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Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
‘Here’ is perhaps one of the most challenging poems in Larkin’s collection, so naturally they put it first to scare us all off. The main idea the poem presents is the idea of defining just where “here” is. The word has immediacy, and brings the reader into a specific moment, but as we see in the train journey, the “here” of the poem changes…
The lexis and the syntax give a sense of motion from the opening of the poem. Larkin begins with the trochaic word “swerving”, giving a sense of driving forward, though it is an unstable motion. The train journey begins from this point, and is swerving away from the centre, similar, in a sense to falcon’s “widening gyre” in W.B. Yeat’s ‘The Second Coming’ from the AS Anthology. If the train journey is a symbol for life, it has the same sense that life is almost out of control as it “swerves” along its track.
The syntax also gives a sense of the motion. Its lack of end-stops or caesuras (one reason it is so difficult to get into) allows it to flow from one line to the next, with enjambment connecting the stanzas – a single, unstopping moment.
From the harsh environs around the train line, “too thin and thistled to be called meadows” (the t/th alliteration augments the harshness), the train travels further from civilisation, from the “workmen at dawns”, until all that remains of other humans are “scarecrows”. Nature, beautifully described, takes over, with “plied gold clouds” and even “gull-marked mud” that might normally be a negative thing are “shiny”.
The sensuous description all “Gathers” into the next stanza, but then is abruptly ended, by “the surprise of a large town” and the end-stopping colon. We have reached the first destination in the poet’s search for “here”: “Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster”. This image of the city landscape is like Worthsworth’s Romantic ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ where “Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie”. Yet, Larkin makes the point that the distant first impression is Romantic, not a reality: when he looks closer, he sees “residents from raw estates” on “dead straight miles” and their “cheap” commercial “desires”. They are a “cut-price crowd” and only come “here” for “salesmen and relations”.
Leaving Hull behind, Larkin continues the journey into the countryside on foot (as the train reaches its "terminate") where “loneliness clarifies” the “remote lives”. In this final stanza, there is a build up with the short sentences, of excitement, as though the “loneliness” and “silence” in the “here” of this place are what Larkin has been searching for.
Yet, just as the excitement builds and he almost reaches his “here”, “Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach” – halting his journey. If life’s journey comes to its end, what comes after is death, and the land ending suddenly is a symbol for the barrier between life and death. That “here” constantly changes reflects upon the transient nature of life, how the only truly constant “here” is in death. Despite being “untalkative”, Larkin perceives death as “unfenced existence / Facing the sun”, and there is a sense of disappointment and desperation in his final words, “out of reach”.