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Breadfruit

February 5, 2013

The worst poem …

Larkin to Robert Conquest, 9 Dec 1961 (Selected Letters p 335);

“Dig a little squib of mine call Breadfruit in Cox’s mag* – bitterly regret letting him have it, as it is just about the worst poem I have ever let get set up. Don’t get any breadfruit up here, I can tell you.”

He’s joking of course about the quality – it’s Larkin at his best, reminding us unnecessarily that “the boys” play tennis to get laid. And he’s exaggerating the sexual desert of Hull. He told Maeve Brennan that he wrote it in frustration, when she turned him down one day, but she didn’t always, and he had other lovers. There is bitterness, but the ending is almost optimistic – not death, priests, or nothingness, but breadfruit, whatever they are.

Breadfruit

Boys dream of native girls who bring breadfruit,
ooooWhatever they are,
As bribes to teach them how to execute
Sixteen sexual positions on the sand;
This makes them join (the boys) the tennis club,
Jive at the Mecca, use deodorants, and
On Saturdays squire ex-schoolgirls to the pub
0000By private car.

Such uncorrected visions end in church
ooooOr registrar:
A mortgaged semi- with a silver birch;
Nippers; the widowed mum; having to scheme
With money; illness; age. So absolute
Maturity falls, when old men sit and dream
Of naked native girls who bring breadfruit
0000Whatever they are.

Philip Larkin

*Critical Quarterly

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