Study Guide

Aubade Stanza 5

By Philip Larkin

Stanza 5

Lines 41-44

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.

  • Well, you've made it to the last stanza. Congratulations. Facing the inevitability of death can make it really hard to study. 
  • The beginning of this stanza acts as a kind of transition. Daylight is starting to overtake the darkness. So, we have the transition from dark to light.
  • This transition is mirrored in the pace of these lines. Instead of a long rant (like in stanza 3), this stanza is broken up with full-stops (periods). It slows us down.
  • Even though night is transitioning to day, death is still hanging around. Larkin uses a simile here ("It stands plain as a wardrobe") to give us an even clearer sense of death's obvious, unmoving presence. (Have you ever tried to move a wardrobe?
  • Don't—they're super-heavy. Shmoop tried once. It was a bad day.)
  • So, even though the darkness—that archetypal symbol of death—is fading, our speaker still feels its presence as strong as ever.
  • Line 44 really slows us down. It has two full-stops.
  • The speaker declares that, "One side will have to go." What sides? Well, he's not talking team Edward and team Jacob here.
  • (Or maybe, in a way, he is. It really depends on your views about werewolves.) The two sides are light and dark—life and death. One side has to go. Guess which one ends up hitting the road. Yup—life gets the boot in this one. For Larkin, everything eventually ends in death. High five?

Lines 45-50

Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

  • In the poem's closing lines, the pace stays slow. 4 of the last 6 lines are end-stopped (end in periods). The end of the poem sort of mirrors life's slow march toward inevitable death.
  • While the speaker is observing the strengthening light and contemplating ever-present death, he also considers the world beyond his bedroom walls. This movement beyond the confines of the room is signaled by the word "meanwhile."
  • Outside the room, every day life waits. Larkin begins this description of the everyday with some personification. Telephones "crouch" like animals waiting to pounce (animals crouch and spring, these telephones crouch and "ring.") The personification makes the usually mundane telephone (remember, this is pre-cell phone—no sleek, new iPhone here) seem a little threatening.
  • The world is waking to another day. But we don't get images of sunshine and rebirth. Larkin describes an "uncaring / Intricate rented world" (47-48).
  • The world is a complicated place that is only ours temporarily—sort of like that tuxedo you rented.
  • If Shmoop says "daybreak," what word or image pops into your mind? Chances are images of the sun or sunrise or a warm, growing light come to mind—likley some pretty pleasant images overall.
  • But Larkin has just got to be Larkin, and that means finding the gloom in even the brightest moments. So, he gives us a sunless daybreak with a sky the bland color of clay. Yuck. Shmoop would just go back to bed.
  • The poem's second to last line is one of those short ones that really stands out. Even in the face of death, "work has to be done." We have to go through the motions of daily life despite the fact that it all seems kind of pointless. Remember way back in line one, "I work all day"? Even our gloom and doom speaker participates in the daily grind.
  • The last line leaves us with the image of postmen going "from house to house." The description includes a simile comparing "postmen" to "doctors." We have two very different kinds of professionals here. We get the sense that Larkin wanted to name two jobs that would represent the entire spectrum of work, giving the poem's ending a kind of universality. 
  • What do postmen do? They deliver news. They help us stay connected with other people (remember this poem was written long before the internet and texting).
  • What do doctors do? Write notes that keep us out of PE class? Yes. But they also try to keep us healthy—to keep us alive.
  • Our speaker told us way back in stanza 3 that one of his main fears about death was that it meant having "nothing to love or link with." Linking, connecting—see the connection here?
  • Let's look at that simile again. It might make a little more sense now. The postman helps people maintain one of the key emotional components of life—that link, that connection with other people, just like a doctor helps people maintain the physical components of life. Postmen, like doctors, give us what we need to feel alive, to push away that feeling that death is right there waiting to take us away. That distraction from looming death might come in the form of medicine or it might be a letter from your nana (Shmoop's nana is awesome—just sayin').
  • So, despite the futility of it all, despite the fact that death will always win out, we still go about the job of living and try to maintain that link with the world. This certainly doesn't qualify as a happy ending, but it's as close as you're going to get with this speaker, gang.