This little gem of a poem consists of three stanzas written with an alternating rhyme scheme, employing an iambic tetrameter and my god do I have no idea what that is. “This be the Verse” is a slam dunk of a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the old guard of poets harking back to W. B. Yeats. The truth is that by examining the structure and technicality of this tightly constructed poem, we strip it of all its appeal and allure.
What striking about the poem is Larkin’s open embrace of a modern vernacular that reminds me of the African American community here across the ponds. Honest to the god, when I first read this I though Larkin was black. But a quick Wikipedia search showed an old white guy born in England in 1922. That a guy like that could write a poem like this in 1972 says something about where the new voices in poetry were coming from.
And boy does it do so by packing a one two punch of shattering the last generation with a poignant look at the next generation to come. Larkin encapsulates just how Freudian parents can be with his frank line “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”. Everyone can relate to that sentiment. The line is like the opening notes to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Larkin’s thesis and theme is declared in bold letters that lack the usually expected dose of subtlety.
Larkin goes further, adding in the mix our parent’s faults with the fault’s of their parents. with the equally bold line “But they were fucked up in their turn.” It’s a clear moment of sobriety and reflection. If we’re all fucked up, why do we continue to go on?
As if to answer that question, Larkin gives the advice in the third stanza to not pass on the reader’s seed with the line “And don’t have any kids yourself.” It’s a nihilistic expression and one that on paper looks like a sad proclamation over a lot of people’s views of having children in the late 20th and early 21st century. Not a happy guy, this one seems.