If I had to name one poem, written in England in my lifetime, of unquestionable greatness, it would be Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”.
It was published in the Times Literary Supplement on December 23, 1977. Thereafter, although he wrote some – a very few – haunting short poems – we all remember the poignant one about the hedgehog caught in the mower – silence descended. He died in 1985, aged 63.
“Aubade” is a song of dawn. Larkin’s poem is about waking at 4am and staring around his bedroom, and seeing “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.”
On one level it is an intensely individual poem, written by a selfish alcoholic bachelor (“I work all day and get half drunk at night” – hence the early waking). But on another level, this poem is universal.
See also related article: Human Chain by Seamus Heaney – review.