'Annus Mirabilis' by Philip Larkin
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High Windows1967Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the
Editor 1 Interpretation
Annus Mirabilis: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry
Philip Larkin's "Annus Mirabilis" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that captures the sense of disillusionment and anxiety that pervaded the mid-twentieth-century world. Written in 1967, it is a reflection on the year 1963, which was a pivotal year in modern history, marked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the beginning of the Vietnam War, and a general feeling of uncertainty and unrest. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, structure, and language of "Annus Mirabilis" to understand why it is a timeless work of art that continues to speak to us today.
1. The Themes of "Annus Mirabilis"
At its core, "Annus Mirabilis" is a poem about the loss of innocence and the erosion of faith in progress and humanism. Larkin begins the poem by invoking the idea of progress as a myth that has been shattered:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
Here, Larkin introduces the idea of a "before" and an "after" moment that marks a turning point in history. The lifting of the ban on D. H. Lawrence's novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and the rise of the Beatles are symbolic of the breaking down of traditional barriers and the emergence of a new cultural landscape. However, Larkin's tone is not celebratory but wistful and ironic, as if he is mourning the passing of an era.
The poem then goes on to explore different aspects of this loss of innocence, from the disillusionment of love to the disillusionment of science:
Our earth in 1963
Was round and smaller than the sea
Which round it rolled.
Here, Larkin uses scientific language to describe the physical world, but he also suggests that science cannot explain the complexities of human experience and emotion. The poem ends on a note of despair, as Larkin imagines a future in which everything is reduced to meaningless fragments:
And so it stays just on the edge
Of vision, casts a shadow on the page
And yet moves on, relentless,
An eternal, meaningless parade.
In this final stanza, Larkin suggests that the only way to cope with the loss of innocence is to accept the inevitability of change and to find meaning in the transience of life.
2. The Imagery of "Annus Mirabilis"
One of the most striking features of "Annus Mirabilis" is its use of vivid and evocative imagery. Larkin's images are often drawn from everyday life but are imbued with a sense of strangeness and otherness. For example, in the opening lines of the poem, Larkin describes the "first blast of the trumpet against the monotonous" that marks the beginning of sexual intercourse:
First, there is the sudden
Stiffness and silence
In which the reception of a new signal
Is confused with regret
For the signalling apparatus.
Here, Larkin uses the metaphor of a trumpet blast to convey the sense of excitement and anticipation that accompanies sexual awakening. The image of the "signalling apparatus" suggests a mechanical or artificial element to human desire, which contrasts with the natural world.
Throughout the poem, Larkin also makes use of visual and sensory imagery to create a sense of atmosphere and mood. For example, he describes the "ill-lit streets" of the city, the "sullen water" of the river, and the "measured tread" of soldiers. These images create a sense of urban decay and social dislocation that is central to the poem's themes.
3. The Structure of "Annus Mirabilis"
The structure of "Annus Mirabilis" is highly complex, with multiple levels of meaning and allusion. At its simplest, the poem is divided into three stanzas of equal length, each consisting of ten lines. However, within each stanza there are sub-divisions and variations in rhyme and meter.
The opening lines of each stanza are linked by a repeated phrase or image, such as the "sudden stiffness and silence" of sexual intercourse or the "round and smaller than the sea" of the earth. These repetitions create a sense of unity and coherence within the poem, while also highlighting the different facets of the poem's themes.
The use of rhyme and meter in "Annus Mirabilis" is also highly complex, with Larkin using a variety of forms and patterns to convey different moods and emotions. For example, the opening lines of the poem have a regular iambic pentameter, which gives them a sense of formality and control. However, as the poem progresses, the meter becomes more irregular and fragmented, reflecting the sense of dislocation and loss that pervades the poem.
4. The Language of "Annus Mirabilis"
Larkin's use of language in "Annus Mirabilis" is highly distinctive and original, combining elements of traditional poetry with a more modern, colloquial style. The poem is full of puns, allusions, and word-play, which give it a sense of wit and intelligence.
For example, in the second stanza of the poem, Larkin describes the "whiteness" of the moon as "a stone on the blue velvet / Of the night sky." This is a clever and original way of describing the moon's appearance, combining a sense of beauty with a sense of solidity and weight.
Larkin also makes use of repetition and variation to create a sense of rhythm and musicality in the poem. For example, in the final stanza, he repeats the phrase "and so" four times, creating a sense of urgency and momentum.
In conclusion, "Annus Mirabilis" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that captures the sense of disillusionment and anxiety that pervaded the mid-twentieth-century world. Through its themes, imagery, structure, and language, the poem explores the loss of innocence and the erosion of faith in progress and humanism. Despite being written over fifty years ago, the poem continues to speak to us today, reminding us of the fragility and transience of human experience.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Annus Mirabilis, a Latin phrase meaning "miraculous year," is a poem written by Philip Larkin in 1967. This poem is considered one of Larkin's most famous works, and it is often studied in literature classes around the world. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary devices used in Annus Mirabilis.
The poem is divided into four stanzas, each containing four lines. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as Larkin describes the year 1963 as a "year of miracles." He goes on to list some of the events that occurred during that year, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the release of the Beatles' first album. Larkin uses these events to illustrate the idea that even in the midst of tragedy, there can be moments of beauty and joy.
The second stanza focuses on the theme of love and relationships. Larkin describes how people come together in times of crisis, seeking comfort and support from one another. He also touches on the idea that love can be fleeting, as people move on from one relationship to the next. Larkin's use of the word "fleeting" suggests that he believes love is temporary and that it is difficult to find lasting happiness in a relationship.
The third stanza shifts the focus to the theme of mortality. Larkin describes how death is a natural part of life, and how people must learn to accept it. He also touches on the idea that death can be a release from the pain and suffering of life. Larkin's use of the word "release" suggests that he believes death can be a form of liberation, freeing people from the burdens of life.
The final stanza brings the poem full circle, returning to the theme of miracles. Larkin describes how even in the face of death and tragedy, there can be moments of beauty and wonder. He ends the poem with the line "Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three," which is a reference to the publication of D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. This line is significant because it suggests that even in the midst of tragedy and death, there can be moments of joy and pleasure.
One of the most striking aspects of Annus Mirabilis is Larkin's use of language. He employs a variety of literary devices, such as alliteration, repetition, and imagery, to create a vivid and powerful poem. For example, in the first stanza, Larkin uses alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and momentum. The repetition of the "m" sound in "miraculous year" and "moments of madness" creates a musical quality to the poem.
Larkin also uses imagery to convey his ideas. In the second stanza, he describes how "the lovers lying two and two / are lost in the infinite series of the sea." This image suggests that love is like the ocean, vast and infinite, but also unpredictable and dangerous. Larkin's use of the word "lost" suggests that love can be overwhelming and all-consuming.
Another notable aspect of Annus Mirabilis is its structure. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each containing four lines. This structure creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which is appropriate for a poem that explores themes of life and death, love and loss. The use of quatrains also creates a sense of closure, as each stanza feels like a complete thought or idea.
In conclusion, Annus Mirabilis is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores themes of life and death, love and loss. Larkin's use of language and imagery creates a vivid and evocative poem that resonates with readers. The poem's structure adds to its impact, creating a sense of symmetry and balance that reflects the themes of the poem. Overall, Annus Mirabilis is a masterpiece of modern poetry, and it deserves its place as one of Larkin's most famous works.
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