Money, sex, death and… sunshine: the poetry of Philip Larkin

Some people really dislike Philip Larkin’s poems. Full of such cheery themes as the fear of old age, the destruction of the countryside and the pointlessness of religion, the poems are not to everyone’s taste. It’s no wonder that when his collection High Windows was presented to my English Literature class at college, several students groaned at the “depressing” tone of the poetry (although many enjoyed his refreshing use of swear words). Not me, though. At first I was puzzled; I’d never seen poetry like it before. However, Larkin’s honest approach quickly won me over. Yes, many of the poems are so miserable (and true) that they’re almost unbearable to read. Others are darkly humorous, and some are nostalgic. And a few, a very few, are uplifting.

‘Solar’ is definitely one of these. In the whole of his Collected Poems (Faber, 2003), this poem stands out because there is no fear, only wonder. It’s a hymn to the sun: ‘Single stalkless flower / You pour unrecompensed.’ Of course there are other layers and meanings to the poem, there always are, but it’s up to the reader to interpret. I choose to see this one as literally sun-worshipping. Without the sun, there’d be no life. Our existence depends upon its ‘petalled head of flames / Continuously exploding.’ The imagery is strong and instant. The sun is our creator, fiercely beautiful and selfless: ‘Unclosing like a hand, / You give forever.’

I wonder what gave Larkin the idea for this poem. Perhaps he was looking out of the window on a hot, cloudless day and just for a moment, his depression lifted as he thought about the sun and what it means to all of us.

Leave a Reply