This Be The Verse

Philip Larkin

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin is a powerful poem. It’s about the intense relationships between children and their parents.


Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin was an English poet and novelist born in 1922.

He is best known for his poetry collection The Whitsun Weddings, published in 1964.

This poem sounds like a proclamation. This should be the verse as there’s nothing more to say while introspecting on parenthood in the modern world. It’s a warning to the parents as well as the kids who are either fighting the emotional battle or on the verge of a traumatic extinction. The poet feels no shame while saying, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” in ‘This Be The Verse.’ Yes, they do mess up with one’s sentiments and feel nothing while burdening one with their emotional baggage. Larkin is angry yet rational about what he implies in his best-known poem.

This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

Summary of This Be The Verse

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin is a poem about how parents burden children with their faults and in their turn, they were also burdened with those faults.

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin presents a full cycle. In the first stanza, the poet refers to the present scenario. Here, “they” or the parents fill their kids with the faults they had. And, add some extra of theirs as a contribution to their children’s future. Whereas in the second stanza, Larkin refers to the past. At some point in the past, some fools eventuated this cycle. They fucked their future generation. Henceforth, the parents of today are filled with the faults of yesterday. Lastly, the poet hints at the future and strongly claims that the only way to exit from this cycle is not having kids.

You can read the full poem here.

Meaning of This Be The Verse

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin talks about the emotional baggage or faults that parents bestow on their children. However, the meaning of the title provides a key to the idea of the poet. It means, what the poet is going to describe in his poem, should happen in society. In the last stanza, he provides the solution to the problem. Moreover, there is a sense of laxity in the title. The poet isn’t in the mood to write something applauding or uplifting. So, the title can be a reference to the first line of the poem or the versification used by the poet. While dealing with modern problems and the cycle that has been in motion for a long time, the poet thinks this should be the proper response to society.

Structure of This Be The Verse

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin consists of three stanzas. Each stanza of the poem contains four alternative rhyming lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB, and it goes on like this. However, in the first stanza, “do” and “you” contains an imperfect rhyme. Apart from that, there are a total of eight syllables in each line. Each foot contains an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. That’s why the overall poem is composed of perfect iambic tetrameter. There are no such variations in the poem.

Literary Devices in This Be The Verse

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin isn’t a rhetorical piece of art as the poet talks about a theme that is frustrating in itself. However, there are some instances where the poet uses a few literary devices. For example, in the title, ‘This Be The Verse,’ the poet uses an allusion to the poem, ‘Requiem’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. The poet adopts the line, “This be the verse you grave for me” of Stevenson’s poem and modifies it in his way. Thereafter, there is a metaphor in the usage of the pronoun, “they.” Here, the poet refers to conventional society. Moreover, the overall poem contains irony. In the second stanza, there is sarcasm in the line, “By fools in old-style hats and coats.” Here, in “hats and coats,” the poet uses synecdoche.

In the third stanza, there is a metaphor in the first line. Here, the poet compares “misery” to something that the older generation bestows on the next generation. There is a simile in the next line, and here, the poet compares misery to a “coastal shelf.” However, the last two lines contain an epigram.

Themes in This Be The Verse

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin presents some important themes such as a convention, parenthood, emotional baggage, hypocrisy, and mental suffering. In this poem, the poet criticizes the conventions of society that a generation somehow tries to pile on the next generation. They don’t care about the individuality of a person and wish everyone should contain a similar vestige. Moreover, the theme of parenthood is an important theme of the poem. Here, the poet describes how parents fill kids with their faults. Apart from that, the theme of hypocrisy is another theme to point out here. The theme is present throughout the poem. For example, “They may not mean to, but they do” refers to the hypocritical attitude of conventional people. However, Larkin also talks about the emotional baggage and mental suffering of children that deepen like a coastal shelf. 

Analysis of This Be The Verse

Stanza One

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.


   And add some extra, just for you.

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin begins with the most-quoted line of modern literature, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” It means that the conventions of society as a whole mess up with parents as well as their children. Those who blindly follow the absurd rules try to behave rationally and sagacious. In reality, they do fuck one’s mind and kill one’s individuality. They act like hypocrites while guiding the next generation. Moreover, the poet says those people or parents with such a mindset fill others with their faults. They don’t even stop there and contribute some extra faults to the younger minds. Here, the poet directly addresses the reader. In this way, he refers to the universality of the problem.

Stanza Two

But they were fucked up in their turn


    And half at one another’s throats.

The second stanza of ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin refers to the past when the process began. When they were kids, their parents also burdened them with their emotional baggage. Here, the poet refers to the older generation as “fools in old-style hats and coats”. By referring to their garments, the poet ironically points to their intellectual poverty. They were showy class and blind followers of the god named “convention.” Moreover, the poet sarcastically remarks that they were “soppy-stern.” Here, the poet uses alliteration. Whatsoever, the term refers that the older generation was over-sentimental and stern in their beliefs. Half the time, they were busy fighting with others over meaningless things.

Stanza Three

Man hands on misery to man.


   And don’t have any kids yourself.

Thereafter, in ‘This Be The Verse’, Philip Larkin anticipates the future of this process. The end-stopped lines in this stanza as well as in the first stanza, sound like rigid statements. What the poet says, is harsh yet true. However, according to the poet, man unknowingly or knowingly hands over “misery” to another man. Like a chain reaction, the latter hands over it to another. And, the process goes on. It deepens like a coastal shelf unobserved. Moreover, the decaying of the coastal shelf is a reference to the harm the parents cause to the early minds. In the last two lines, the poet provides a solution. He advises the younger generation to get out of this insufferable cycle as early as one can. And, the poet advises future parents not to have kids. Thus, one can break the chain reaction and release the free spirit of mankind.

Historical Context of This Be The Verse

‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin is a lyric that was written around April 1971. It was first published in the August 1971 issue of “New Humanist” and also appeared in the 1974 collection “High Windows”. It is one of the best Philip Larkin poems and the opening lines are frequently quoted. Larkin himself compared this poem with ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W.B. Yeats. However, in this postmodern poem, Larkin refers to the hypocritical attitude of modern society and how it burdens kids with the faults of mankind as a whole. Moreover, there is a reference to break the chain and cherish the modern “free spirit”.

Similar Poetry

Like ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin, the following poems also present similar themes.

You can read about the Top 10 Poems About Freedom and Confinement here.

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x

We're glad you like visiting Poem Analysis...

We've got everything you need to master poetry

But, are you ready to take your learning

to the next level?

Share to...