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Larkin and Causley: Poets in their Place

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William Elder Building

56-58 Castlegate

Berwick-upon-Tweed

TD15 1JT

United Kingdom

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Image reproduced with the kind permission of Chichester Cathedral.

In this talk, Dr. Richard Moore looks at the hugely appealing poetry of Philip Larkin and Charles Causley, in relation to their life, location and times

The two poets featured in this study morning are very much regional writers, though, as with all great art, the particular has aspects of the universal and the time-bound of the timeless. Charles Stanley Causley, (24 August 1917 – 4 November 2003) was a Cornish poet, schoolmaster and writer, his work being noted for its simplicity and directness and for its associations with folklore, especially when linked to his native county. Causley was born at Launceston in Cornwall and was educated there and at a teacher training college in Peterborough. His father died in 1924 from long-standing war injuries. Largely because of this, Causley had to leave school at 15 to earn money for the family, working as an office boy during his early years. This and his subsequent career in the Royal Navy had a big impact on his poetry.

In studying Causley we shall also look at his county, with its history of smugglers, wreckers and pirates. We shall also examine poems such as "Eden Rock", an elegiac reflection on childhood, family and mortality, of which there is a recording on the Poetry Archive website. This presents Causley himself reading it aloud, shortly before his death.

Perhaps because of a widespread perception of Causley as a poetic outsider, academia has paid less attention to his work than it warrants. Larkin (9th August 1922 – 2nd December 1985) also eschewed the limelight but is much better known. After graduating from Oxford in 1943 with a first in English language and literature, he became a librarian, working for thirty years with distinction at the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull. It was here that he produced the greater part of his published work, which, according to Andrew Motion, is marked by "a very English, glum accuracy” about emotions, places, and relationships. Donald Davie describes his work as embodying "lowered sights and diminished expectations" while Eric Homberger calls him "the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket. Larkin himself said that deprivation for him was “what daffodils were for Wordsworth”. A great jazz enthusiast, his favourite musical piece was "I'm Down in the Dumps" by the celebrated blues singer Bessie Smith.

Although Larkin was undoubtedly of a melancholy temperament, in the study morning we shall try to find a wider range to his moods and achievement. Looking at some of his most famous pieces such as An Arundel Tomb, The Whitsun Weddings and Here, we shall compare and contrast him with Causley, examining what each thought of English life, the English countryside, English traditions and the poet’s craft.

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William Elder Building

56-58 Castlegate

Berwick-upon-Tweed

TD15 1JT

United Kingdom

View Map

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Refunds up to 7 days before event

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