Larkin’s “This Be The Verse”

Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be The Verse” begins as follows:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

I have written, in previous posts in this blog, of my admiration for Larkin.  At times, I think it’s rather unfortunate that “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” is the most widely-quoted single line of Larkin.  Then again, I suppose anything that attracts a wide readership to Larkin’s poetry is better than nothing!  In my own poem “Damaged”, there is an allusion, at the end, to “This Be The Verse”.  “Damaged” is a recounting of an episode in my early childhood.  My mother became seriously ill, and a decision was taken to send me to relatives who could look after me until my mother was better.  It is well-know, apparently, that such an experience in early childhood can have long-lasting, damaging effects.  In my case, I have no memory of the event at all, and whether this is due to unconscious repression on my part is a question I cannot answer.  All I can say – without subjecting myself to lengthy sessions of psychoanalysis or deep hypnosis – is that I seem to have survived the experience relatively unscathed.


One day, when I was little,
my parents sent me away.
They left my life, for a few months.
I have no memory of that day.

Why do I not remember it?
Did it leave so little impression?
Or is the opposite the case:
a matter of wilful suppression?

My mother was seriously ill,
but regretted this step was taken.
I was sent to caring relatives;
she still felt that I was forsaken.

Years later, she would recall it;
would tell me she had no choice.
Yet she still condemned herself for it;
I could tell, by the tremor in her voice.

Did this event drop, unknowingly,
into the river of my life, like a stone?
Cause ceaseless, fatal ripples;
leave me damaged, unhappy, alone?

Was Larkin right, or was he wrong,
in what he said parents can do?
Do they, unwittingly, ruin your life;
or is your fate, really, all down to you?


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