If ever you go - Dublinesque by Philip Larkin

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Postcard of O'Connell Street DublinIn the early 1950s (1950-1955) the English poet Philip Larkin lived in Belfast, where he was working as Librarian in Queen’s University. While there he made a number of visits to Dublin.

During this time he wrote many of the poems which made up his first major collection The Less Deceived (1955). The proposed collection was rejected by several English publishers, leading Larkin to submit it to the Dublin based Dolmen Press in 1954. But they also declined to publish it. Despite this rejection and a generally negative view of Dublin, expressed on a number of occasions to friends (“I prefer Belfast to Dublin - not architecturally of course, but architecture isn’t everything.” Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, P182), he retained enough memories of the place to evoke it in a later poem ‘Dublinesque’.

 

Book cover: High Windows by Philip LarkinDublin: One City, One Book

The poem was written in the summer of 1970 and published in his final full-length collection High Windows (1974). It describes the funeral of a woman, possibly a prostitute - at least many of the mourners are characterised as “a troop of streetwalkers” - and captures the somewhat maudlin atmosphere of the occasion with its “air of great friendliness ... And of great sadness also.”

In common with several later Larkin poems the dynamic of the poem moves from an exact description of a mundane, even banal scene, to another dimension where a sort of transcendence is achieved; in this case by the fading sound of a mourner’s voice “singing/Of Kitty, or Katy,/As if the name meant once/All love, all beauty.”

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