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November 15, 2005


I think you should submit this to PMLA.

I'm glad to see that your presentation went well.

now do "the red wheel-barrow."

congrats on your presentation. I sent you vibes, ingrate.

They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Following along with your reading—could this first line be reaching ahead to the next stanza, referring to the genetic imperfections each parent received (or manifested) at conception, which are then passed along again? The second line, then, referring obliquely to the unique mutations that are "added" to the parental DNA?

(It's an excellent reading, btw)


Is this a joke?

To fuck something up is to spoil it, to ruin it, to make a mess of it. As in FUBAR - fucked up beyond all repair.

Larkin's poem is not about reproduction or biology. It is about Larnik's belief that parents ruin their children through poor parenting and by passing on their fears and negative views of the world.

They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra just for you.

Man hands on misery to man - passing on this negativity through the generations which - deepen like a coastal shelf.

I think you fucked up!


Maybe what you say goes for whatever "Larnik" poem you're thinking of, Terry, but until you cite some, you know, textual evidence, I'm sticking by my interpretation of the Larkin.

No! What?! Seriously? You need textual evidence to know the meaning of "they fuck you up?" It's a commonplace term dude. You over-analyzed. That's all there is to it.

Typical anti-intellectualism.

>>We look to that most prototypical of "up"-modified verbs: conjure.

Why is this the most prototypical 'up'-modified verb? Why is this more prototypical than other meanings of 'up', like completeness?

>>The final two lines, I'm pretty sure, are oral sex references of various sorts.

You're pretty sure- well that's settled then.

>>The variation on the theme, coming after the statement and recapitulation, is meant to show the derangement of those who would issue such a call.

This be close misreading.

Over analysed to the point of projectile vomiting.

Look at his life story, he lived with his parents until far too old.

"Get out as early as you can"

pretty obviously a reference to the favourite English contraceptive method (maybe second to body odour) - withdrawal. This is sometimes difficult to do if you're both standing up in a bus shelter in Hull, but the provincial English are nothing if not ingenious.

"And don't have any kids yourself."

i.e. be male. He was, it was all he knew, and he knew it was best.

"Man hands on misery to man"
This is interesting; it's rare you see a reference to a "circle-jerk" in English poetry - unconscious Ginsberg reference *but in which direction, eh? eh?*

"And half at one another's throats" - see above but different.
Well, well, Larkin the beat poet of grime. Thanks, Ben, I'd never have noticed.

I've been studying the poem pretty intently, but I can't seem to tease out anything about projectile vomiting. Maybe it's incipient in dave h's last remark above?

Absofuckinglutely brilliant analysis.

As a former teacher of literary theory, I (perhaps belatedly) applaud you.

Hm. This is silly.

Unless you're being deliberately sarcastic, you're just...wrong. It's simple, it's not that many-layered business you're looking for. And let's not start pointing the anti-intellectual stick - shame, shame. 'ben wolfson' was right. "They fuck you up" -- they mess you up. They ruin you. They do a bad job. They fuck you up!

May I put it into layman's terms? As if it weren't already clear enough in Larkin-terms...

Your parents mess up your head (if you must, they beget it into messiness).
They might not have bad intentions, but it's unavoidable; they take the pure form of an innocent baby and fill it with all of their faults, plus some new ones....just for kicks. (No, I don't mean they're going to kick it. It means...*sigh*....oh let's move on)...

They can't help it since their parents fucked them up --- read: messed them up --- too. They were either wishy-washy disciplinarians, or fighting. It's NOT an oral sex reference. You dirty....(mumble grumble).

Man hands on misery to man.
(Clear? You with us?)
It deepens --- just builds up ---
like a coastal shelf.

Don't have kids!
You'll be releasing your fuckedupedness on the world.

Yes, I mean you.


Ben Wolfson was wrong....
so terribly wrong!!!

I meant Nico.

You're seriously telling me that the conjunction of "soppy" (ie moist; wet) and "stern" (stiff, with a hint of punishment—well, it is Larkin), combined with a blatant allusion to deep-throating, isn't remotely sexual? Seriously?

I'm seriously telling you that you're seriously bad at close reading.


P.S. Little humans don't live in sperm.

I don't know if you want to go there, daniel. I know a thing or two about biology.

Yes, your analysis of the first line is seriously off the rails.

"To fuck something up is to conjure up, or cause to come into existence, by means of fucking."

No! To fuck something up is to 'screw it up', i.e. to ruin it. When someone on Saturday night informed me that he was "totally fucked up" he meant that he was drunk--not that he was conceived through intercourse!

Seriously, call up five friends you trust and ask them what "to fuck something up" means. You can't honestly be oblivious of its common meaning?

You can't honestly be oblivious of its common meaning?

Exactly. I can't. Consequently, the account of its common meaning I give above must be right. You, contrariwise, exhibit no such incapability.

Okay okay. I get it. This post is a joke.

Wow, anybody who claims that "fuck you up" *must* have its meaning confined to its common adage is an idiot. Literation would be dead if "this" always mapped to "that".

Dress you up. Pick you up. Scoop you up. Write you up. Eat you up. Fix you up. Whip you up.

Note that each word preceeding "you" is a verb. "Fuck" is also commonly used as a verb. Thus, "fuck you up" is a perfectly valid way of talking about reproduction. Just because we commonly use "fuck you up" to mean something else does nothing to minimize the validity of this usage.

I don't think that you are fucked-up enough to understand what he was getting at.

The meaning of this is perfectly clear to anybody who has any experience growing up amongst working class Londoners. I showed it to my dad before he died, he was from the East End, and he understood what it was about immediately, and saw how good it was.

As a kid he was always telling me off for screwing things up - and the usage is the same for fucking things (or people) up. You read more into this poem than is there, and in the process you have fucked it up, mate.

"Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself."

> The variation on the theme, coming after the statement and recapitulation, is meant to show the derangement of those who would issue such a call.<

This contradicts all that you have just said - if you are going to draw the sorts of allusions from sexual reproduction, then this would not refer to a deranged mindset of self-annihilation, but to the act of coitus-interruptus.

Thus, getting out while you can entails the intent of not depositing any semen by which an egg would be fertilized - the two lines together are a remedy for not reproducing the legacy passed down through generations. Withdrawal prior to ejaculation to ensure that no children are produced through sexual union.

Not saying that I read this in the poem, but that is what should follow on your analysis. Personally, I think he meant what he wrote - get out when you can, and don't leave any fucked-up brats behind.

Let's face it, there's plenty to go round as it is.

If you want to read the ending "straight", that's fine, Michelle, but I tend to think that there are two levels at which the poem operates; there's the level of the manifest content, which accords with your reading of the last two lines as alluding to coitus interruptus (or, as I prefer to call it, aposiopenis), and there's the formal level. The beauty here is that the two readings are compatible: you're right that the manifest content of the final two lines is as you've said, which makes the message revealed by their placement (that is, the formal level) all the more powerful. There is an, if you like, arrangement derangement, by which the poet passes judgment on the surface meaning. (You might want to interpret this as the poem escaping from his control and passing judgment on him, or some such postmodern confabulation, I suppose; the point is merely that there is this slippage between the formal content and the surface content.)

'Too-clever' over-analysis which spectacularly misses the point. Quite astounding really; Finbarr Saunders couldn't have put it better himself!
Kind of ironic too that someone who conjures-up penises all over the shop lives in blissful ignorance of his own fucked-upedness.
On the plus side you do clearly possess a good turn of phrase.

I'm perfectly aware of my own fucked-upness, Simon; do you think I think I was created via asexual reproduction?

Reading this comment thread makes me realize why we need organizations like The Electronic Mine Information Network.

I can't believe what I am reading here. Larkin believed all his woes were the fault of his parents and he had plenty of woes! I can assure you my son feels the same and can identify with this work. Oh how further from the truth we travel when we over-analyse a writers simple intention.

I just stumbled on this discourse when I wanted to send my newly-married daughter a link to the Larkin poem about parents (or me as a dad) making a mess of their off-springs lives - or FUCKING THEM UP (and apologising for it). So to read some of Ben's analyses and remarks shows how really fucked up he is.
Others have said that Larkin was a sort of poet of the people, so would not use psuedo-sexual shite to cover up what he really meant.

sorry about the missing apostrophe -- where was it to be put?

thanks for brightening my day

You must be a pretentious idiot.

Now I rememember why I disliked my English Lit degree so much! Didn't Larkin live in Hull? I'd blame my parents as well if I ended up there.

Haha!! I read this and laughed because I thought it was a joke! But then I read your posts and realise that you really think this is the intrepretation of Larkin's poem!

But then, poetry is what we make of it, isn't it? Even if it was not what the poet originally intended. My old English lecturer saw sex in every poem he read, and it didn't stop him from suceeding in life did it?
I personally annoyed another lectuer by over analising 'The Way through the Woods' by Kipling and then won a competition for my analysis!

It's brave to put forward different views. You go!

Philip Larkin - This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your literary analysts
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they have
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style mortar boards and gowns,
Who half the time were sloppy-fastidious
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misinformation to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Graduate as early as you can,
And don't write any poems yourself.

(or any more of this nonsense)

Don't quit your jobs day, Phil and Elaine.

Your interpretation of the poem does full justice to the Latin phrase which heads your blog: Nescire aude, or "Dare to be ignorant."

Oh man—that's what it means? I don't believe it.

credo te tacito ridere naso.

This must be an idiom with which I'm unfamiliar.

"I believe you are laughing with a silent nose." In other words, tongue in cheek. Borat amok in academe?

It was the silent nose that threw me. (I don't normally laugh with my nose at all—but then I suppose my tongue mostly between my cheeks.)

Not quite amok, alas, and I suspect Borat makes a fair bit more than I do.

I think the original comment is "taking the piss".

Oh my god, the comment thread is almost as brilliant as the post, except, um, less intentionally.

i have such a deep admiration for the florid methadology of your mind that i must ask if you are single.

i have such a deep admiration for the florid methadology of your mind that i must ask if you are single.

Having just come across this posting much of what I would have said has been said, but I'll say it anyway.
I have read some pretentious, out of whack, literary analysis in my time, but this beats most of it. It's so off the ball that I really cannot believe that anyone with even half a brain could possibly have dreamt up such nonsense.
Larkin, whom I met, and found to be, at least on that occasion, a rather glum man, would have thrown up had he seen what someone has read into his perfectly straight poem about the potetial for 'some' parents to fuck your life up.
I sometimes think the world's going mad. Bring back illiteracy when people just listened to poems and stories and accepted them for what they were. It's easy to be smart-arsed, loud, confident, and wrong.

What absolute tripe. Does the writer seriously not know what to fuck something up means in common English parlance? If s/he doesn't understand that term, how on earth can s/he pretend to understand Larkin and analyse his poetry?

"... the Lilliputians will needs have it, that Men and Women are joined together like other Animals, by the Motives of concupiscence; and that their tenderness towards their young proceeds from the like natural principle: for which reason they will never allow, that a Child is under any obligation to his Father for begetting him, or his Mother for bringing him into the world; which, considering the Miseries of human life, was neither a benefit in itself, or intended so by his parents, whose thoughts in their Love-Encounters were otherwise employ'd." Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Part 1, Chapter 6
Don't you think that Larkin's poem is Swift's idea translated into contemporary English?

A brilliant analysis, absolutely on point. Here's one of mine, which you and some of your more discerning readers might appreciate: http://scrolling.blogs.com/drmetablog/2007/01/more_on_king_so.html

This is shite.

That is all.

Allow me to suggest that someone call himself "Dudey Bollockyboo" has something of a hurdle to clear before his evaluations of literary criticism are to be taken seriously, and that those hurdles have not been cleared.

I've come back to this thread via the apostropher's "Is Barack Obama the antirrhinum" thread -

You appear to both be going for a record. The record is probably nothing to boast about.

Where do these people come from? I blame the great AOL liberation.

...This interpretation is EXACTLY what would be agreed upon if David Brent ever attended one of Adrian Mole's reading/writing groups.

I am not worthy- and i grovel on bended knees before you, 'Adrian Brent' (although judging by your analysis, I'm sure you'd rather see a Colin than a Coral on bended knees before you...)

Much Love

although judging by your analysis, I'm sure you'd rather see a Colin than a Coral on bended knees before you

Let's not go off half-cocked.

Are you American by any chance?

Not by chance at all! Glorious fortune made me American!

I agree, a tad over-analysed. fuck you up just means to mess you up. Its a great opening line, really takes you by suprise! But i wouldnt go too far into the meaning. As someone said already, its a fairly common slang phrase.

This is the most awful crap I've ever read. The author of this critique has an IQ of perhaps 9. Sub-moronic.
And just plain wrong! 'Fuck you up' has nothing to do with sex - it means 'give you deep psychological problems.' The word 'fuck' has many meanings other than its sexual one - and this is true in other languages too. French, for example.

Your ancestor would be ashamed, Robert.

Thanks for the larf. I thought "hapless innocents" gave away the joke too soon, but apparently some readers' irony detectors need recalibrating.

This is a classic example of over-analysis of the text, does no one actually think that Larkin might just mean what he's written?
plain and simple.

Don't be obtuse, Chris. Of course Larkin meant what he wrote. The question is, what did he write? I give my account above; where's yours?

and i might have guessed that you'd be american, why don't you make a mockery of your own countries poets and leave ours alone.

As long as you agree to continue making a mockery of your country's educational system.

You're all just silly and (and i mean this in the nicest possible way) sooooo dull.

I totally agree with you

That dissertation is the dumbest psuedo crap I've ever read.

This is why schoolkids hate poetry. It takes the joy out of a quite worldly, a little twee and a touching poem which is a downer ending with a sting suggesting you dont breed and suicide. I loved this poem at 12 but if I had read that bullshit post here I would have hated it.


It's like it's just the right amount of U-238 so that it emits an alpha particle on average once every X weeks or so.

Aside from the fact that this poem (its title) is an allusion to Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem and the Bible [Exodus 20:5]"for I the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" this is absolutely the best i've read on Larkin's brilliant Fucked up text so far. Congrats.

I must be "fucking" stupid - or all those who have commented so far are!

Is this not merely a use of a colloquial phrase to more forcibly emphasise the fact that parents are responsible for "messing with you head" (ie messing you up psychologically).

To read anything biological into this is to me an indictment of an education system that seems to see 'complicating' issues as a sign of intelligence or a way of justifying it's educational value.

In colloquial terms parents really can "fuck you up". As a psychological observation Larkin's thoughts are spot on. It is the things we are taught or habits we acquire from our immediate environment (normally our parents) that set the pattern for our entire lives. Supportive parenting, dictatorial parenting, inconsistent parenting, the loss of one or both parents, etc all produce distinctive behavioural and thought patterns in adult life. The idea, however, that all parents "fuck you up" is a bit harsh. I do not know of Larkin's background but this poem seems to me to simply be a reflection on his own life!

Apologies to those who had previously said exactly the same thing as I have just done!

I hadn't read all the comments through as thoroughly as I should have done before commenting. However, to all those who have expressed a similar view to mine - I'm glad some sanity prevails in the Halls of Academia.

There again, what do I know? I left school at 15 and that was 50 years ago.

Well, this is certainly one of the most amusing interpretations of this poem that I've ever read and the liveliness of the debate brought a smile to my face.

I don't know for certain whether the author is taking the piss or is merely a pretentious moron but his/her published analysis has led to a lot of debate on here which has engaged and or entertained a significant number of people. That can only be a good thing.

However I must comment on Ben Wolfson's remark about our education system. Yes Ben, everybody knows the UK education system is (largely) screwed but we're still only the 2nd-worst in the developed world. The worst by far is universally acknowledged (outside of the USA) to be the USA and we're in no danger of hitting lows like that at any point in the near future.

You are running a website so I assume your IQ is above or equal to 80.
Therefore I deduct that you are merely trolling because you would have to be a total idiot to REALLY believe what you wrote about Larkin. The term "fucked up" is most likely in every dictionary nowadays, so I knew you were either trolling or just being a major retard when I realized that you interprete this and the following lines by assuming a sexual background which is of course not the case.

Should anyone believe that even a word of this interpretation is to be taken serious:





The rest of your interpretation was just too ridiculous (yet funny) to be worth of citing contradicting references.

Listen, the guy understands the surface reading of the poem.

He knows what the common meaning of fucked up is. (but you can also look closely at language and find other interesting ways at looking at adages that we don't really think about why we say them a certain way)

But this isn't a surface reading.

There's more than one interpretation of a poem or a text.

He's doing a CLOSE reading. It's a poem. If you read more poetry, you would realize that poets are very, very intricate. Almost every word, comma, period, etc. counts in a poem. Maybe not in a novel, but in a poem, it most certainly does.

So yes, Larkin's talking about parents fucking you up. Anybody with half a brain can see that. The author can see that.

But there's also something underneath the poem. There's always something underneath a poem. Poets say this themselves. Usually, if a poem is really popular, it has a very obvious meaning on the surface, but something that's also beneath it that most readers don't see. And they don't see because they don't look, and then get angry when other people look. I don't know why they get angry, maybe you all could explain to me why you're so angry that someone looked at a poem a little more closely than you want to.

i will read it is class

I have read this thread before, back in 2005 (on my birthday, even!) and again in later days but have never left a comment upon the thread.

['I wonder why?']

Me too, max. Me too.

I think terry nails it.

This whole thing (the original post and thread) is absolutely hilarious.

@Larkin: Successful trolling, brah.

The implication of the middle of this piece, right around the analysis of the baby's "bones," or "faults," is that the last thirty years, the election of Cameron, the reason our black President is making unnecessary deals with the likes of John Boehner to slash the welfare state…

…is that the economic left fought insufficiently hard against racism and sexism.

Screw you, Wolfson.

This post certainly could enjoy more of a close reading by those that aren't.

Fred Crews couldn't have done it better.

Hey Bérubé, the next time you see Russell Berman, tell him off for me, will you?

It seems you don't know what "fuck-up" means in this context. What planet do you live on? What Larkin means by the term is to cause emotional disturbance or psychic distress. He's writing about dysfunctional family environments and toxic parenting, and its effects on children.

If you have ever attended an ACOA Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting, you would know exactly what he is talking about.

The other meaning of fuck-up is to err or be error prone, or downright incompetent. But it does not apply to this poem.

As a born again christian I find all of the above totally fuckin' blasphemous.All you american cunts fuckin' shit us aussies to fuckin' tears except for so much depends upn a red wheelbarrow etc-try to deconstruct that one motherfuckers.You cunts don't own language-it owns you.As some arsehole said to einstein "you're NOT thinking,you're just using logic"Thanks for listening and may the peace that passeth understanding rest upon your language inebriated souls.

Sorry about that-jumped the gun a little.Didn't realize half the posts were by our idiot half cousin pommy shitheads.My previous post applies to yanks only-I love Mailer,Steinbeck,Vonnegut,PK Dick,Sturgeon,Bester,King,Doctorow etc etc.That's why it disappoints me to see good yanks getting involved with pommy scum over 2nd rate bullshit poetry.Now-I ain't taliking Yeats or T.S. here ok.You white pommy bastards should be heading for Australia otherwise this place is gonna get filled up with muslim fundamentalist bombthrowers(not that there's anything wrong with that).You yanks(of the literate variety)are all welcome-No white trash or crack whores though.Now fuck off children and english lecherers and just read for the hell of it.Lawrence believed litchricha should be disposable afterall.Pricks.

I dunno, I looked at this thread because it occurred to me that "Get out as early as you can" might have a subsidiary meaning of coitus interruptus, and I wanted to know what anyone else thought.I see it has occurred to others, but otherwise I'm none the wiser.

The poem is rich in connotation because both meanings of "fuck you up" are applicable here. The same applies to the line "They may not mean to, but they do," which suggests two meanings: that "your mum and dad" may never have intended their fucking to produce a child--they were just having a bit of fun in this otherwise pretty miserable life; and that they may have been fairly ignorant average folks who, if engendering a child was their purpose for fucking, had no intention of mentally fucking their child up by "hand{ing} on misery." I think "they may not mean to" also points out the difference between the narrator and "characters" in this poem--the narrator takes the position of knowing about life's nasty little secrets (it's miseries), but the characters (the mums and dads of past and present generations) don't seem to get this idea yet. They don't realize the cruelty in passing on life.

As far as the line "get out as early as you can," I see two meanings as well. It does refer to interrupting coitus, but it is also a suggestion to do something that goes against the common grain--certainly against the grain of those who would pass life on--namely, to get "out" of life early on. (Don't struggle to extend life for as long as possible.) It may even suggest suicide--the ultimate getting out. "Don't have any kids yourself" is another way of getting out--refusing to participate in the mad cycle of reproduction, which is the cycle of passing on faulty genes and misery.

I love the original analysis. Considering both denotative and connotative meanings of words and phrases is what close reading of poetry demands.

Self-correction---*its miseries*. Not "it's."

And I guess that maybe self-correction is part of this poem's theme!

I like the analysis regarding biology and I had never thought of it before, always believing it to be the psychological damage many parents cause their children. I now think the poem can mean both the psychological 'fucking up' as well as the biological - I find the analysis persuasive. We will of course never know exactly if Larkin meant one or both (unless a new document is found in his own hand which is highly unlikely). My own opinion is that if Larkin intended the biological theory he also intended the psychological. I am glad I read and thought about this analysis and will remember it and will now think of the poem in several senses.

"The association between up and the notion of approach probably also helps to explain why up is used in various expressions having to do with coming or bringing into existence, such as conjure up an image, dream up an excuse, make up a story, whip up a dessert."

The authors of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language clearly read this post.

I'm just here to make this comment thread keep going.

Or, should I say, I'm just here to conjure up future comments.

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