Larkin: “the shit in the shuttered chateau”

November 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm (funny, Jim D, language, literature)

Photograph by Fay Godwin

I hadn’t come across this Larkin poem before last weekend. It’s not one of his best, but it made me laugh:

The Life with the Hole in It

When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you’ve always done what you want,
You always get your way
– A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that’s been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I’ve never done what I don’t.

So the shit in the shuttered chateau
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds
Is far off as ever, but so
Is that spectacled schoolteaching sod
(Six kids, and the wife in pod,
And her parents coming to stay)…

Life is an immobile, locked,
Three-handed struggle between
Your wants, the world’s for you, and (worse)
The unbeatable slow machine
That brings what you’ll get. Blocked,
They strain round a hollow stasis
Of havings-to, fear, faces.
Days sift down it constantly. Years.

Philip Larkin, Philip Larkin Poetry


  1. Rosie said,

    When he wrote the “shit in the shuttered chateau” I wonder if he had his mate Kingsley Amis in mind – he turned out 500 words a day or so until they turned into novels and had a glamorous and lucrative career. The booze and the birds would be right as well, though KA hated France and wasn’t really a man for the beach.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    “The booze and the birds would be right as well, though KA hated France and wasn’t really a man for the beach”…

    How about Robert Graves?

  3. Rosie said,

    Graves didn’t have “birds” – he had muses and goddesses.

  4. Arthur Seaton said,


  5. Torquil Macneil said,

    The shuttered shit is generally thought to have been Graeme Greene, the biggest literary beast at the time of writing.

  6. Rosie said,

    I thought GG was more small apartment in Antibes than shuttered chateau, but of course Larkin may not have meant any one person, but an amalgamation. I wondered if there was a touch of Somerset Maugham, a rich and successful novelist living in a villa on the Riviera, though he preferred boys to girls.

  7. katelaity said,

    Belatedly, I believe it was meant to refer to Georges Simenon, who did indeed live in a series of chateaus and could out-Amis Amis with regard to the birds anyway.

  8. Rosie said,

    Thanks for the belated comment, Kate. Simenon was a total shit, wasn’t he?

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