Saturday, 7 May 2016


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

That how we live ........... I don't know.

(i) Poem: Mr Bleaney
(ii) Poet: Philip Larkin
(i) Occurrence: End of the Poem (Lines 25-28/28)
(ii) Content: The poet is lodging in a room that once belonged to a man called Mr Bleaney. As he observes the bare furnishings, he draws intimate conclusions about the former lodger. The predecessor was a poor fellow without any belongings, and without any house of his own. He was an eccentric kind of old man, and had no literary or artistic tastes. He used to prefer sauce to gravy; spend his summer holiday with his relatives in Frinton, and Christmas with his sister in Stoke. Although he may not intend to, the poet himself is very much like or perhaps turning into Mr Bleaney. 
     In these lines the poet is measuring his own worth in the mode of comparison with Mr. Bleaney. The statement "The how we live measures our own nature" is a judgment of Mr. Bleaney, and his life. It is also an ironic reference to the Humanist dictate of "Man as the measure", and the phrase carries associations from Hamlet and particularly of Hamlet's soliloquies and Polonius' advice to his son. Having lived a whole life, Mr Bleaney achieves no more than "one hired box". The term "hired box" refers to coffin. Finally, the poet refuses to declare his own views, although the fact that he has raised the question about the value of Mr Bleaney's life is, in itself, perhaps sufficient indication of an overall stance. Whatever he concludes about the value and purpose of Mr Bleaney's life, a previous tenant, must also inevitably apply to himself. In these final lines it is difficult to decide whose voice the poet is echoing. Is it the Landlay's? Is it his own inner doubting voice? Phrases like "warranted no better" remain ambiguous, and may properly belong to the poet himself, imagining the terms of a final tribunal in the afterlife.

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