Larkin could be seen as conforming to the image of a ‘grumpy, old, git’, as thought by critics and even more so by the youth of today. Through his anthology ‘High Windows’ a window itself is opened into the Larkin’s complex character where grumpy, old and git do apply, however this could be seen as generalisation as many poems suggest otherwise. In High Windows there are two definitions of Larkin as old, the first of which is Larkin resigning himself to the past with a sense of despair as to being and feeling old.
In ‘High Windows’ this is shown reverently with the use of the simile “like an outdated combine harvester” through this he evokes a mood of despair. It shows Larkin to feel old-fashioned and out of date, thus alienated from modern on-goings and society, presenting an image of Larkin rusting away forgotten replaced by the next generation. In ‘The Trees’ Larkin portrays the sadness at the youth he no longer feels “their greenness is a kind of grief”. Instead of viewing the beauty of youth and the pleasure which it brings he shows a selfish view, one of which portrays a bitter and miserable old man.
Larkin uses parenthesis in ‘Annus Mirabilis’ to visually illustrate to the reader his isolation “(Which was rather late for me)”. It portrays a man whom cannot relate to the Youth of today but instead envies the opportunities which he himself missed e. g. the sexual freedom from the revolution, a concurrent theme in the anthology. From this a sense of bitterness is shown, alongside his despair at this generation’s impact on his beloved England as noted in ‘Going Going’ “But what do I feel now? Doubt? Or age simply?….their kids are screaming for more”.
This demonstrates how Larkin views his generation to have reached a point in society where their impact is limited and contributions ignored, control no longer lies with them but instead younger generations. With Larkin’s environment changing and altering around him, the only dependent and constant item in his life are his memories. However in ‘Sad Steps’ the memories which dominate his thoughts are not a source of comfort but instead distress “O wolves of memory… the strength and pain of being young”.
Larkin shows the discomfort that age brings where thoughts are constantly placed in the past with his youth, however Larkin is trapped in the present. The second definition of age is that of the ageing process, one observed by Larkin and exemplified in ‘The Old Fools in which “your mouth hangs open and drools, and you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember”. Larkin presents the reader with negative connotations of the ageing process one which provides no dignity and instead installs a fear and loathing of age.
However, it could be argued that Larkin is far removed from the stereotype of a bitter old man who resents youth, but instead a poet who celebrates it. In ‘High Windows’ Larkin observes the effects of the sexual revolution and the freedom which this in turn brings to the modern youth, his reaction is that of joy “I know this is paradise”. This is far removed from the reaction of an old man who would naturally show displeasure towards these liberal actions, due to the age gap and difference in attitudes.
The opposite is Larkin’s reaction which is that of embracing the freedom which the youth now can experience “everyone young going down the long slide To happiness, endlessly”. In ‘The Old Fools” the theme of celebrating youth is shown with the nature metaphor “To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower of being here. ” It shows Larkin’s appreciation of the beauty which youth embodies and a stark contrast of an ageist view where youth causes him distress. Asides from the common perception of Larkin as old, It could be argued that he encompasses a Grumpy persona.
In ‘Friday Night in The Royal Station Hotel’ Larkin’s misery at life is shown with the use of paradox’s such as “light spreads darkly downwards from the high clusters of lights over empty chairs”. A sense of disappointment, depression and lack of fulfilment is shown in ’empty’ and ‘darkly’, creating an oppressive mode one in which supports the view of Larkin as unhappy and disturbed. Normally light featured in poetry evokes feelings of happiness and the gaiety of life, but instead the paradox casts a shadow over the poem, symbolic of the shadows of Larkin’s misspent youth now clouding his memories and thoughts.
Another poem in which Larkin conveys to the reader his resentment is “This be the verse”, where he says “man hands on misery to man”. From this an image is conjured that of the older generation relieving their problems for the younger generation to bear. Thus showing misery as inescapable and an intrinsic aspect of life as in the penultimate line “get out as quick as you can” shows that death is preferable to living. Larkin’s views on humankind and life are negative, thus supporting the claim that Larkin is in-fact grumpy.
A literal representation of the anger which Larkin feels is also shown in ‘This be the verse’ through the use of swear words “they were fucked up”. The swearing corresponds with the image of a grumpy and unhappy being as it again reverently demonstrates the displeasure and anger that he feels. Another of Larkin’s traits is his ability to counteract a celebratory or positive thing with a negative as seen in ‘Show Saturday’, “Grey day for the Show” and “The wrestling starts, late”. It shows Larkin to view happy things such as show where it is a day of relaxation and fun, to instead supply endless disappointment and an anti-climax.
If Larkin was not in fact grumpy, he would cast a positive instead of a negative spin on what he sees and writes about however this is not the case in the majority of the anthology. However this argument has been counteracted, stating that Larkin is not grumpy but merely misunderstood. In ‘The Trees’ Larkin shows optimism with “begin afresh, afresh, afresh” the sibilance creates a soft and gentle sound, one which is of comfort to the reader. The end note of the poem is not about death but instead re-birth and vitality, distancing himself from depressive thoughts but instead inspiring the reader with hope.
Although Larkin’s subject maters are thought as depressing and consequently the tone is oppressive, ‘The card players’ shows otherwise. The subject matter is that of aged’ male bonding seen from a humorous perspective and thus a comical tone is sought by Larkin “the lamplit cave, where Jan turns back and farts”. This poem dispels any thoughts of Larkin as grumpy as it is a celebration in the ironic form of a Sonnet, again showing the comical tone due to the ruff character descriptions and focus on bodily functions. The theme of celebration is also shown in ‘High Windows’ with vivid imagery “sun comprehending glass…deep blue air… nothing, and is nowhere and is endless. ”
Through this the reader is transported to a place where there confinement and restrictions cease to exist, instead freedom is present. It portrays Larkin as optimistic and liberated form the constraints of religion “no god any more ,or sweating in the dark” and thus a happy mood is created, a stark contrast to someone grumpy. If someone where to sum Larkin up in one word then a common description would be a ‘git’ form this there are connotations of a contemptible person whom is deemed despicable.
The poem ‘Sad Steps’ demonstrates his crudeness and Larkin’s intention to shock the reader with undignified and crude phrases such as “Groping back to bed after a piss”. It shows someone who disregards and is uninterested with people’s judgements on himself; he simply doesn’t care and so uses colloquialism to the limit. This tone is carried on throughout the stanza with Larkin’s cynicism of Romanticism, it portrays a man who is despondent of romantic love and instead decided to mock it.
Larkin proves to be judgemental not just on love but on people in general, referring to the public as “a cast of crooks and tarts” in ‘Going, Going’. This reverently shows his dismissive attitude towards others and his inability to accept differences within people thus showing a narrow minded view coinciding with the ideology of a ‘git’. This poem can be seen as an organised ‘rant’ shown with “You try to get near the sea in summer… “, the use of ellipses shows Larkin spluttering in a state of fury.
In ‘High windows’ Larkin portrays a sexually frustrated being one who concerns himself with others sex life’s to alleviate him form his own mere existence “and guess he’s fucking her and she’s taking pills and wearing a diaphragm”. It shows him as prying uninvited into others lives, unwanted and intrusive. In ‘The old fools’ he reveals his unsympathetic views on ageing and his despondency with the inevitable degeneration of ageing “your mouth hangs open and drools, and you keep on pissing yourself”. He exemplifies a ‘git’ with his truly derogative views and undermining of the dignity and wisdom which age brings.
Although there is a strong argument supporting the view of Larkin as a git, this can be dispelled by looking at other poems such as ‘To The Sea’. Larkin uses vivid imagery such as “the small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse up the warm yellow sand”, its effect is to present the reader with a beautiful picture and positive connotations. Causing them to relate back to their own memories of seaside visits, thus relating with the reader on a personal level and so far removed from an antisocial image of Larkin as a ‘git’.
In ‘Dublinesque’ Larkin casts a positive spin over a somewhat depressing theme of a funeral, he rejects a pessimistic approach but instead favours optimism with “there is an air of great friendliness”. His positive attitude is illustrated in the final line where he leaves the reader with an emotional and lasting statement “all love, all beauty”. Therefore impacting upon the reader and removing himself from a stereotypical view of funerals having a macabre atmosphere. In ‘The trees’ lyrical language dominates “yet still the unresting castles thresh in fullgrown thickness every May”.
This language has connotations of romance, love and optimism it shows a pleasant side to Larkin far removed from a git. The reasoning for Larkin as ‘grumpy, old, git’ could stem from a misunderstanding of his poems realistic approach to life, and not solely because of the anthology’s somewhat pessimistic tone. However it is true to say that there is a concurrent and underlying theme of dissatisfaction, lack of opportunities and a misspent youth. Therefore it is justifiable to call Larkin a ‘grumpy, old, git’ to a certain extent.