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‘Only in dreams’: Philip Larkin and surrealism

Perry, Sam

Authors

Abstract

This article suggests that one of the most illuminating ways of approaching the poetry of Philip Larkin is through the philosophy and art of the Surrealists, including the work of some of the movement's most renowned practitioners: André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and René Magritte. It is clear from Larkin's reading and his personal associations that he was familiar both with the ideas of the Surrealists and with the intellectual context within which their thinking developed, and his affinities with a Surrealist epistemology are evident both in his correspondence and, more importantly, in his poetry. Yet while the Symbolist strain in Larkin's work has been explored by various critics, his adjacency to Surrealism has never been investigated, despite the historical proximity and the fact that some of the movement's fundamental concerns are central to his aesthetic. I argue that Larkin's Surrealist tones and techniques played a vital role in allowing him to defamiliarize even the most seemingly insignificant occurrences of everyday life, inviting his readers to see the world in a radical new light. Although the essay is concerned less with direct influence than with significant correspondences in subject and approach, it will begin by examining the overtly Surrealist poetry Larkin wrote during his final year as an undergraduate at St John's College, Oxford, where he was inspired by the work of Dylan Thomas, before going on to show how Larkin continued to create Surrealist effects throughout the remainder of his poetic career.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 1, 2010
Print ISSN 0013-8215
Electronic ISSN 1756-1124
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 59
Issue 224
Pages 95-119
Institution Citation Perry, S. (2010). ‘Only in dreams’: Philip Larkin and surrealism. English, 59(224), 95-119. doi:10.1093/english/efp049
DOI https://doi.org/10.1093/english/efp049
Keywords Literature and Literary Theory