Study Guide

Aubade Stanza 4

By Philip Larkin

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Stanza 4

Lines 31-33

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.

  • That glare, the fear of death, never goes away. It can't be ignored. The speaker is always aware of it "just on the edge of vision." Sounds irritating, right?
  • It sounds like even when the speaker isn't staring directly into the abyss, the sense of it is still there, lingering, ruining what little pleasure and light the world has to offer. Death sits there, just out of view, "a small unfocused blur."
  • The speaker can always feel death's presence: "a standing chill" that makes even simple daily decisions difficult. For the speaker, the specter of death affects everything.

Lines 34-37

Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink.

  • At the risk of sounding like a broken record (see Shmoopers, records were these large, black discs that played music before CDs—ah, forget it), our speaker returns to the idea of death's inescapability. He tells us that while most of the stuff we worry about in our daily lives "may never happen," death will.
  • With this "realization" comes that fear we've been hearing about throughout the poem. This time, Larkin uses some figurative language to help give us a real sense of what he's talking about.
  • The realization of death's inevitability "rages out / In furnace-fear." That sounds pretty aggressive (and hot), doesn't it? He gives an abstract thing (the emotion of fear), the concrete characteristics of a furnace. It makes the fear easier to feel and visualize. This is definitely not a subtle feeling Larkin is describing here.
  • The fear is most intense, it rages, when the speaker is "without / People or drink." It's most intense when the speaker is without the distraction of human contact or alcohol. Remember how this one started: "I work all day, and get half-drunk at night." Our speaker definitely seems to be turning to alcohol to dull that fear.

Lines 37-40

[…] Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

  • So, we know that death is certain and that awareness of it follows our speaker always and everywhere. Got it. Now he tells us that there's no use trying to be brave about it either. Keeping a stiff upper lip doesn't do a bit of good.
  • Having courage or being brave in the face of death is merely a way to try to make the living feel better. And our speaker isn't about feeling better.
  • Being brave doesn't help you escape death. It finds you whether you are a big, tough guy or you cry like a baby. The end is exactly the same.
  • The rhyme between "brave" and "grave" echoes this idea. Larkin emphasizes his point by emphasizing how similar these words look and sound. In fact, only a single letter separates one word from actually being the other. We might think the meanings and associations we have with those two words are very different, but Larkin wants us to see that they are, in a sense, made of the same stuff.

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