Philip Larkin's 'Talking in Bed'

Philip Larkin has always been known for his gloominess. A candid picture on the cover of FSG's forthcoming paperback edition of The Complete Poems says it all -- Larkin, caught, perplexed and pissed at the camera:


Despite this, or in part because of it, Philip Larkin has emerged as one of England's towering literary figures. Here, he has always been kept at a safe but praising distance, something The Complete Poems hopes to change. It's something I would like to change, too. Because after reading the new edition, Larkin comes across as a convincingly gifted poet, especially of the short lyric. I wanted to provide "Talking in Bed," a famous poem already, to give us a chance to encounter Larkin anew. While it is gloomy -- on par with Donald Justice's "Men at Forty" -- I encourage readers to remember its first stanza, which has always left me determined to never end up in a silent bed. I take it Larkin never wanted to end up there either.

"Talking in Bed"

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds about the sky,

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.