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 you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
If I had been Larkin’s editor at the time, or a friend or confidante, that he might’ve road tested this on, I’d’ve advised him to ditch verses two and three.
Verse one is brilliantly pithy and potent. After that it all withers on the vine. ‘Man hands on… coastal shelf’ is good, clever poetry, but verse one simply doesn’t need it.
Especially not the saccharine milksop climb-down of verse two’s ‘But they were…’ True, perhaps. But anodyne. Like taking a pair of secateurs to the Prime Minoan Bull that is verse one.
* Not the guy who said that the greatest one could achieve in this life was ‘To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.’