Study Guide

Aubade Death

By Philip Larkin

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[…] I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die. (4-7)

Death comes up right from the get-go in this one. This first mention of death gives us some clues that should prepare us to see death come up throughout the poem. Take a look at the word choices Larkin makes when referring to death. Death is "always there." Death is "unresting." Death makes thinking about anything else "impossible." We don't get the sense that a subject change is in the cards any time soon. We shouldn't be surprised to see death hanging out throughout the whole poem. Death is like that guy that shows up early for the party and then stays too late. You know who you are.

Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. (8-10)

Our speaker knows that all these questions about death—the how and where and when—are nothing new, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Each time he thinks about it, he gets freaked out all over again. The fact that the speaker acknowledges that the questions are nothing new gives his argument a little more strength. We can't just remind him that death is part of life and something that we all must come to terms with. He knows that. He tells us so. His point is that logically death just isn't something that we can come to terms with.

The mind blanks at the glare […]
at the total emptiness of for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. (11, 16-20)

Here we start to get a sense of what it is about being dead that really bothers the speaker. It's the whole nothingness of it: "Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere." The repetition of the word "nothing" in line 20 emphasizes the point. There's nothing more terrible and true than the fact that we are going to die.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill […]
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear (31-32, 34-36)

These lines reinforce the inescapability of death. It also reinforces the idea that the knowledge of our own death is unpleasant. It feels bad. Again, the word choice does the work. Consider the following list of words and phrases from lines 31-36:

on the edge

What do all these words have in common? Yup. You got it. Negative, negative, negative—each of these words evokes unpleasant feelings. An accident? Shmoop thinks not.

Death is no different whined at then withstood. (40)

The speaker acknowledges a common strategy for how do deal with death. There are those that say we should be brave in the face of death, that we should—as the Brits in Larkin's native England like to saykeep a stiff upper lip. Well, that's all good and well. Larkin knows all about that idea. Here again, he's saying it doesn't matter what you do. Be as brave as you want. You're still going to die. Death treats cowards and heroes the same.

It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept (42-44)

Geez, Phil. We get it. We can't escape death. We know. If it seems like this is the same stuff Phil has been telling us since the beginning of the poem, that's because it is. The fact that we don't really get any answers or make any progress in this poem is mirrored in line 44: we just can't accept that we are going to die and become nothing. We can keep thinking about it and talking about it, but we don't really get anywhere. It just doesn't get any easier to deal with death. Even here at the end of the poem, the speaker is still struggling.

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