Home is so Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.


This is a short, sad poem, based on Larkin’s return to his family house.

It opens with the simple declarative that is also the title, “Home is So Sad”. Larkin once said that he wanted his poems to be readable in a pub, and while some are clearly more complex, like ‘Here’, this is another more accessible poem. Throughout the two stanzas, there is a lack of adjectives and imagery, such as the final list: “Look at the pictures and the cutlery. The music in the piano stool.” Larkin chooses to strip this description to the bare minimum in order to make in more universal; it could be anyone’s lost home.

The house is personified throughout the poem, “It stays as it was left” “As if to win them back” “bereft / Of anyone to please, it withers so”. This personification adds to the sensitivity of the poem, and when it “withers” it is as if the house is dying, and persona feels the sadness of this loss. “Bereft”, in particular, is emotive, with its duel meaning of “without” and also “a sense of loss”. The house, for the persona, has been robbed of its inhabitants, “theft”, and no longer as “heart” to “turn again to what it started as”.

Yet, in the final stanza, that idea of “how things ought to be” for the house, even in the past, was merely “a joyous shot”, “long fallen wide”. Like the ‘Whitsun Weddings’ there is much promise in the idea of “home”, yet like marriage in that poem, it doesn’t quite deliver. The “music in the piano stool”, similarly, reminds us of love’s failure in ‘Love Songs in Ages’.

Still, even considering these failings, the poem returns to its tender sorrow in the final two words: “That vase.” Unlike the earlier description, this minor sentence is completely personal through its use of deixis… It isn’t any vase, it’s that vase, and evokes a sense of nostalgia, as though the poet is being overwhelmed by past memories contained within the vision of the vase.

“Home is so sad” because while time passes outside, it remains frozen within, a snapshot of how life once was. Those memories burst out on examination, but the house now, just as it was unable then, isn’t quite able to live up to its expectations.

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