'Aubade' by Philip Larkin
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I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
-- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused -- nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says
Editor 1 Interpretation
Philip Larkin's Poem "Aubade"
Wow, what can I say about "Aubade" by Philip Larkin? This poem is a masterpiece of literary criticism and interpretation, and it really speaks to me on so many levels. In this 4000 word analysis, I will delve into the meaning and significance of this poem, exploring the themes, stylistic choices, and literary devices that Larkin employs to create a powerful and thought-provoking work of art.
First of all, let's talk about the title: "Aubade." What does it even mean? Well, an aubade is a poem or song that is typically associated with the dawn, and often deals with themes of love or parting. In Larkin's poem, the aubade takes on a much darker tone, as the speaker contemplates the inevitability of death and the futility of human existence. The title sets the stage for the poem's exploration of these weighty themes, and prepares the reader for the emotional journey that is to come.
The poem begins with the speaker waking up in the middle of the night, haunted by the fear of death. The opening lines are some of the most powerful and chilling in all of modern poetry:
"I work all day, and get half-drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain-edges will grow light. Till then I see what's really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when I shall myself die."
Wow. Just reading those lines gives me goosebumps. Larkin doesn't waste any time setting the tone for the rest of the poem - this is going to be a meditation on mortality, and it's not going to be pretty. The speaker is filled with a sense of dread and anxiety about the inevitability of death, and he can't escape the knowledge that it is always lurking just around the corner. The way Larkin captures this feeling is masterful - the short, terse lines create a sense of urgency and unease, and the repetition of the word "death" drives home the speaker's obsession with this dark subject.
As the poem continues, the speaker reflects on the various ways we try to distract ourselves from the reality of death. He mentions religion, philosophy, and art as examples of the ways we try to make sense of our mortality, but ultimately concludes that these are all futile attempts to escape the inevitable. As he puts it:
"Most things may never happen: this one will, And realisation of it rages out In furnace-fear when we are caught without People or drink. Courage is no good: It means not scaring others. Being brave Lets no one off the grave. Death is no different whined at than withstood."
Again, Larkin's use of language here is just incredible. The way he phrases things - "realisation of it rages out" - is so powerful and evocative. And the final line - "Death is no different whined at than withstood" - is just devastating. It's a reminder that no matter how we choose to face death, it will always be the same in the end. We can't escape it, no matter how hard we try.
One of the most interesting things about "Aubade" is the way it explores the relationship between the individual and the larger forces of the universe. The speaker is acutely aware of his own mortality, but he also recognizes that his life is just a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things. As he puts it:
"The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because An only life can take so long to climb Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never; But at the total emptiness for ever, The sure extinction that we travel to And shall be lost in always. Not to be here, Not to be anywhere, And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true."
These lines are so powerful because they capture the sense of existential dread that so many of us feel at one point or another. The idea that our lives are ultimately meaningless in the face of the vastness of the universe is a daunting one, and Larkin doesn't shy away from it. And yet, there is something almost comforting in the way he describes this sense of emptiness - it's a reminder that we are all in this together, that no one is exempt from the ultimate fate that awaits us all.
Another thing that really struck me about this poem is the way it plays with language and form to create a sense of disorientation and unease. Larkin uses enjambment liberally, breaking lines in unexpected places and disrupting the normal flow of language. This creates a sense of fragmentation and dislocation that mirrors the speaker's own sense of anxiety and confusion. Additionally, the poem is written in a very conversational style, with the speaker addressing the reader directly and using colloquial language throughout. This creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy that draws the reader in and makes the speaker's fears and anxieties feel all the more real.
I could go on and on about this poem - there is so much to unpack here, from the way Larkin uses imagery and metaphor to the way he explores the relationship between life and death. But I think at its core, "Aubade" is a poem about the human condition - about the ways in which we try to make sense of our lives and our mortality, and the ways in which we ultimately fail. It's a sobering reminder that no matter how much we accomplish or how much we love, we will all eventually face the same fate. And yet, there is something beautiful in the way Larkin captures this sense of shared humanity - in the way he reminds us that we are all in this together, that our fears and anxieties are universal. Overall, "Aubade" is an incredible work of art, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to explore it in such depth.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Philip Larkin's "Aubade" is a poem that explores the fear of death and the meaninglessness of life. The poem is written in the form of an aubade, a morning love song, but instead of celebrating love, it mourns the inevitability of death. Larkin's use of language, imagery, and structure creates a powerful and haunting meditation on the human condition.
The poem begins with the speaker waking up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. The first line, "I work all day, and get half-drunk at night," sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is a man who works hard during the day and tries to forget his troubles at night by drinking. However, he is unable to escape the thoughts of death that haunt him.
The second stanza introduces the theme of death. The speaker describes how "the mind blanks at the glare" of the thought of death. He is unable to comprehend the idea of his own mortality, and this fills him with fear and dread. The use of the word "glare" suggests that the thought of death is blinding and overwhelming.
In the third stanza, the speaker reflects on the meaninglessness of life. He describes how "life is first boredom, then fear." This line suggests that life is a cycle of monotony and anxiety. The speaker goes on to say that "whether or not we use it, it goes." This line suggests that time is passing us by, whether we are making the most of it or not. The use of the word "it" instead of "time" emphasizes the impersonal nature of time.
The fourth stanza continues the theme of death. The speaker describes how "the sure extinction that we travel to / And shall be lost in always." This line suggests that death is a certainty, and that we will be forgotten after we die. The use of the word "extinction" emphasizes the finality of death.
In the fifth stanza, the speaker reflects on the futility of religion. He describes how "religion used to try, / That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade / Created to pretend we never die." This line suggests that religion is a facade that we use to try to ignore the reality of death. The use of the words "moth-eaten" and "pretend" suggest that religion is outdated and ineffective.
The sixth stanza introduces the idea of sleep as a temporary escape from the fear of death. The speaker describes how "we wake to find ourselves / Alone in the dark with all / That undifferentiated, uncorrupted space." This line suggests that sleep is a way to escape from the fear of death, but that we are ultimately alone in the darkness.
The seventh stanza continues the theme of sleep as a temporary escape. The speaker describes how "we should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time." This line suggests that we should be kind to each other while we are still alive, because we never know when death will come.
The eighth and final stanza brings the poem full circle. The speaker describes how "the mind blanks at the glare" of the thought of death, just as it did in the second stanza. However, this time the speaker adds, "Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms / Inside your head, and people in them, acting." This line suggests that old age brings a sense of peace and acceptance, and that memories of loved ones can provide comfort in the face of death.
Larkin's use of language in "Aubade" is powerful and evocative. The use of words like "extinction," "moth-eaten," and "undifferentiated" create a sense of bleakness and despair. The repetition of the phrase "the mind blanks at the glare" emphasizes the overwhelming nature of the fear of death.
The imagery in the poem is also striking. The use of the image of a "moth-eaten musical brocade" to describe religion creates a vivid picture of something that is outdated and ineffective. The image of "lighted rooms / Inside your head, and people in them, acting" creates a sense of warmth and comfort.
The structure of the poem is also significant. The use of the aubade form, traditionally used for love songs, creates a sense of irony. The poem is not a celebration of love, but a meditation on death. The repetition of the phrase "the mind blanks at the glare" creates a sense of circularity, emphasizing the cyclical nature of life and death.
In conclusion, Philip Larkin's "Aubade" is a powerful and haunting meditation on the fear of death and the meaninglessness of life. Larkin's use of language, imagery, and structure creates a sense of bleakness and despair, but also suggests that memories of loved ones can provide comfort in the face of death. The poem is a reminder to be kind to each other while we are still alive, because we never know when death will come.
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