Coming by Phillip Larkin

Coming  by Phillip Larkin is a nineteen line poem that can be separated into one set of nine lines and another set of ten, or a straight forward analysis.  Although there is no rhyme scheme in this piece, it is unified by the similar lengths of the lines, as well as the blissfully peaceful tone that runs throughout the piece. 

Starting with the first lines, Larkin crafts a narrative that seems to build towards something spectacular. It reaches that place in the final line; it is a climax of unadulterated happiness and laughter. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Summary of Coming

Coming  by Phillip Larkin describes a culmination of blissful emotions within a speaker that are a result of the soon to arrive season of spring.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is living within a world that is filled with a certain kind of emotional physicality. This particular evening is a prime example. It is simply perfect, with the “Light,” the “chill,” and the yellow color  of the sky. It is a depiction of the sunset and all the resulting sights and sounds. 

The world around the speaker is filled with the sound of a bird singing from within the garden. It is buried behind layers and layers of laurel bushes but its voice emerges as pure and unadulterated as it could possibly be. The speaker describes it as being “Fresh-peeled” as if it has never sung before. All of these elements are so strong that they “astonish” and inflict a positive impact on the houses of the neighbourhood. 

In the second half of the poem the speaker is looking forward in time. He sees the coming spring, and wishes, through the use of repetition, for its swift arrival. The narrator continues on to state, using a long metaphor, that the happiness he feels over the arrival of spring is comparable to that which a child feels who sees a reconciliation between adults. He does not know why it makes him so giddy and blissfully happy, but it does. 

The peace, joy, and promise of spring rubs off on this speaker and he is returned to a childish state of mind. He feeds off of the season as a child feeds off the happiness of its parents. 

 

Analysis of Coming

Lines 1-9

The speaker begins this piece by placing his narrative within a specific setting. The poem is based around two interconnected elements of the speaker’s life, that of the setting, and of the emotions related to specific sites and sounds. The speaker walks the reader through what is essentially an emotional landscape played out through images of domesticity and natural beauty. 

In the first lines the speaker informs the reader that there are certain evenings that are somewhat more special than others. At these times, in which the air feels “Light, chill and yellow,” there is an inescapable serenity to the scene. It is an element that doesn’t just exist in this world, but has bathed the surroundings. A “serene” feeling covers everything in this place and is said to “Bathe” the front, or “foreheads” of the neighbouring houses. 

Now that the basic emotional and physical context has been set, the speaker moves on to provide the reader with some additional details that add to the scene. 

In this place the narrator can hear a “thrush,” a commonly found small bird, singing in the laurel. It is “surrounded” by the bush but its voice belts out of the garden. There is nothing to truly stop or obstruct the sounds it makes. The notes are so pure they sound “fresh-peeled” as if they’ve never been sung before. 

Larkin makes interesting use of personification when he describes how the emotional landscape touches the physical space. The sound of the thrush is so arresting that the “brickwork” of the neighbourhood houses is said to be “astonished.” 

 

Lines 10-19

In the second stanza the speaker turns away from the present moment to cast his mind into the future. He knows what all these sights and sounds portend—spring is coming soon. Larkin has chosen to repeat this line twice. By doing so, the phrase becomes a briefly recognized mantra. It has been said before, and will be said again, as if speaking it will hurry the season. 

For the first time in this piece the speaker refers to himself in the first person. While it might be tempting, one should not assume that these memories belong to the writer himself, more supporting evidence would be needed to support that claim. 

Now speaking about himself, the narrator explains that he had a childhood that was unremarkable. It was filled with boring days that were so un-noteworthy that he has all but forgotten them. He brings up his childhood in the effort to create an impactful contrast when describing his following emotions. 

With his listless youth in mind, he is experiencing the present moment as if he is once more a child and has come upon “a scene / Of adult reconciling.” He imagines himself with the mind of a child, and feels as if he is witnessing something that is good, but which he is incapable of fully understanding. 

While one is young, the complexities of adult lives are far out of reach, and for this projecting narrator he feels, and accepts that. He knows he will never be able to grasp what it is that makes spring, and its coming, so joyful.

 In the final lines the speaker comes to the conclusion of the piece, as well as what could be considered the climax of this short narrative. The emotions he is experiencing culminate in unstoppable laughter. He feels as if he is feeding off the joy of the world, just as a child feeds off the joy expressed by a parent. 

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  • Avatar Atiya Bokhary says:

    I teach English Literature to O level students and the syllabus has poems that seem to be juxtaposed against each other, for example, ‘Coming’ and ‘Stormcock in Elder’. Both of them are about birds that are the harbingers of spring and contrive to sing clearly and jubilantly in spite of the cold winter months. Besides, both the birds are able to bring happiness and hope to the writers.
    However, there is a contrast in the depiction of the scene. In ‘Coming’, the poet can hear the bird but cannot see it, so he gives a broader picture of the scene in front of him; the houses bathed in sunset colours; the garden and the hedges and bushes. Contrarily, in Stormcock in Elder, Ruth Pitter minutely describes the bird’s anatomical details, like its ringed eye and pointed tongue because this is what she can see clearly. The setting loses its significance for her.
    When we are writing the critical analysis of a poem, can we not give a reference to another poem that treats the same subject in a different way or is it necessary to write about that poem only? In my opinion, giving a brief reference to another poem would make the analysis richer and more interesting. Any thoughts?

    • Avatar Annabeth says:

      While teaching o levels, referring to other poems does not fulfill any of the assessment objectives and it is considered a waste of words, which is why it is not recommended to do so. If you look at Cambridge’s learner guide, you’ll see that they have given example answer in which the examiner has made exactly this comment.

      • Avatar Nazmi says:

        You are correct and we should be careful that we do not misguide students in fulfilling the AOs.

        • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

          The same goes for GCSE’s as a general rule if the answer requires you to compare to other poems it will state that in the question.

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