Going, going Larkin for OCR

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I could go on and on about the poems that OCR might choose to illustrate and explore the human (rest of) nature relationship, but I'm just adding one before I stop.

What to choose?  Something by a dead white bloke I think (a category I'll be joining one of these days).  Clare?  Hardy?  Housman?  Wordsworth?  Thomas?  ... .  No.  I think it has to be Larkin given that he's one of the DWBs crassly abandoned by OCR.

50 years ago, Philip Larkin was commissioned to write a prologue to a UK government report, How Do You Want To Live?  (HMSO, 1972).  This was one of the UK's papers submitted to the landmark 1972 UN Stockholm Conference on the Environment (whose 50 year anniversary it is this week).

Larkin was always going to be a risky choice for such a venture, and it's a matter of record that the great 'n' good in government did not wholly like what he wrote – too near the truth, they likely thought, to be published in full.  Indeed, the commissioning committee was so discomforted that they cut a verse out of the poem, something which Larkin went along with at the time.  You can see a picture of the page of the report with the prologue here on flickr.  In what follows the omitted section is shown [[ in double brackets ]].

Larkin published a slightly revised version of this with the missing bits added back in under the title Going, Going in his collection High Windows.  You can listen to him reading it here.  No one does it better.

Going, going

I thought it would last my time –

The sense that, beyond the town,

There would always be fields and farms,

Where the village louts could climb

Such trees as were not cut down;

I knew there’d be false alarms


In the papers about old streets

And split level shopping, but some

Have always been left so far;

And when the old part retreats

As the bleak high-risers come

We can always escape in the car.


Things are tougher than we are, just

As earth will always respond

However we mess it about;

Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:

The tides will be clean beyond.

– But what do I feel now? Doubt?


Or age, simply? The crowd

Is young in the M1 cafe;

Their kids are screaming for more –

More houses, more parking allowed,

More caravan sites, more pay.

[[ On the Business Page, a score


Of spectacled grins approve

Some takeover bid that entails

Five per cent profit (and ten

Per cent more in the estuaries): move

Your works to the unspoilt dales

(Grey area grants)! ]] And when


You try to get near the sea

In summer ...

It seems, just now,

To be happening so very fast;

Despite all the land left free

For the first time I feel somehow

That it isn’t going to last,


That before I snuff it, the whole

Boiling will be bricked in

Except for the tourist parts –

First slum of Europe: a role

It won’t be hard to win,

With a cast of crooks and tarts.


And that will be England gone,

The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,

The guildhalls, the carved choirs.

There’ll be books; it will linger on

In galleries; but all that remains

For us will be concrete and tyres.


Most things are never meant.

This won’t be, most likely; but greeds

And garbage are too thick-strewn

To be swept up now, or invent

Excuses that make them all needs.

I just think it will happen, soon.


Just goes to show that at least some DWBs do have something to say (as Philip Hensher recently emphasised).  Here's a comment on that point from writer and critic Tomiwa Owolade.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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