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How would you describe the place that you call "home"? Home could look like many different things: a house with a white picket fence in Virginia, ancient, scraggly pines in Alaska, the arid deserts of Arizona, or any other place in this diverse, beautiful world.
For some, home is a place where someone has lived all their lives. For others, home changes with the cycles of the moon. There are also many who are on the search for a place to call home. For poet and novelist Philip Larkin, home was a little town near the English coast on the North Sea, rife with thistled fields and busy people. In his 1964 poem, "Here," Larkin memorializes his home.
Eight-line stanzas (octaves)
Rhyme scheme and meter
Stanzas 1 and 3: Varying rhyme scheme: ABABCDDC
Stanza 2: ABABCDCD
Stanza 4: ABBACDCD
Iambic pentameter in the first three stanzas, variation in the fourth
Frequently noted imagery
Thin and thistled fields
Skies, scarecrows, haystacks, hare, pheasants
Slow, widening river
Shining gull-marked mud
Domes and statues, spires and cranes
Plate-glass swing doors
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies, electric mixers, toaster, washes, driers
Familiar and intimate
Lonely but hopeful
Nature vs. industry
"Here" is predominately about finding meaning in one's home. The speaker searches for some universal truths about life and value in both the familiar countryside and the city. When he ends up facing the unknown, he realizes there are things he can never know, but he finds hope in the possibilities.
"Here" details a journey into, through, and out of a city.
The physical location of "Here" is thought to be Hull, England, where Philip Larkin lived and worked as a librarian for 30 years. Larkin took up a library position at the University of Hull in 1955 and worked at the library until his death in 1985.
This was where he wrote most of his best works, including his 1964 collection, The Whitsun Weddings. "Here" was the opening poem of the collection. The town itself has embraced Larkin's connection to it with statues, plaques, and even a trail, positioning him as its local hero. For his part, Larkin memorializes Hull in "Here."
Larkin's relationship to Hull was even more ambiguous than is presented in the poem.
When he first moved there, he was immediately condescending, referring to it as a dump. In letters to friends, Larkin wrote "I'm settling down in Hull all right. Every day I sink a little further" and "What a hole, what witless, crapulous people."1 He hated the smell of fish (it is a port town) and said that the only positive thing about Hull was that it was flat and good for cycling.
Over time, though, Larkin came to embrace Hull and truly call it home. While "Here" is still critical of the human influence in his beloved town, the poem largely celebrates the natural landscape, creating a tone of familiarity that makes "Here" feel like home.
The poem "Here" begins with a journey east and north over the countryside. Although the speaker is on a train ride, the experience feels much more fluid and weightless, "swerving" (Line 1) over scraggly meadows, rivers, and haystacks. The reader almost gets the sense that they're flying, carried by the wind, as the speaker describes everything he passes.
The next stop is a surprisingly large town. It has everything you would expect to see in an urban scene, but the narrator is critical of the setting and the people who live there. He speculates how they got here and what they care about, namely cheap suits, kitchenware, and other material things.
He continues with this slightly arrogant tone, stating that the only people who visit are salesmen and relatives. The town itself smells fishy and is only half-built at the edges. The speaker travels further out still, where "loneliness clarifies" (Line 25). Here, his journey comes to an end as he nears the unknown and the North Sea.
Literary analysis dives much more deeply into the text than summary does. Analysis encompasses tone, literary devices, and themes and allows readers to argue their own interpretation of what a poem or other literary work means. When you analyze a literary work, you examine all of the literary devices the poet used in order to create their central message, influence the tone, and establish the themes.
The first step is typically to consider the figurative language and literary devices and note how they work together on a micro level: What effect does this simile have? Why is an inanimate object speaking and what does that add to the story? This sounds very familiar, why is the writer alluding to the Bible? Once you start to see how each part of figurative language works together, you should be able to deduce the tone out of the literary devices (especially the imagery) and then decide on what the poet is saying at a macro level, combining all of the literary devices together to arrive at the meaning of the poem.
Pay special attention to the imagery in "Here" throughout your analysis. It influences the other literary devices, and the imagery itself shifts throughout the poem, controlling the tone and revealing the themes.
The tone of "Here" changes with the scenery. At first, the poem is peaceful and intimate. The speaker is familiar with the natural setting of the land – from the almost-meadows to the skies to the pheasants, hares, and haystacks. The first stanza ends on a relaxed, intimate, and positive note:
Everything is exactly how the speaker knows it. The countryside, though not marked by traditional beauty like flowers and pristine white clouds, is still pleasing in its familiarity. Even the mud is shining, and the river is constant and assured.
The tone, however, changes in the second and third stanzas as the speaker takes readers into the city. At once, the ease of the natural landscape is replaced by the clutter and congestion of urban life. The speaker is critical of the "grain—scattered streets" and "barge—crowded water" (Line 11), but he's even more disproving of the people who live in the city and fill their lives with material goods that have no emotional or spiritual value. He lists the consumeristic goods that they care about so deeply, hinting at their superficiality. The tone becomes distant and critical as he remarks on his fellow city dwellers.
Finally, at the end of stanza three and into stanza four, the speaker leaves the city and heads out towards the coast. Here, the unknown is lonely, and the natural setting seems indifferent and "out of reach" (Line 32). But, in this unfamiliar natural realm, there is still room for hope. Hope is unnoticed, hidden, and neglected, but it allows for an "unfenced existence" (Line 31) that "fac(es) the sun" (Line 32).
Larkin relies on a variety of literary devices to establish the setting, control the tone, and reveal the themes of the poem.
Imagery: descriptive language that appeals to one of the five senses.
Juxtaposition: when two things are placed close together and have contrasting meanings.
In "Here," imagery sets the scene, introduces the tension, and embodies the major themes of the poem. The imagery in the first stanza is quaint, familiar, and pastoral. In the countryside, the speaker notes the presence
The entire first stanza consists of ceaseless, active imagery. The animals themselves (hares and pheasants) are connected to objects used in farming through a cycle of birth and growth. Scarecrows are human-made objects, but they contribute to plant growth by limiting interference by animals. Haystacks also are used to feed livestock and contribute to the cycle of life. The imagery in the countryside is familiar and also a reminder of life, survival, and connectivity.
The imagery in the second stanza, however, is impersonal and distinctly devoid of the thread of life that connects all of the imagery in the first stanza:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain—scattered streets, barge—crowded water,
. . .
Push through plate—glass swing doors to their desires —
Cheap suits, red kitchen—ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers . . . (Lines 10–16)
The relationship between the people and place is superficial and excessive. There is no emotional connection to the cheap suits, kitchen ware, or washers. The speaker uses this imagery to show their superficiality and obsession with consumerism. They want these things because society tells them they should, not because of any personal connection or genuine need.
Imagery creates a juxtaposition between the rural and the urban. The rural images are presented as necessary aspects of life, while the urban images are shown to be excessive displays of human greed.
The final stanza shifts away from the use of familiar imagery and towards the unfamiliar. The sea represents the unknown, which is uncomfortable to the speaker but also a source of hope:
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach . . . (Lines 29–32).
Here, the imagery is vague instead of specific. Images of natural beauty, such as flowers, the beach, and the sun, are made into ambiguous forces with their vague adjectives. Even the poppies bordering the unknown are neutral and mysterious, while the unknown itself is "facing the sun" but withdrawn and reserved.
Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of a group of closely connected words.
In the first stanza, alliteration shows how living things are interconnected, even as they stand as their own distinct force.
Consider the use of alliteration in the following phrases:
Each word in every pair stands on its own as an idea or object. But, alliteration also naturally connects the words together, so the readers get the idea that the haystacks and hares, the skies and the scarecrows, and the night and the north are also a collective unit.
Alliteration continues throughout the poem, though to a slightly lesser extent. The use of alliteration also serves to create a sense of fluidity in the poem. It makes readers feel as though they are on the journey with the speaker, floating throughout the town as the objects and ideas flow into one another.
We can also see alliteration in the second stanza: "statues, spires and cranes cluster" (Line 10), the third stanza: "high as hedges" (Line 23), and the fourth stanza: "silence stands" (Line 25).
The repetition of the single idea presented in the title occurs throughout the poem as the speaker attempts to educate his audience on what "here" really is. The word "here" is introduced and expanded upon four times over the course of the poem:
"Here" is only definable in its ambiguity. It is both urban and rural, but it also contains the unknown. "Here" encompasses the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as the unnoticed and ignored. In short, the repetition of the word "here" shows that a person's home (for that is what Hull was to Larkin) isn't just one distinct thing. Instead, home (or "Here") is defined in multitudes and ambiguity.
Simile: the comparison of two unlike things using like/as.
Personification: attributing human qualities (characteristics, emotions, and behaviors) to nonhuman things.
Similes are used only twice in the poem, and each simile carries both abstract and literal meaning, as visible in the following passage:
Although the first simile directly compares wheat fields to hedges in terms of height, the speaker is actually comparing them in terms of boundaries. Hedges were used as a natural boundary between neighboring farms for centuries. They physically separated one person's land from another. In this poem, the wheat fields, signaling an agriculturally-centered life, separate the villages on the outskirts of town from the busy, industrial city. This speaks to the division between the rural and the urban, but it also denotes the theme of loneliness that begins in the city and peaks in the outskirts.
The second simile compares silence and heat. Heat is a physical force that can inflict damage on a person if they experience too much of it. By comparing the two, the speaker implies that too much silence (and, in relation, loneliness) can also damage a person. Again, this speaks to the theme of loneliness that the speaker experiences throughout the poem.
Personification works with the similes in the poem to show how loneliness is a tangible force. In line 25, First, "loneliness clarifies" the value of life for people who live outside of the city. Being alone in nature and isolated from society's obsession with materialistic goods allows the villagers to truly grasp the meaning of life in connection with nature. But, silence also "stands," reminding us that isolation is not purely positive, as it hinders connection and growth.
For the speaker and their relationship to "Here," loneliness is an ambivalent force, which makes it all the more fascinating to them.
Enjambment: The continuation of a sentence after the line breaks.
End-stop: a pause at the end of a line of poetry using punctuation, typically a period ( . ), comma ( , ), colon ( : ), or semi-colon ( ; ).
The poem largely consists of enjambed lines that flow into one another and mimic the fluidity of the "swerving" (Line 1) journey through the town. Enjambment allows ideas to flow freely into one another, reflecting how the speaker believes that everything in one place is connected. Consider stanza three, where enjambment connects four continuous lines together:
As enjambment means there is no punctuation at the end of the paragraph, the crowd, the urban sprawl, the fishy smell, the ships, and the museum all define the speaker's concept of "Here."
Even end stops contribute to this feeling. The only example of a full end stop in the poem is in the final line. All of the other end stops are characterized by commas, dashes, colons, and semicolons, which only signify a pause instead of an actual end or stop. The end stops in the poem, therefore, work with the juxtaposition to reflect the fluid and often unstable nature of life. Though there may be pauses, shifts, and bumps, life trudges on until the very end.
Allusion: a figure of speech in which a person, event, or thing is indirectly referenced with the assumption that the reader will be at least somewhat familiar with the topic.
There is only one use of allusion in the poem. Because the speaker never officially states where "Here" is, allusion helps to situate the poem in Hull.
The allusions to fish, ships, and consulates are because Hull is a port city in East Yorkshire, England. It serves as an entry port for North Sea ferries. "The slave museum" (Line 20) is an allusion to Wilberforce House. Famous abolitionist William Wilberforce was born in Hull. The museum, Wilberforce's birthplace, documents the abolition of the slave trade in England.
Although "Here" has a specific setting and meaning to Larkin, the themes reveal the universal nature of the poem. In any town, city, or rural village, people can see the interactions between nature and industry on some level, and they can experience the feeling of loneliness.
The shift in tone and imagery throughout the poem are central in introducing the main theme in the poem: nature vs. the industrial. The poet starts in nature, where things are lively, active, interconnecting, and meaningful. The speaker says he is conscious
The natural image is beautiful and purposeful, one thing giving way to another as they mimic the circle of life. Industrial life in the city, however, is meaningless and commercialized:
As opposed to the natural flow and ebb of the natural world in the countryside, the industrial world is dictated by material accumulation and the constant need for more.
The end of the poem introduces another poignant theme, the loneliness of the human condition.
When the speaker is in the natural world he knows deeply, he feels a hint of loneliness, "swerving to solitude" (Line 5), but the loneliness is eclipsed by the peace he feels in nature.
In the city, he feels distinctly alone as he shares in none of the same joys that his urban neighbors do. He calls them "a cut-price crowd" (Line 17), which means selling goods at very low prices, and implies that their desires and lifestyles are emotionally cheaper than his own.
In the final stanza, the speaker encounters true loneliness when he enters the kingdom of the unknown. Here, loneliness is an active force that "clarifies" (Line 5) truths about life and intrinsic value that get lost in the hustle and bustle of the city. This is also where:
As he steps into the vast openness of the unknown, the speaker is acutely aware of his own limitations as a human being. Certain truths will always be out of reach and enigmatic. There is hope in the mystery of life, but there is loneliness too. The speaker desires to truly know the world and the meaning of life, but he is confined by the nature of his human condition, and he is lonely as anyone truly searching for such truths.
1. Walsh, Stephen. "'What a hole': Hull has embraced Philip Larkin – but did the love go both ways?" The Guardian, 30 May 2017.
The themes in "Here" by Philip Larkin include nature vs. industry and human loneliness.
"Here" by Philip Larkin is predominately about finding meaning in one's home. The speaker searches for some universal truths about life and value in both the familiar countryside and the city. When he ends up facing the unknown, he realizes there are things he can never know, but he finds hope in the possibilities.
"Here" was written in 1961 and published in Larkin's Whitsun Weddings collection in 1964.
Philip Larkin's message to the readers is that there is more meaning to life in the natural world than anything we humans can create.
Who wrote "Here"?
English poet Philip Larkin wrote "Here."
Where was "Here" published?
"Here" was the opening poem in Larkin's Whitesun Weddings (1964) collection. Its place as the first poem is important as the collection is about discovery and meaning.
Where is "Here" situated?
"Here" is most likely Hull, England. Larkin worked at Hull for 30 years at their university library. Hull is a port city in Northern England.
What was Larkin's relationship with Hull?
Larkin's speaker in "Here" is a model of Larkin himself in their views of the city. In letters to friends, Larkin complained that the city was fishy, a dump, and full of witless people. Overtime, though, Larkin grew to call Hull home, as evident in "Here".
Where does the poem "Here" start?
"Here" starts in the countryside, where the speaker is surrounded by reminders of the circle of life. Everything is interconnected and has inherent value.
Where does the poem go after the countryside?
The speaker then travels to the city. Here, the streets and canals are littered. The clutter of buildings make the speaker feel confined. And all the people care about is buying things.
Where does the speaker go after the city?
The speaker finally travels out of the city and to the North Sea and the unknown. Here, existence is unfenced and free. The speaker still feels loneliness as he is reminded of his limitations and all the things he will never know.
How are nature and the industrial world contrasted in the poem?
The speaker uses a variety of imagery to contrast the two. In the countryside, all of the imagery is active and meaningful. In the city, it is all consumer goods and meaningless things that humans place value on.
What are the main themes of "Here"?
Nature vs. the industrial
How does "Here" end?
The poem ends with the speaker hopeful as he faces but lonely and mystified as he ponders existence, value, and life.
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