Analysis of Wants by Philip Larkin



                                                                  Philip Larkin

Beyond all this, the wish to be alone: 
However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards 
However we follow the printed directions of sex 
However the family is photographed under the flag-staff – 
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone. 

Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs: 
Despite the artful tensions of the calendar, 
The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites, 
The costly aversion of the eyes away from death – 
Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs.


General Interpretation: In the first stanza of this poem Larkin introduces us in the middle of mundane (ordinary), middle-class English social life. He notes that we involve ourselves in all sorts of social activities; even we fill up our time with such social activities, then Larkin suggests that such a life is empty and really we want to be alone. In the second stanza he extends (lengthens) the wish to be alone to its logical terminus, death. Then he suggests that in spite of our existence as social beings we all have a death.

Unlike many modern poems, this one is not a crossword puzzle; it is fairly easy to understand and interesting to get pleasure.

Linguistic stylistic features:


Lexical repetition: The last line of each stanza is the repetition of its first line. As a result of this the following content words are repeated: wish, alone, desire, oblivion, run. The preposition beyond and beneath also happen to be fuller lexically than most prepositions.

Lexical grouping:

1. Wish, desire, wants. Wish and desire are synonyms indicating lack. Wants, wish and desire are all nouns in this poem, noun derives from verbs.

2. Alone, oblivion, death. These three words all have to do with solitude (isolation).

3. Beyond, beneath. The two prepositions both express remoteness (aloofness).

Semantic-syntactic deviations:

                          the sky grows with invitation cards    

I ignore the notion (concept) of the sky growing dark, as that is a dead metaphor in English. However, the structural linking with invitation cards is odd. The normal expression would be something like ‘the sky grows with (rain) clouds’.

                          the printed directions of sex

Sex cannot literary have printed direction as it is an abstract noun. The phrase would be like this ‘the printed directions of manuals’.


1. Grammatical parallelism: The middle three lines of each stanza consist of a set of parallels –

In stanza 1, lines 2-4 each consist of a subordinate clause beginning with the linking word ‘however’

In stanza 2, the middle three lines consist of the preposition despite plus a list of noun phrases which are all complements to that preposition.

2. Defiteness and generics: In the poem there is no definite noun phrase. Every noun phrase begins with the definite article or has a generic noun at its head.

3. Tense: The whole poem is in the present tense.

Pronoun: There are four pronouns in this poem which are two pairs of repetitions in the first and last line of each stanza.



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