Mr Bleaney

This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him. Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land?
Tussocky, littered. 'Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand'
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags -
'I'll take it. So it happens that I lie
Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags
On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown
The jabbering set jabbering set he egged her on to buy.
I know his habits - what time he came down,
His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways -
Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk
Who put him up for summer holidays,
And Christmas at his sister's house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don't know.


As with many of Larkin’s poems, ‘Mr Bleaney’ uses dialogue (indeed, staring with an elderly housekeeper, “This was Mr Bleaney’s room”) to give it a narrative-like style. As with many, it starts with a specific instance and finally moves to a more general point.

Mr Bleaney’s life wasn’t a stimulating one. “He stayed / The whole time he was at the Bodies, till / They moved him” shows the lack of control within his life. He has no permanent residence, just moves from one “rented box” to another, as his job requires. “Bodies”, a colloquial name for the car-shell making employment he worked in, is also a dreadful pun on anatomic “bodies”… Mr Bleaney isn’t even a person, just a body, perhaps even dead: “till they moved him” doesn’t exactly give an impression that he’s alive…

The room he stayed in is bleak: “Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook / Behind the door”. The list and sparse description gives a sense of both the empty, undecorated room, and Mr Bleaney’s own character. “No room for books or bags”, in particular, shows the man wasn’t imaginative or interested in literature.

As we read further, we find out more: “the Frinton folk / Who put him up for summer holidays”… at the time, Frinton was a posh place, a holiday resort with a ultra conservative attitude. These people he stays with to break the dreary monotony of everyday life aren’t friends, they’re just “folk” (echo of the posh place in the register) who “put him up”. Equally, “Christmas at his sister’s house in Stoke” seems to be more from duty than any affection.

Besides the dialogue, the poem also adopts a colloquial register: “stub my fags”, “drown / The jabbering set he egged her on to buy” (a TV, a fairly recent invention in Larkin’s time) and “He kept plugging at the four aways” (a reference to football pools, a form of gambling). Larkin, in some ways similar to ‘Self’s the Man’ adopts the persona of a middle class man like Mr Bleaney, one, though, who looks down upon the other. All the prior analysis of Mr Bleaney, to add a layer of irony to the poem, is filtered through this persona’s eyes, and not necessarily ‘true’.

After the full stop at the end of the fifth stanza, there is a shift in tone from the persona, however. In the final stanza, he reflects upon such existence. “That how we live measures our own nature” is a judgement of Bleaney, and his life. Having lived and achieved no more than “one hired box”, (reminding us of a coffin) “should make him pretty sure / He warranted no better”.

But at this point, the persona retracts the judgement with a pathetic anticlimax, “I don’t know”. Perhaps, he at last realises the irony: just similar his own life is to Bleaney’s, and is sure to become in the future, and so cannot make the hypocritical judgement.

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