The literary features in this poem, such as the tone, theme, and simile, contribute to a better understanding of Larkin’s argument. In the first line, “They fuck you up,” Larkin is explaining how your parents mess you up, passing their flaws on to you (Larkin 1). The second word of the first line sets the tone, which is aggressive and then bitter, for the rest of the poem. A word as vulgar as “fuck,” reflects the trauma which parents can, and sometimes do, impose on their children. How else are readers supposed to respond to the cruelty of family than with words like fuck? “This Be the Verse” would have not been successful if Larkin had censored his emotions. Larkin made it his mission to emphasize that if the thought of the pain of the children didn’t make parents pay attention, then perhaps the language would.
Since his argument is that humans will only get more miserable and anguished as time passes, Larkin may have specifically and strategically used a demeaning term in order to get this harsh theme of trauma and family across. Furthermore, Larkin has been saying that with each generation, children become more messed up, but the parents were messed up by their own parents as well, which he shows when he says: “It deepens like a coastal shelf” (Larkin 10). This comparison is significant because a coastal shelf is a part of a continent that is plunged deep into the ocean, so the misery is comparable to the deepness and permanence.
This is how the poet emphasizes how confined the narrator is, with no way out. As generations pass, our curses “deepen like a coastal shelf,” and this accidental cruelty will become an endless cycle. By comparing an emotion or feeling to something as unstoppable as forces of nature and mother nature, hopelessness is overall unfavorable, it is additionally common and inescapable.
And finally, Larkin leaves the reader with a simple suggestion as to how to stop the act of passing down faults. This basic solution, however might involve the extinction of the human race. Larkin says “… don’t have any kids yourself,” further explaining how humanity’s misery deepens over time (Larkin 12). Save yourself by not having children. This supports the aforementioned theme of isolation and confinement because Larkin shows the reader that the only way of ending this never-ending cycle of unintentional cruelty is to stop the existence of humans.
There is no other option to break the cycle. Making this line the last one gives the reader the impression of hope; that this seemingly endless cycle can be broken and that lives can be altered. Furthermore, elements like, rhyme scheme, rhythm and point of view, share a part in the understanding of the structure and form of the poem, and to why Larkin would organize it in a way that raises questions. Firstly, the use of a popular and familiar rhyme scheme and meter completely contradicts the theme of the poem, and leaves readers wondering as to what Larkin’s motivation behind this was. The plain ABABCDCDEFEF rhyme scheme and use of iambic tetrameter is nostalgic of a nursery rhyme, making it very ironic that such a serious topic is formatted in a manner that usually engages children, the very subject the poet wants to completely dismiss. This is also ironic because our “mums and dads” used to read us nursery rhymes and many of us look back at those times with fondness (Larkin 1). The fact that the rhythm in each line is the same shows to the reader that the endless cycle of the deep burdens and infliction of pain is the same for every generation and that it will never change. The distinction between Larkin’s theme and writing style becomes wider as the poem’s tone gets darker.
From the incessant rhyming and rhythm, we can see how Larkin’s clever and strategic style helps to relay his message; in the same way that the constant repetition of humans inheriting their flaws becomes a vicious cycle, Larkin’s verse rhythm and rhyming becomes a pattern from which we are forever confined in. Similarly, the personal engagement involved in the poem is purposeful and clever, and is used in a particular manner in order to make it more relatable. Again, in the first line, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” Larkin is introducing the narrator’s hostility towards parents in general. If the poem, specifically this line, were written in first person—”They fuck me up, my mum and dad”—we might sympathize with the narrator, or even question them. In third person—”They fuck him up, his mum and dad”—we might not even care and brush it off (Larkin 1). Second person point of view ensures that the reader feels invested in the narrative of familial dysfunction. This personal engagement with the text is what makes the poem so easy to identify with; Larkin confronts the reader’s, states his argument that our parents wreck us, and then supports his opening statement with additional information: “They may not mean to, but they do” (Larkin 2). It is witty how Larkin deliberately and cleverly chose these specific formal features to reaffirm the narrator’s hatred and estrangement towards their family.
The fact that even the rhymes, rhythm, and point of view all correspond to Larkin’s standpoint, and not just the aforementioned literary features, proves his planned and calculated writing. There is no escaping Larkin’s writing in this poem, as we go in endless circles because the reason behind every aspect and feature leads to one answer: humanity is only going to get more miserable and not going to improve at all, like some may hope. The use of a similar theme and simile in my imitation “Kids and Kittens” contributes to my argument that it is essential to not give in to all your problems, since they will always be there troubling you for as long as you live.
In line 10, “the cycle of poverty” is mentioned (Howlader 10). This is a vicious cycle because the poor blame the rich and the rich blame poor and the gap gets bigger between them. The disparity will exist as long as capitalism exists, since the rich get richer and vice versa. There is no solution that entices both sides and so humanity’s misery deepens over time. Do not have children and just adopt a pet cat.
The only way of ending this ceaseless cycle of unintentional cruelty is to just avoid those problems and issues coming from your children and just get yourself an unproblematic cat. The human race will forever have problems, some may be temporary, but we will always have new problems, and there will never be a perfect world, where all is content, so do yourself a favor and overlook them. Formal features, such as the point of view and the perfect rhyme, both grant a better understanding of the structure and the motivation behind it, thus helping readers gain a better insight. The purposeful personal engagement involved in the poem makes it much more relatable. In this line, “They fuck you up, your daughter and son,” it is in the second person point of view. This personal engagement with the text is what makes the poem so easy to identify with. Even if the reader does not have kids, they could put themselves in the shoes of the child and think if their behavior or attitude had made their parents really upset or, to take it further, mentally unstable.
In addition, The usage of perfect rhymes contradicts the theme of the poem. The fact that perfect rhyme is used is ironic, as this poem is all about flaws and faults, which clearly could not be further from the concept of “perfect.” This situation is very similar to the usage of the nursery rhyme scheme. It seems as though these two formal choices completely oppose the whole “trapped” scenario that is occurring. My intention for this choice was to make this poem humorous, and so the reader knows not to take the advice given to heart, nor seriously.