Archive | Philip Larkin | Two Poems: To The Sea, Annus Mirabilis 


Two Poems, Philip Larkin London Magazine / January 1970 / Vol.9 No.10    

Philip Larkin, (1922-1985) a prolific poet and writer of essays, criticism and reviews within the twentieth-century. Described as ‘England’s other Poet Laureate’, Larkin composed poetry that captured the spiritual-angst of Britain’s post-war landscape, articulating the despair for the forthcoming modern era.

These two poems were published as a set in the Vol. 9/ No.10 January 1970 edition of The London Magazine. Transcribed in full below:


To step over the low wall that divides

Road from concrete walk above the shore

Brings sharply back something known long before –

The miniature gaiety of seasides.

Everything crowds under the low horizon:

Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing caps,

The small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse

Up the warm yellow sand, and further off

A white steamer stuck in the afternoon –

Still going on, all of it, still going on!

To lie, eat, sleep in hearing of the surf

(Ears to transistors, that sound tame enough

Under the sky), or gently up and down

Lead the uncertain children, frilled in white

And grasping at enormous air, or wheel

The rigid old along for them to feel

A final summer, plainly still occurs

As half an annual pleasure, half a rite,

As when, happy at being on my own,

I searched the sand for Famous Cricketers,

Or, farther back, my parents, listeners

To the same seaside quack, first became known.

Strange to it now, I watch the cloudless scene:

The same clear water over smoothed pebbles

The distant bathers’ weak protesting trebles

Down at its edge, and then the cheap cigars,

The chocolate-papers, tea-leaves, and, between

The rocks, the rusting soup-tins, till the first

Few families start the trek back to the cars.

The white steamer has gone. Like breathed-on glass

The sunlight has turned milky. If the worst

Of flawless weather is our falling short,

It may be that through habit these do best,

Coming to water clumsily undressed

Yearly; teaching their children by a sort

Of clowning; helping the old, too, as they ought.



Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(Which was rather late for me) –

Between the end of the Chatterley ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.

Up to then there’d only been

A sort of bargaining,

A wrangle for a ring,

A shame that started a sixteen

And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:

Everyone felt the same,

And every life became

A brilliant breaking of the bank,

A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than

In nineteen sixty-three

(Though just too late for me) –

Between the end of the Chatterley ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.