Philip the Great
A distinguished poet gets the full treatment.
Jun 25, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 39 • By WILLIAM H. PRITCHARD
Reviewing this collection in the New York Times Book Review, the poet Paul Muldoon was severe about its section of “Poems Not Published During the Poet’s Lifetime,” which consists of ones Muldoon claimed were “hardly worth even a first look.” But along with a few genuinely moving poems, such as “An April Sunday…” mentioned above, the section includes parodies, squibs, and half-formed utterances this reader is pleased to have, and for the first time, to hand. There is a short tribute, by way of echoing Browning on Shelley, to the great jazz clarinetist Pee Wee Russell: And did you once see Russell plain? There is a parody of Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” that begins O what ails thee, bloody sod, / Alone and palely loitering (the “sod” is an Oxford undergraduate who may just be the young Larkin).
But better than the poem itself is Larkin’s description of it: “This is the latest work of the brilliant new Post-Masturbationist poet, Shaggerybox McPhallus. His new book of verse, ‘The Escaped Cock,’ deals almost exclusively with problems of intense spiritual value.” And although Walt Whitman / Was certainly no titman provoked Muldoon’s special disapproval, no one has previously saluted the Good Grey Poet in such original terms.
The fact that, along with being the great poet of things lost and never to be recovered—of transience, mutability, the evanescence of life—Larkin was an irrepressible, sometimes savage, joker about others, as well as himself, is more than demonstrated by this superb edition of his work.
William H. Pritchard is Henry Clay Folger professor of English at Amherst.