rudy (New York, 1981) vol. 3, p. 601.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Calvin Bedient, Eight Contemporary Poets (London, 1974) p. 86.Google Scholar
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    Dan Jacobson, ‘Profile 3: Philip Larkin’, The New Review, vol. 1, no. 3 (June 1974) p. 28.Google Scholar
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    Simon Petch, The Art of Philip Larkin (Sydney, 1981) p. 97.Google Scholar
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    R. H. Wilenski defines ‘Dutch Art’ as ‘the painting produced in Holland between approximately the year 1580 and approximately the year 1700’ (An Introduction to Dutch Art (London, 1928) p. xvii).Google Scholar
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    Michael Riffaterre, ‘Describing Poetic Structures: Two Approaches to Baudelaire’s “Les Chats”’, Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post Structuralism, ed. Jane P. Tompkins (London, 1980 ) p. 26.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Salem K. Hassan 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Salem K. Hassan

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