The Poetics of Unbelief

The New Oxonian

riting about not believing is not easy.  We are accustomed to poems about neurotic seizures, personal crisis, lost love and suicidal consequences, but the big questions of belief and religion have more commonly been objects for satire.

Let me call attention to two exceptions.

Philip Larkin (d 1985) was a soft-spoken intellectual, quietly angry young and middle-aged man, who hated the limelight and preferred ridicule and mild eroticism (he was a defender of soft porn) to the intellectual poetry of his era.  He was encouraged in what he liked to do best– jabbing at the hypocrisies of religion, politics and family life–by writers like Kingsley Amis and imitated Yeats and Hardy before developing his own mid-century “symbolist” vocabulary:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for…

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