For the Love of Darkness
After reading “Aubade” by Philip Larkin many times, I finally believe I found his purpose to this poem. Aubade’s definition is “traditionally associated with a poem or song about lovers parting at dawn” (Delbanco and Cheuse 645). The author starts by letting his readers know it is in fact early dawn. Without a mention of any type of love interest, or possible joy through out his poem, Larkin takes us down a sad and desperate road to the ever approaching and unavoidable thing that is death. Along the way giving us visuals of him fantasizing about his own death, and how he believed he will experience this “total emptiness forever” (Larkin 16). He touches lightly on religion and how others had grown to believe there is life after death, but he counteracts this thought by quoting “ No rational being can fear a thing it cannot feel”(Larkin 32) expressing his hopelessness for the great beyond. Larkin then comes to a moment he explains how death is unavoidable and not picky as to whom it takes, and just as the poem falls deeper into despair the break of morning saves us slightly from what is truly depressing. The break of dawn then reminds Larkin that no matter what life will continue with, or without you. Larkin then sheds some light into his life and his own mind begins to wander outside his room, to the outside world where others are just beginning to awake and start their day refreshed (Larkin 1-50). To use the title “Aubade” and refer to it as a dark and lonely time is questionable; perhaps Larkin loves the idea of death. He is patiently waiting for his life to part from him possibly at dawn, leaving him alone and at peace.
The words Larkin used throughout this poem set the tone to dark, lonely, and acceptance of his depression. The way he describes this moment in time, he is neither afraid of death nor afraid of when it is to come. A good example Larkin used to bring his reader up to speed was his description of the exact time he is trying to portray is
“Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time, the curtain-edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, making all thought impossible but how and where and when I shall myself die.” (Larkin 3-7)
By saying in time the curtain edges will grow light he is explaining the early morning, and the fast approaching break of sun light. Larkin steals that moment of light by again turning to his thoughts of death. By the end of this poem, the morning has begun to flood the room. Larkin almost allows us have that moment of happiness that is a fresh new day, but then steals our joy by describing the day: “The sky is white as clay, with no sun. Work has to be done” (Larkin 48-49). This is reminding his readers what a dreadful time it is to be awake and starting the daily routine.
Although this poem portrays a deep sadness, Larkin seems to paint us a beautiful picture of the quiet moment before the beginning of the day. The imagery he uses shows us not only the dark, but the light as well. The title of this poem is an example “Aubade” meaning dawn gives us insight as to when this takes place. He describes his fear by saying “no sight, no sound, no touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, nothing to love or think with” (Larkin 27-29). He simply is describing what death would feel like to him, by using our basic senses and eliminating them. Another good example of imagery is the way he explains the light breathing life into the room. He says “Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape. It stands as plain as a wardrobe” (Larkin 41-42) to say “as plain as a wardrobe” he is describing the room to be still and the same as when he left it in the dark. I can imagine the light cautiously creeping in, like when you slowly open the door to your closet. He leaves us with a haunting and confusing ending. He uses the image of postmen and doctors going from house to house, yet we question what this had to do with the depression of this poem.
This last line also ties in with a figure of speech, to say, “Postmen like doctors go from house to house” (Larkin 50). This last line is considered a simile, Larkin is comparing Postmen to Doctors and how they both visit from home to home. A deeper meaning could possibly be that postmen bring you daily mail or news, keeping you up to date with your bills or everyday life. Doctors can sometimes symbolize death, because usually the only time you were to call a doctor other than to give birth is because you are sick or injured. Therefore, again Larkin is in a way comparing light (Postmen) and darkness (Doctors). Larkin could also simply throw in this line to confuse the reader, and leave them questioning and wanting more.
The obvious symbol in this poem is death, although Larkin tries to throw you off by the title he is in reality describing his possible death, how death is unavoidable, and how he seems to be all consumed by this idea of darkness, which again leaves the reader to question; is he afraid or accepting of his obvious demise? To choose a title like “Aubade” is to hint at the fact the lover he could possibly part with in the morning would be life, by accepting his embrace into death.
I quite enjoyed reading of Larkin’s forbidden desire to be consumed by darkness; he took me from lighthearted comments to full on explaining in detail the end of life, as he believes it to be. Although, I do believe in eternal life after death I am always accepting of other opinions and ideas. To me, Larkin is completely obsessed with the day he will finally die; his depression screams for help through all five stanzas of this poem. I understand that for some the only way to accept the sadness is to fantasize about it. Larkin does not dwell in his own self-pity too long, the tone is used throughout the middle of the poem to me is almost angry with the others who he would consider ignorant. In a sense he states that no matter who you are, where you are, or how bravely you attempt to stand against death, it is irrelevant because death will one day come for us all. The trick is though, we will never know when or where death will meet us. He ends this masterpiece with his lighthearted possible glimmer of hope by reminding the reader that, yes a new day will come, and yes life will continue long after you are gone, but until your time is up you must continue the same routine life has planned for you.
Larkin’s fine use of words, images, and symbols brought this 50-line poem to life. His acceptance of death and ideas of the afterlife will open the eyes to those who cannot seem to cope with the fact we will all eventually perish. This poem is not for the faint of heart, but more for those who struggle with depression. Larkin opens a door to a completely new outlook on dealing with every day sadness and instead of a warm and fluffy, sugar coated lie he lays out the harsh truth, and the reality that is depression. For those who cannot seem to find the happiness in anything or anyone, hold on to the desire of death. Death will be the one thing that will never disappoint, and then you can finally remain at peace.
Larkin, Philip. “Aubade.” Literature: Craft and Voice, Second Edition, edited by Nicholas Delbanco and Alan Cheuse, McGraw-Hill, 2012, 493-501.
From Instructor Mahaffey:
My English 102 students write a literary analysis paper fairly early in in the semester that shows their understanding of the terminology and literary devices we have been discussing in class. The assignment also allows for them to show off their citation skills. Students are given a list of both prose and poetry and are told to pick one. Very rarely do students choose to work with poetry, especially during the first month of the semester. Kendra did, though, and she did it well. In her essay, she focuses on Larkin’s use of words, images, and symbols that bring his poem to life. Her essay shows a great comprehension of the material, the literary terminology, and the use of source material and citations.