"Home Is So Sad" - Philip Larkin
On the surface, a "house" and a "home" are interchangeable words. They both describe a place where someone lives, but with a deeper analysis, we find that a house is simply the structure or the building. An actual home is much more complex. It is filled with objects and memories, which grow and change along with its residents. Home is a place we come back to after a long day's work, the place where we go to seek shelter and solace. When the world is changing outside, home remains constant, molded to the people who live and breathe inside. It is "home, sweet home". This popular cliché sheds a warm and comforting light on a home, giving it personality and feeling, the main factors that distinguish it from a house. However, in Philip Larkin's poem "Home Is So Sad", the speaker describes a home with a personality different from the "sweet" stereotype, portraying it as a place of loneliness and longing after its inhabitants have long deserted their dwellings. No longer is home thought of as sweet or warm. Ironically, even without its family, the house still remains a home, which is yearning and waiting for its family to return. The speaker personifies the house and its objects, using a melancholy and detached tone, and a crumbling structure to illustrate the breaking down of universal hope and the emptiness that results when a home is abandoned by its family.
To emphasize the feeling of loneliness, the speaker personifies the empty home and its contents as objects that miss and long for their owners. This gives emotion and personality to the house, helping readers better understand its situation. Instead of saying the home "remains as it was left", the speaker states clearly "[h]ome is so sad/ [i]t stays as it was left . . ."(line 1). The narrative gives the home emotion and sentiment, which decreases the distance between man and object. Readers begin to mourn for the home in the same way that the home grieves for the missing family. The speaker shows the home wanting to win back its inhabitants because it is "bereft/ [o]f anyone to please, it withers so"(3-4). One would not normally think of a home trying to win over anything or anyone, but this personification creates such a sensation of longing that, we too, feel a loss. A loss that, without this description and personification, humans are apt to overlook. Inside the home there are memories and nostalgia that the residents leave behind, and from these memories, the home is "[s]haped to the comfort of the last to go . . ."(2). By characterizing the home, we are able to understand that the feelings the home is experiencing are quite parallel to the sad emotions people have when leaving their own home. Readers can fully relate and sympathize with the home because of this parallel. Most people have experienced leaving home for the first time or moving away. Because the emotions the speaker gives the home are so close to what a human's would be in reverse situation, we are able to recognize the similar emotions the home is dealing with. This personification further emphasizes the home's loss of its family.
The tragic loss and helplessness is also exemplified through a removed and nostalgic tone. When reading the poem, one feels distant and detached. A caesura, or a natural pause, is created by the gap between the two stanzas. This mid-sentence pause seems almost as if the home is sighing in pain or suffering. When read aloud, it sounds as if the home is talking, and stops mid-sentence to reminisce about the times when it still had its family. The home "[has] no heart to put aside the theft", it does not have the courage and ability to forget about its loss and become only a building, a structure, a house, " and turn again to what it started as . . ."(5-6). The home cannot bear to face the fact that it no longer has the means to stay alive, stay a home. It does not want to accept the fact that it no longer has its family. The lines describing this denial are broken up between two stanzas. Something as simple as the white space dividing the beginning and end of the sentence creates hesitation, the same hesitation the home feels about accepting its loss. Also, all of the words in the poem are very monotonous and simple. Larkin easily could have used more complex vocabulary, but he uses words like "so sad", "stays"(1), and "you can see"(8), for a reason. It establishes an empty and lacking tone, which is similar to how the home is portrayed to feel. Similarly, simple and short lines, consisting of sentences broken up often by commas also work together to create this reflective and distant tone. These words also suggest more about the character of the home. The simple diction tone shows that the home is genuine rather than pompous or selfish. If, perhaps, the home were more concerned about itself rather than its inhabitants, we would see more of a lavish extravagant tone, instead of one that is plain and distant. The detachment also helps with the speaker's apparent view that the distance between what one originally plans and what one ends up achieving can be greater than expected. The family came into this house, and the house welcomed the family with a "joyous shot at how things ought to be"(6). Unfortunately, those joyous shots do not materialize and the home is left mourning their evaporation. The detached tone of the poem illustrates how the home becomes more and more hopeless with the passing of time by wishing for a shot at hope that has "[l]ong fallen wide". Furthermore, the deterioration of the home's hope can also be seen in the deterioration of the structure and syntax of the last stanza.
The crumbling and falling apart of the poem's ending shows the hopelessness from the loss of a family or "heart". Near the end of the second stanza the sentences begin to fall apart as the home realizes that it is truly empty and that its family is not going to return. Up until the end of the poem, the lines are all part of one sentence. It is not until the end that Larkin includes other sentences, like "[y]ou can see how it was:/ [l]ook at the pictures and the cutlery"(8-9). They are short and fragmented, very different from the flowing and continuous form of the previous eight lines. This style mimics the home's helplessness and collapse of hope. One reason the sentences become so brief is to capture the stillness of the inanimate objects. These specific objects are very important in themselves, and without the short and succinct lines, they may be overlooked. The ending is also the first time that the speaker addresses the audience in the poem, telling us to "see how it was"(8). The inclusion of the audience also shows the break down of hope, as the "you" is used almost like an order. The speaker is telling us to "[l]ook at the pictures and the cutlery. /The music in the piano stool. That vase"(9-10). He or she is directing our attention to these specific objects, that each carries their own significance. Photographs often represent memories and the past. Through the speaker's orders to "look at the pictures . . " we are further able to realize ". . .how it was . . ." and how different and depressing it has become since then (8-9). The music is in the piano stool because it has not been played and is not going to be played. It is still and silent. Nevertheless, we get a feeling that it is yearning to be played like the home is yearning for its family. The music has been put away and the storage in the piano seat represents the ending of a life, the ending the home has yet to come to terms with. "That vase" is a very powerful way to conclude the poem. It is so simple yet so descriptive. The extremely short fragment emphasizes how demoralized and broken down the house has become. Importantly, the vase is alone, without flowers. Like the home, it is an empty vessel, hollow and now useless. It no longer has a purpose. There aren't any flowers to hold, similar to how the home has no family to accommodate. The crumbling syntax and style of the last stanza illustrates the absence life pumping through either the vase or the house. They both are unfilled, hollowed out, and helpless with no meaning or character, simple objects longing to be what they once were.
When the owners and inhabitants of a home desert it, we see a different side to "home sweet home", a side of longing and unsettlement caused by this abandonment. This is the case in Philip Larkin's poem "Home Is So Sad". Without the family, the heart and soul of this home, there is no character or meaning left, nor purpose to keep living as a character. The home views itself as a vessel or vase for a family, and when the family gone, its fundamental identity is destroyed. The home is not just sad, but despondent and without hope. A home with no heart and no family is much more sad than one with a despondent family, or an unhappy heart. The home mourns and wishes for its family because without them, it will be what it was before, a house. Just like the empty vase, one of the few objects that remain inside, it has lost all meaning without life pumping through its core. Larkin shows this loss through a depressing personification, separated and detached tone, and the slow crumbling structure. The home is not yet a house because it is still filled with memories of the past, which it is desperately grasping onto. Those memories - the pictures, the cutlery, the music in the piano, and that vase, are the only things that remain. They are the home's last hope for life when all else has disappeared, the home's last hope from avoiding a depressing transformation back into a house.
Larkin, Philip. "Home Is So Sad." Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan et al.(*) 1st Canadian ed. Toronto: Pearson, 2005. 444.
Dr. Obermeier'sSample Paper Files
You are advised to peruse these sample papers previous students have written for my classes. The papers are either pdf files or HTML files, in which I have embedded comments to explain why they are superior efforts. The comments refer to the following sentence, phrase, or word. Clicking on the comment link will bring up the content. You have to close a comment window before proceeding to the next one. Clicking on the header will give you instructions on how to make such a running header for your papers. Because of HTML restrictions, the formatting might appear slightly off. You still need to keep your papers double-spaced with 1/2-inch paragraph indent. Even if there is no specific explanation for a specific paper, the papers generally share the following superior qualities: descriptive and analytical titles; analytical theses; superior analysis of the texts; correct inclusion of quotations and formatting.
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For Engl. 250
- Paper 1 "Sheppard" Characterization
This paper has it all: outstanding thought and content, excellent organization, superior sentence structure and diction. This student's command of the language is superb. A few minor problems could have been edited out. The paper received the grade of 96/A.
- Paper 1 "Girl" Characterization
- This paper is an excellent example of superior analysis coupled with stylistic economy and succinctness that avoid anything superfluous. The introduction and organization deserve high praise. The paper received the grade of 96/A.
- Paper 2 Explication of "Sonnet 46"
- This explication of a Shakespeare sonnet is superbly done. The student outstandingly fused the analysis of the poem with an excellent and virtually error-free style. The paper received the grade of 98/A+.
- Paper 2 Explication of "Sonnet 42"
- This is a very good example of a Shakespeare sonnet explication. The student clearly understands the nuances of the sonnet, with great sections on metrical discussion. The paper received 94/A.
Here are the high-scoring essays for our assignment two. Per announcement in class, these uploads are not following the format as faithfully. I just wanted to get you the info without having to worry about getting everything lined up to MLA standards. Note also that I am providing these examples for the sophistication of the explication, the students' knowledge of technical aspects and detail of analysis; the essays, however, may still contain other weaknesses.
- Paper 3 Explication of "The Victim at Aulis"
- The student provides a superbly analyzed and written thematic poetry explication. Notice that the paper is organized around the student's thesis, ie., the major players in the myth and the poem, and not just the chronology of the paper. The paper received the grade of 98/A+.
- Paper 3 Explication of "Cassandra"
- This paper is an excellent example of a thematic poetry explication, demonstrating superb intertextual understanding and control of the primary texts. Note the student's concise and honed style. The paper received the grade of 96/A.
- Paper 4 Synthesis of Millay Poems
- This paper offers a beautiful synthesis not only of three poems but also two critical approaches: Feminist and Freudian. It is almost flawlessly written and received the grade of 98/A+.
- Paper 4 Synthesis of Mythology Poems
- The paper is up, but I am still working on the comments..
- Paper 5 Shrew Research Paper
- This is an exquisite research paper utilizing a postmodern approach to Taming of the Shrew. Notice that the critical approach is incorporated into the paper; therefore, there is no extra Barry page. The paper received 98/A+. Sorry, no comment boxes yet.
- Paper 5 Yankee Research Paper
- This is another outstanding research paper. It shows the incorporation of the research especially well. Notice that the Barry page is appended after the works cited page.The paper received 98/A+. Sorry, no comment boxes yet.
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