Homage to Philip Larkin

John Banville in the New York Review of Books:

Larkin_philip19750515T.S. Eliot observed toward the end of his life that he could not be called a great poet because he had not written an epic. This was a sly piece of false modesty on the part of Old Possum, implying as it did that had he turned his pen to the epic form he would of course have been up there with Homer, Virgil, and Dante. His stricture also served, backhandedly, to withhold greatness from other poets of what he thought of as his culturally debased time, such as Yeats and Wallace Stevens. In the Age of Prose, Eliot was saying, even the finest poet can be expected to manage no more than the small thing. To all this Philip Larkin would likely have answered with his accustomed epistolary expletive: bum.

Larkin had the reputation of being the most costive of artists. In his writing lifetime—from the late 1930s until the middle of the 1970s, when the muse left him, returning only for brief and infrequent trysts—he published five short volumes of verse, with long intervals of silence between each appearance.

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