The exposure of hostile rhetoric aimed at immigrants, women and the poor diminished the posthumous reputation of Philip Larkin. Such insults were unearthed from his private correspondence, and had no harmful effects on any of their targets, but modern poets are judged almost as much by their opinions as by their art.
Averse as I am to such tedious purity rituals it was not pleasant to read of the life of Larkin. His relationships with women, which involved juggling a handful of on-off affairs over decades, was dishonest and undignified. The man who envisaged “Church Going” and “An Arundel Tomb” tended towards joylessness and narcissism.
Yet, somehow, this knowledge has enhances my appreciation of the poems. Larkin might have trudged through a life of familial stress, romantic dysfunction, voyeurism and morbidity but somehow, sometimes, his inner and outer lives aligned in such a way as to produce a moment of clear emotional beauty. A photograph made him think of the transient loveliness of women. A statue made him think of the enduring power of love. Then, after such moments of pure, spontaneous insight, he began a poem.