“We are here to mourn the death of our friend Philip Larkin. He was the most private of men, one who found the universe a bleak and hostile place and recognized very clearly the disagreeable realities of human life, above all the dreadful effects of time on all we have and are. The world of his fellow creatures was hardly less forbidding: privacy was to be jealously guarded. In the sense of complete physical solitude, he found it a daily necessity. He saw people as hopelessly cut off from each other, and revealingly misquoted Donne in declaring, ‘Every man is an island.’
And yet it was impossible to meet him without being aware in the first few seconds of his impeccable attentive courtesy: grave, but at the same time sunlit, always ready to respond to a gleam of humor or warmth. He was surprised if anyone found him a gloomy person: ‘I like to think of myself as quite funny,’ he told an interviewer, and he was more than funny about those in the literary and academic world whom he considered fraudulent, and he found no shortage of those; and to hear him sounding off about a politician or any other public figure who was not to his taste did the heart good.
But there was no malice in it, no venom. If he regarded the world severely or astringently, it was a jovial astringency. He could be at his funniest when uttering those same painful truths about life as those he made so devastating in his poetry. And it was all from the heart: he never showed off, never laid claim to feeling what he didn’t feel, and it was that honesty, more total in his case than in any other I’ve known, that gave his poetry such power. He meant every word of it; and so, though he may not have written many poems, he wrote none that were false or unnecessary.
His honesty extended to himself; again, nobody was ever more totally or acutely aware of his limitations. He took life seriously, he took poetry seriously, but not himself — nobody who said he looked like a bald salmon could do that. No solemnity about himself as a poet either; when he’d written a poem he felt pleased, as if he’d laid an egg. But we take seriously what he has left us. We are lucky enough to have known him; thousands who didn’t, and more thousands in the future, will be able to share those poems with us. They offer comfort, and not cold comfort either. They are not dismal or pessimistic, but invigorating; they know that for all its shortcomings life must be got on with.
And now we must get on with ours, a little better equipped to do so with the help of those fragments of poignancy and humor in everyday things, those moments of illumination and beauty we should never have seen or known but for Philip.”
As far as I know, this is the only place on the internet with a version of this tribute. It’s Kingsley Amis’s eulogy for his closest friend Philip Larkin, delivered 29 years ago this week. You can read more about their hilarious and eccentric relationship in Richard Bradford’s The Odd Couple: The Curious Friendship between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin.
Top: Amis; below: Larkin.