Magazine June 11, 2012, Issue

Stark Beauties

(Loriene Perera/Reuters)
The Complete Poems, by Philip Larkin, edited by Archie Burnett (Farrar, Straus, 729 pp., $40)

It would be a fine cosmic joke if Philip Larkin were eventually remembered as a great religious poet. Yet it may happen. William Blake said of John Milton that he was of the Devil’s party without knowing it. There is a far better case for saying that Larkin was of God’s party while grumpily insisting otherwise.

Larkin’s dogged, shabby Englishness has so far largely limited his appeal to his own country. His verse inhabits a distinct, grey territory of windy railway platforms, drizzle, sad suburbs, sadder cemeteries, and damp raincoats. He is also famous, to the extent that he is famous,

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