Dockery and Son

By Philip Larkin 1922–1985 Philip Larkin
‘Dockery was junior to you,
Wasn’t he?’ said the Dean. ‘His son’s here now.’   
Death-suited, visitant, I nod. ‘And do
You keep in touch with—’ Or remember how   
Black-gowned, unbreakfasted, and still half-tight   
We used to stand before that desk, to give   
‘Our version’ of ‘these incidents last night’?   
I try the door of where I used to live:

Locked. The lawn spreads dazzlingly wide.
A known bell chimes. I catch my train, ignored.   
Canal and clouds and colleges subside
Slowly from view. But Dockery, good Lord,   
Anyone up today must have been born
In ’43, when I was twenty-one.
If he was younger, did he get this son
At nineteen, twenty? Was he that withdrawn

High-collared public-schoolboy, sharing rooms
With Cartwright who was killed? Well, it just shows   
How much ... How little ... Yawning, I suppose
I fell asleep, waking at the fumes
And furnace-glares of Sheffield, where I changed,   
And ate an awful pie, and walked along   
The platform to its end to see the ranged   
Joining and parting lines reflect a strong

Unhindered moon. To have no son, no wife,   
No house or land still seemed quite natural.   
Only a numbness registered the shock   
Of finding out how much had gone of life,   
How widely from the others. Dockery, now:   
Only nineteen, he must have taken stock
Of what he wanted, and been capable
Of ... No, that’s not the difference: rather, how

Convinced he was he should be added to!
Why did he think adding meant increase?
To me it was dilution. Where do these
Innate assumptions come from? Not from what   
We think truest, or most want to do:
Those warp tight-shut, like doors. They’re more a style   
Our lives bring with them: habit for a while,
Suddenly they harden into all we’ve got

And how we got it; looked back on, they rear   
Like sand-clouds, thick and close, embodying   
For Dockery a son, for me nothing,
Nothing with all a son’s harsh patronage.   
Life is first boredom, then fear.
Whether or not we use it, it goes,
And leaves what something hidden from us chose,   
And age, and then the only end of age.

Philip Larkin, “Dockery and Son” from Collected Poems. Used by permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.

Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Philip Larkin 1922–1985

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Relationships, Disappointment & Failure, Living, Friends & Enemies, Family & Ancestors, Midlife, Sorrow & Grieving, Death, Parenthood

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Philip  Larkin

Biography

Philip Larkin, an eminent writer in postwar England, was a national favorite poet who was commonly referred to as "England's other Poet Laureate" until his death in 1985. Indeed, when the position of laureate became vacant in 1984, many poets and critics favored Larkin's appointment, but the shy, provincial author preferred to avoid the limelight. An "artist of the first rank" in the words of Southern Review contributor John . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Disappointment & Failure, Living, Friends & Enemies, Family & Ancestors, Midlife, Sorrow & Grieving, Death, Parenthood

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.