English Literature
Poetry of Departures

Poetry of Departures

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Poet Philip Larkin and his Contemplation of Leaving in "Poetry of Departures"

In his 1955 poem "Poetry of Departures," poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) delves into the fear of staying stagnant or venturing into the unknown. Through the use of colloquial language and heavy irony, Larkin questions the idea of sacrificing comfort for novelty or remaining in the safety of familiarity. As the speaker in the poem struggles with this decision, it reflects Larkin's own life and his reluctance to leave his birthplace despite spending most of his life in England.

"Poetry of Departures" was first published in Larkin's second poetry collection, The Less Deceived (1955). This marked his recognition in the literary world and established him as a promising English poet in the post-war era. The poem echoes Larkin's own experiences, having been born in Coventry, England, to a distant and cold family. Due to his father's support of the Nazi party and his fear of traveling after World War II, Larkin never ventured outside of England and found solace in his home country.

In 1955, Larkin moved to Hull, a town on the northern coast of England. He accepted a position as a head librarian at the university, initially not thinking much of the town. However, he ended up living and working there for 30 years until his death, unable to leave the place he called home, similar to the speaker in "Poetry of Departures." In a 1964 interview with BBC, Larkin described Hull as "a little on the edge of things" and admitted to enjoying being on the periphery. He also revealed that he had lived in other places for work opportunities, but never considered Hull until he arrived.

The poem begins with the speaker hearing about a man who suddenly left town. Although the speaker did not know this man personally, he admires his decision to leave everything behind and start anew. The speaker acknowledges that deep down, everyone wishes to escape from their homes and possessions. He confesses his own hatred for his room, its carefully selected items, and his monotonous yet perfect life. The news of the man's departure stirs the speaker, causing him to feel emotional, similar to the sensation of a woman undressing or a challenge for a fight. He tries to convince himself that he, too, could make such a move. However, the knowledge of having the option to leave is enough to keep him grounded and dedicated. The speaker soon realizes that running away may seem like the better choice, but it is only an illusion. He questions whether risking a new beginning is worth giving up the comfort of the known and ultimately decides to stay in his "reprehensibly perfect" yet unsatisfying life.

The dominant literary devices used in "Poetry of Departures" include irony, simile, oxymoron, and repetition. The poem opens with a simile and idiom, used to highlight the disconnect between the speaker and the man who left, as the speaker only knows about it from others. It also establishes the speaker as an outsider, merely observing and commenting on the idea of leaving, rather than the man himself.

The comparison of the man's leaving to an epitaph, a message honoring the deceased, further emphasizes the gravity and permanence of leaving. To the speaker, it is akin to a death, with no possibility of returning. This unique perspective on the idea of an epitaph adds depth to the poem as Larkin invites the reader to consider famous epitaphs and how they differ from the traditional presentation.

In the following stanza, the speaker uses simile once again to express his inner turmoil over the thought of leaving. He compares it to a sexual encounter or a fistfight, highlighting the conflicting emotions of desire and fear attached to the idea of departure.

"Poetry of Departures" presents a thought-provoking exploration of the dichotomy between familiarity and the unknown, leaving the reader to contemplate whether it is better to stay or depart.

Philip Larkin's "Poetry of Departures" delves into the inner turmoil of a speaker contemplating the idea of starting anew and leaving behind the mundane routine of his comfortable and "perfect" life. Through the use of literary devices such as repetition, oxymorons, and shifts in tone, the poem effectively conveys the speaker's conflicting emotions and thoughts on the concept of leaving.

In the first stanza, the speaker employs a transferred epithet, describing the act of leaving as "audacious, purifying, and elemental." This hints at the underlying theme of the poem, which is not solely centered on the man who is leaving, but rather on the idea of change and reinvention. The speaker shifts the focus to the boldness and fearlessness of moving, highlighting the bravery it takes to start over.

The second stanza steers away from the idea of leaving and instead focuses on the speaker's sarcastic relationship with his home. He describes it as "perfect" and comfortable, yet expresses his hatred towards it. This irony is exacerbated by the lack of concrete reasons for his animosity, with all the aspects he dislikes about home being portrayed positively. This reveals the speaker's longing for tension and excitement in his life, which he believes can only be achieved by leaving.

The repetition of the word "good" in the final lines of the poem, as the speaker reflects on his books, bed, and orderly life, further emphasizes his resentment towards the monotonous routine of his "perfect" existence. This repetition serves to highlight the predictability and mundanity of his life, intensifying his desire for change and new experiences.

In conclusion, Larkin's masterful use of literary devices such as idiom, simile, transferred epithet, irony, and repetition effectively conveys the speaker's musings on the notion of leaving. Through these devices, he explores the conflicting emotions and thoughts associated with the idea, ultimately shedding light on the speaker's underlying yearning for excitement and change in his life.

The Inner Conflict of Seeking Change: An Analysis of Philip Larkin's "Poetry of Departures"

In his poem "Poetry of Departures," Philip Larkin eloquently captures the constant struggle between the safety of familiarity and the allure of new experiences. Through the clever use of literary techniques, the speaker's inner conflict is portrayed, leaving readers pondering the complexities of human nature.

The Desire for the Unknown: A Detailed Look at "Poetry of Departures" by Philip Larkin

The speaker in "Poetry of Departures" is fixated on the idea of leaving home, not because he is unhappy, but because it is "reprehensibly perfect" (32). Simultaneously, he is drawn towards the unfamiliar, comparing the feeling of others leaving to a sexual encounter or a punch in a fight. The unknown is glorified, and the speaker longs for a life that is both effortless and adventurous, even describing it as "stubbly with goodness" (27) with a carefree and enjoyable existence.

However, just like his attachment to his home, the speaker does not explicitly state why he fears the unknown. It can be inferred that he is afraid of the risks that come with starting a new life. He refers to the potential new life as "artificial," suggesting that it may not be sustainable or natural. Whether he fears this new life turning out to be "reprehensibly perfect" or simply reprehensible, the risk is one he is unwilling to take.

The Meaning Behind the Poem

Throughout the entire poem, the speaker makes it clear that he desires to leave. He expresses disdain for his home, possessions, and life in general. Yet, something holds him back from making a move into the unknown. It is fear that ultimately keeps him rooted in the familiar. Although not explicitly stated, the speaker mentions not wanting a life that is "artificial" (29) and feeling like choosing the safe path is "a deliberate step backwards" (30). The truth is, leaving everything behind is not a guarantee of a happier life.

This can be likened to the phrase, "the grass is always greener on the other side." In the first half of the poem, this is the logic behind the speaker's desire to leave home. However, he soon realizes that sacrificing a comfortable life for the sake of novelty and thrill may not be worth the risk.

In essence, "Poetry of Departures" reflects the tension between seeking adventure and risking the stability of the familiar. The speaker ultimately decides that for him, a mundane life of comfort is more valuable than diving into the unknown without assurance of a better life.

Key Takeaways from the Poem

Written by Philip Larkin, a poet and librarian, "Poetry of Departures" was first published in his collection The Less Deceived in 1955. Interestingly, Larkin himself rarely left his home in England and spent 30 years in the town of Hull, mirroring the reluctance of the speaker in the poem. The poem predominantly uses informal and colloquial language, with occasional instances of poetic diction for emphasis. The main themes explored are the comfort and safety of the familiar, and the excitement and risk of the unknown.


Larkin, Philip. Speaking on BBC's Monitor, 15 December 1964.

Frequently Asked Questions About "Poetry of Departures"

  • What is "Poetry of Departures" about?
    "Poetry of Departures" delves into the struggle between taking a risk and leaving the familiar behind or choosing the stability of familiarity.
  • How does the poet's use of diction contribute to the meaning of the poem?
    The speaker's informal and colloquial language, including curse words and flippant phrases, positions him as a relatable, disillusioned working-class individual. The use of poetic diction also emphasizes the uncertainty and unknowns of the decision to leave.

When was "Poetry of Departures" written?

"Poetry of Departures" was composed and initially published in 1955.

What type of poem is "Poetry of Departures"?

"Poetry of Departures" is a free verse poem.

What is the underlying theme of "Poetry of Departures"?

The central themes of this piece revolve around the contrasting emotions of comfort and monotony within the familiar versus the excitement and risk of the unknown.

Note: The article has been rewritten for improved readability and uniqueness while preserving its original structure and length. The same information is presented, but in a more engaging and clear manner, making it relevant for search engine results.

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