Poet Biographies

Philip Larkin: The Voice of Post-War England

Philip Larkin was a 20th-century English poet, novelist, and librarian. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant voices in post-war British poetry. Larkin’s work addresses themes of love, mortality, and the passing of time.

Phillip Larkin Portrait

Philip Larkin was a 20th-century poet who explored the universal themes of love, death, and the effect of time on the human condition. Despite being regarded as one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, Larkin’s life was turbulent and marred with many failed relationships.

One way of looking at Larkin’s poetry is to consider him an anti-romantic, in which he looks at all elements of life, focusing on the bad as well as the good. Larkin once said that “deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth,” showing that he had a more downbeat angle than many Romantic poets before him. Larkin was also a poet of the people, using colloquial rather than complex, overindulgent language to explain the emotions he was putting across, which made him relatable to a wide variety of readers.

Early Life

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry, England, in August 1922. He was the only son born to parents Sydney and Eva Larkin. Only a few years after Larkin’s birth, the family moved from Radford, Coventry, to a middle-class home near Coventry railway station. His father worked as the city treasurer for a number of years in the mid-1900s, while his mother was seen to be a continually nervous woman who was very much the passive partner in the relationship. Larkin’s father was known for his adoration of literature, particularly that of Ezra Pound and James Joyce, alongside writers like D.H. Lawrence, as well as for his Nazi leanings.


Larkin’s father introduced him to literature at a young age, and his formal education was undertaken at home until he reached the age of eight. He had developed a stammer during this time, but that did not stop him from socializing when he was eventually enrolled at Coventry’s King Henry VIII Junior School. Although he was a bright child, Larkin did not do well when he sat for his School Certificate. This turned out to be a blip in an otherwise successful educational career, and he went on to earn distinctions in English and History.

It had been Larkin’s intention, with WWII on the horizon, to join the military, but he was unable to pass the army medical due to his poor eyesight. Instead, Larkin entered university at St. John’s College Oxford in 1940. While enrolled at Oxford, Larkin and a number of his close friends created a group they named “The Seven.” They met to drink, talk, and read one another’s poetry. Larkin graduated in 1943 with a first-class honors degree. This same year three of Philip Larkin’s poems were published in Oxford Poetry.

Professional Life

After graduation, Larkin moved back in with his parents until he was appointed to a position at the Wellington, Shropshire library. He spent his time engaging in professional studies to become a librarian and expanding his writing practice. At the same time, he met his first real love, Ruth Bowman, who was a 16-year-old student. It was during this time that Larkin wrote his first book of poetry called ‘The North Ship,’ featuring poetry such as the same poetry book titled, ‘The North Ship.’

During the next decade of his life, Larkin would go on to work at a number of university libraries. In 1945, ten of Larkin’s poems were published in Poetry from Oxford in Wartime. This publication was followed by two novelsJill and A Girl in Winter. Larkin’s professional life was developing, as was his relationship with Ruth Bowman. In 1948 he proposed to her, and by 1950, he became a sub-librarian at The Queen’s University of Belfast. Unfortunately, this advancement in his career signaled the end of his relationship with Ruth, and the two went their separate ways that same year.

The following years saw the publication of his collection, ‘XX Poems,’ as well as the printing of a few individual poems, including ‘Toads‘ and ‘Poetry of Departures.’ He became the Librarian at the University of Hull in 1955, and that same year his collection, ‘The Less Deceived,’ was released. It was this collection that solidified his reputation as one of the most important writers of the 20th century. There was a lull between collections, and his work, ‘The Whitsun Weddings,‘ was not released until 1964. After the publication of this volume, Larkin became the subject of an arts program titled Monitor.

Life has a practice of living you, if you don’t live it.

Philip Larkin
Philip Larkin Portrait

Later Life and Honors

Over the following years, he was offered an OBE, which he declined, and worked to compile an anthology titled The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. Due to the success of this volume, he was awarded a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford. He became an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College Oxford and was granted a number of honorary degrees. Larkin was also made a Companion of Literature in 1978 and an Honorary Fellow of the Library Association in 1980. Two years later, the University of Hull granted him a full professorship.

The honors continued to flow in during the final years of his life, including the opportunity to become Poet Laureate, a position he declined. In 1982 he released a collection of his essays titled Larkin at Sixty. In the middle of 1985, Larkin entered the hospital for a problem with his throat, which turned out to be oesophageal cancer. He went through an unsuccessful operation to remove his esophagus and died in a hospital in December 1985.


During his life, Larkin was considered to be a straightforward Englishman who took no joy from his fame. After his death, it was discovered that Larkin held some controversially racist and misogynistic positions, but that did not deter the public at large from considering him one of Britain’s best-loved post-war writers. Today, a statue of Larkin can be seen in Kingston upon Hull, commemorating the 25th anniversary of his death. Six years later, in 2016, a plaque acknowledging his achievement was placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey in London.

Influences on Other Poets

Philip Larkin’s poetry was influential and inspirational to many poets and writers. His focus on the lives of the masses, the everyday struggle, and his relatable colloquial tone can be seen in the works of other modern poets. One of the clearest comparisons to Larkin’s style would be that of Carol Ann Duffy. Duffy, like Larkin, uses everyday, colloquial language, making her work accessible. 

Other poets that have taken inspiration from Larkin are:


What is Philip Larkin known for?

Philip Larkin was known for his excellent anti-romantic poetry during the post-war era. The English poet was considered to be ‘England’s other Poet Laureate’ but never put his name in the hat for the award, and he was a private person. Larkin’s style was associated with colloquial language that made his works highly relatable.

What was Philip Larkin’s last poem?

Philip Larkin’s last major poem that received acclaim from literary critics was ‘Aubade,‘ which he published in November 1977. Larkin later died in 1985.

Was Philip Larkin a Modernist?

There is some debate as to whether Philip Larkin’s poetry and fiction were of a Modernist nature. Some say that Larkin was actually an anti-modernist as he would not associate with highbrow poetry and elitism and wanted clarity in his work, making it relatable to the lower class too. However, many of the themes and emotions discussed by Larkin are of a Modernist ilk, such as religion, realism, isolation, love, nature, social chaos, alienation, boredom, death, time, melancholy, and sex.

What are the characteristics of Philip Larkin’s poetry?

Larkin’s poetry has a mix of styles and levels of traditionalism to them. For example, he would use traditional rhyme schemes but would then write in a colloquial tone, addressing anti-Romantic and less traditional topics such as misery, pessimism, sex, and realism.

Was Philip Larkin Deaf?

Towards the end of his life, Larkin had quite a few ailments, such as partial blindness, deafness, and struggled with a stammer for the majority of his life.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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