I love Larkinlove him well enough to know that W. S. Di Piero's case against him ("Antagonisms," October, 2004) is a good one. He can be excessively gloomy, and reductive, and coercive. But I think Di Piero misrepresents the poem he singles out as representative.
"'High Windows,'" he writes, "acknowledges the appeal of imaginative extremity but tells us that, if we admit the truth, what lies behind high windows is 'the deep blue air, that shows / Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.'" Here I think it's Di Piero who's being coercive. The word "we" is, indeed, Larkin's favorite way of involving others in his grief, but it appears nowhere in "High Windows," only in Di Piero's paraphrase. Larkin isn't telling us to admit anything. Nor do I see an unmitigated cynicism in those final lines. On the contrary, it's the "appeal of imaginative extremity" that seems to prevail over cynicism in this uncharacteristically open-ended poem. The deep blue air is nowhere (and, of course, everywhere), and is endless, but, significantly, it is not nothing; it only shows nothing. This refusal to disclose, to answer or instruct, only deepens the persistent, vaguely religious mystery to which Larkin's mind is attracted. In spite of everythingthe pushing aside of bonds and gestures, the eclipsing of God by good senseLarkin is still church going.
When he finished drafting the final stanza of "High Windows," Larkin immediately defaced it:
And beyond them deep blue air that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless
and fucking piss.
This scrawled obscenity, as Andrew Motion has pointed out, "sabotages the high hopes of the preceding lines" (emphasis mine). It's the voice that Di Piero, understandably, dislikesthe world-weary adolescent Larkin was perfectly capable of being. But it's not the voice to which Larkin gave the last word.