‘No Road’ by Philip Larkin is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of six lines, or sextets. The stanzas follow a consistent rhyme scheme. It conforms to the pattern of ABABCC, alternating from line to line. The metrical arrangement of the lines is quite scattered though. The second line of every stanza is the only one that stays consistent, syllable-wise, throughout all three stanzas. It always contains four syllables or two sets of two beats. The other lines range from 7-11 lines, always within one beat of their counterparts in the other stanzas. This suggests that Larkin wanted the text to be somewhat disjointed and unbalanced. This mirrors the way the speaker’s mixed emotions concerning his new separation. It also forces the reader to stay on edge, never falling too securely into one particular pattern.
The most important image in “No Road’ is that of the road itself. The title refers to the speaker and his ex-lover’s plan to dissolve the road between their consciousnesses. They are splitting up and by ignoring their emotional connection, which is depicted as a road bordered by trees, lawns, and two gates, they will be able to part equitably. The speaker envisions a future in which time has taken its toll on the landscape and nothing remains of the world they mentally built together.
Summary of No Road
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he and the listener have come to an agreement to “let the road between” them fall apart. It is through “disuse” that it will dissolve. They intend to forget the connection they had, but it quickly becomes clear that this is going to be harder than it seemed like it would be.
In the next stanzas, the speaker describes what he sees happening between the two. He claims to want to see time erode everything they built. As he wishes, the grass is growing and the gates are shutting, but it isn’t moving fast enough. It is at this point that it is revealed that the speaker does not feel as strongly about the parting as he seemed to. After being reminded of the bond the two share he is struggling with allowing it to break. He makes sure to tell the reader that he may feel this way, but it is now his duty to let the road fall apart, and he plans to go through with it.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of No Road
Since we agreed to let the road between us
Fall to disuse,
Silence, and space, and strangers – our neglect
Has not had much effect.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by giving the reader an important piece of background information regarding his relationship. First, one learns that it is in the past. The listener he is addressing is someone he used to be romantically involved with but they have come to a mutual decision to part. This is visualized by the speaker as “the road between” them. They chose to let it “Fall to disuse.” In the past they moved easily up and down the road, sharing experiences and becoming well-known to one another.
The following lines explain how the speaker sees this road now and all the details which surround it. The images represent the attempted sealing off of the emotional connection between the two. As they “bricked…up” their gates they thought they’d lose their remaining care for one another. As becomes clear in the last line of the first stanza, this did not occur.
Larkin’s speaker explains how the two did everything in their power to lessen their connection. They let their mutual experiences turn into wild landscapes and time was allowed to “erode” anything left standing. Although they made all this effort to change how they felt about one another it did not have “much effect.” A reader might wonder at this point why the two felt that they needed to part in the first place, especially if their connection is so strong.
Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown;
No other change.
And still would be allowed. A little longer,
And time would be the stronger,
In the next stanza, the speaker explains what impact their neglect had on their inner worlds. There were leaves drifting through the streets, and the grass of the lands grew “unmown.” The image Larkin presents is one of a town or city abandoned. They built this place together, one piece at a time and in its abandonment, it still manages to stands. There are some basic, surface-level differences but that’s all. This represents the way that the two are physically parted, and all official, worldly connections broken, but everything underneath still exists.
The speaker, when thinking about the connection between the two, feels that it could be fully re-established easily. It seems to him that the two could walk “that way tonight” and it “would not seem strange.” It would be as if nothing changed at all. A few overgrown lawns and drifting leaves changed nothing. Although he seems to be coming to this conclusion, that their connection will not be broken so easily, he tells himself that they just need “A little longer” and time will take over. It will be “stronger” than any remaining emotions.
The final stanza outlines what the speaker hopes, or at least profess to hope, to see in the future. There is a time, he thinks, when “no such road” will run from himself to the listener. Any love will be in the past and all memories will be “cold.”
In the last lines, he reveals that he has deeply mixed emotions about his choice to force their division. The separation may not have been as mutual as initially suggested. He knows he must not “prevent” the separation but it is his duty to go through with their agreement. The “Willing” of it is his “ailment.” He can do nothing else but move forward, even though it is not what he wants anymore.