One scarcely thinks of sex in relation to the work of Philip Larkin; or, to qualify a little, only in terms of jaundiced disparagement, a fertile source of negation. The erotic Larkin would appear to be pretty meagre fare, in his own phrase from ‘Spring’, an ‘indigestible sterility’ (8:39). Such an emphasis would seem unlikely to displace the more familiar image of Larkin as wry commentator on the ‘lowered sights and patiently diminished expectations’ of contemporary Britain (Davie 1972:62). But the fact that the major English poet of the post-war period (and even the recent spate of iconoclastic polemic implicitly concedes this centrality) appears to be an uncompromising advocate of male celibacy should at the very least give pause for thought. The greater availability of biographical material (Thwaite 1992; Motion 1993) has revealed personal entanglements of some complexity. Nevertheless this does not alter the cumulative impact of his literary self-presentation. His verse immediately conjures up an image of sour and wizened bachelorhood—‘One of those old-type natural fouled-up guys’, as Jake Balokowsky puts it (18:170)—and its anti-paternity motif has often been noted. Far from being a minor aberration, this stance is integral to the characteristic persona of his poetry: the excluded onlooker, slightly wistful, yet nevertheless resolute in his self-conserving detachment. This point of vantage is well exemplified in ‘Reasons for Attendance’, where the narrator is momentarily drawn ‘to the lighted glass/To watch the dancers’:
sensing the smoke and sweat,
The wonderful feel of girls. Why be out here?
But then, why be in there? Sex, yes, but what
Is sex? (2-3, 5-8:80)