Larkin’s Wartime Writings

  • Stephen Regan
Part of the The Critics Debate book series (TCD)


It is commonly assumed that Larkin’s first ‘major’ collection of poems was The Less Deceived (1955). For this reason, very little serious attention has been given to the earlier writings of the 1940s. Most commentators have referred to The North Ship (1945) as an immature and derivative work, marred by introspection, obscurity and overwrought romanticism. Larkin’s introduction to the 1966 reissue of The North Ship has encouraged the idea that the substitution of Thomas Hardy for W.B. Yeats as a dominant influence was directly responsible for a more colloquial, ironic and empirical style of writing. The counter argument, as we have seen, is that the influence of W.B. Yeats, far from being defunct, continued to shape a poetry of symbolist intensity and transcendental yearning. What both patterns of development overlook, however, is that by 1945 Larkin had produced a substantial body of work, only part of which eventually saw publication in The North Ship. What the unpublished poems reveal, importantly, is that the formative influences on Larkin’s work had less to do with the presence of Yeats and Hardy than with the prevailing attitudes and techniques of such poets as W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice. Most significantly, it is in Larkin’s wartime writings that the impact of ‘the Auden generation’ is clearly evident.


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© Stephen Regan 1992

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  • Stephen Regan

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