Philip Larkin: Poems

Analysis of ‘Dockery and Son’

‘Dockery and Son’ is a reflective, pensive and uncertain poem in which Larkin produces a sense of life drifting away and considers “how much had gone of life, / How widely from the others.” Although it cannot be assumed that the narrator is Larkin, the tone, ideas and reflections in the poem support a biographical reading. The poem begins with Larkin returning to his former university and speaking with the “Dean” who mentions that Dockery who “was junior” to Larkin now has a son attending the same university. As Larkin makes his journey back on the train, he considers how young Dockery must have been when he had his son, which leads him to his later thoughts on the consequences of their different choices in life. The ambiguity early in the poem such as the precise purpose for visiting the “Dean” and being “death-suited, visitant” sets the tone for personal uncertainty of emotions as Larkin considers the purpose in his life.

The narrative detail ends by the fourth stanza as Larkin conflicts with the central tenet of the poem: an attempt to understand “Where do these innate assumptions come from?” –the obsessive attachments and faith in personal purpose in life as our emotions “harden into all we’ve got”. Larkin juxtaposes...

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