“They fuck you up, your dick and balls,” the great poet Philip Larkin once wrote. Just kidding, he actually wrote “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” in his famous poem “This Be The Verse.” However, his dick and balls also fucked him up, at least according to a recent article in the Spectator.
British journalist Nicola Shulman cites “informants” who told her that “the poet’s penis was abnormally large, obliging him to alter the cut of his trouser legs.” Oh my goodness. LBJ much? Interestingly, Shulman reports that Larkin — who died in 1985 at the age of 63, never married and childless — was not one to whip out his impressive tool in order to influence government policy. In fact, Larkin was decidedly sex negative:
On his 23rd birthday, he wrote defeatedly to Kingsley Amis: ‘I really do not think it likely I shall ever get into the same bed as anyone again because it is so much trouble, almost as much trouble as standing for parliament.’ His 2014 biographer, James Booth, adds that Larkin was ‘still effectively a virgin… [and] Amis was puzzled that his friend failed to follow through his pursuit of sexual satisfaction’.
Shulman’s article is not just a tawdry retelling of gossip, unlike this blog post. Her penis thesis is compelling — not only can Larkin’s nethermead shed light on him, but on his work:
I propose instead that this piece of information is so acutely relevant to Larkin’s life and work that it should be enshrined in Coles Notes, handed out to secondary school children as part of their poetry pack. Perhaps a statue in Poets’ Corner. Because once the sniggering stopped, students would find it a useful resource in more than one way. Firstly, it brings light into corners of the poetry that are otherwise obscure. Secondly, it challenges the harmful and false belief, much promoted in online pornography, that a very large penis is what makes a boy popular with the girls.
Larkin was a morose poet, an ironist, a realist, almost Hedeggerian in his obsession with death. But his poems are suffused with a kind of wistfulness — an occupation with love and sex and the absence of both; the shame of wanting and needing. Apparently, it’s all an obsession that can be traced to the size of his groin. Big dicks are hard to love.
It’s refreshing, really, to a male poet aware of what Shulman calls his “abiding sense of masculine grossness.” But it’s also what makes Larkin’s work so sad, so poignantly lonely. Fuck. Now I’m kind of sad, despite the fact that I started this blog with a horrible joke and planned on writing 20 dick puns. Ah, well. Blog posts are ultimately ephemeral, flotsam in the sea of life — as Larkin wrote, “What will survive of us is love.”