Philip Larkin and the poetics of resistance
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Philip Larkin and the poetics of resistance


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Learn more
238 Pages

You can change the print size of this book


Cet ouvrage rédigé exclusivement en anglais est une étude sur le poète contemporain britannique Philip Larkin (1922-1985). Treize spécialistes se sont penché sur les textes de "l'agnostique anglican", comme il aimait à se définir lui-même, et tentent d'expliquer en quoi il était un poète de la Résistance ainsi que les raisons de l'extrême complexité de ses textes. C'est la première fois qu'une telle étude sur Philip Larkin est publiée en France.



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Published 01 February 2006
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EAN13 9782296949096
Language English

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Philip Larkin and the Poetics of Resistance

© L’Harmattan, 2006
ISBN: 2-7475-9779-2
EAN: 9782747597791

Fabrication numérique: Socprest, 2012
Andrew McKeown
and Charles Holdefer, eds

Philip Larkin
and the Poetics of Resistance

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The essays in this volume have been selected from papers originally presented at the University of Poitiers First International Conference of Larkin Studies, September 2004.

Funding for the conference and publication of this volume has been generously made available by the FORELL Research Centre (EA 3816), the Humanities Faculty and the University of Poitiers.

The editors and publishers wish to thank the following for permission to use copyright material:

Faber and Faber Ltd. for Jacques Nassif’s translation of ‘Here’ from Collected Poems by Philip Larkin. Copyright © 1988, 1989 by the Estate of Philip Larkin.

Stephen Cooper, for ‘Resisting Tradition: The Decentred Perspectives of Larkin, Auden and MacNeice’ adapted from Philip Larkin: Subversive Writer (2004). Copyright © 2004 by Stephen Cooper, by permission of Sussex Academic Press

Advisory Board

Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd, Maître de Conférences, Poitiers
Adolphe Haberer, Professeur des Universités émérite, Lyon 2
Liliane Louvel, Professeur des Universités, Poitiers
Paul Volsik, Professeur des Universités, Paris 7
Oscar Wilde’s infamous quip about being able to resist anything but temptation suggests that for some at least resistance is a losing battle. For others, like Larkin, resistance seems to be more a question of holding out regardless, unconquered by tempters and tyrants alike. Dictionary definitions tend to highlight this antagonistic tendency. The Oxford English Dictionary (3 rd edition), for example, indicates resistance as "hindering or holding off a moving body". This suggests a number of ways we can expand our approach to the term. It allows us, for instance, to see resistance as a response to a contending, injurious body . This physicality reminds us that resistance is a profoundly human question, even if this volume is not directly concerned with historical occurrences of Resistance. In addition, resistance to a "moving body" suggests some form of immobility, an unmoving body holding out under attack, which raises the problem of fixity , and the extent to which resisting does or does not imply the adoption of conservative, even reactionary, stances. This means that the literary perspective on resistance given in this volume will not neglect political contexts.
Of course, in literature confrontation of bodies is primarily a linguistic activity. That suggests not only a technical aspect to our question but also the existence of a poetics of resistance, a language designed and modelled by the conditions of resisting. Further, it is possible to imagine texts adapting and even misusing such poetics in the interests of multiplying the stances taken against an injurious "body", a twist we come to expect, perhaps, from literature’s love of obliqueness.
The body of resistance is therefore doubly elusive: first, as it is literary; then, as it is by definition uncooperative. This particularity makes the nut of literary resistance that much harder to crack, which has significant repercussions for the translator. In all contexts, resistance throws into question not only the Other, the eternal adversary of difference, but also its own Self, which is caught in language, in time and in space. Its only " proper ground " is contingency. The act of resistance in such circumstances is in the last analysis then a philosophical question, embracing anthropos , logos and cosmos.
Philip Larkin would have no doubt scoffed at such theorising about resistance. The most "philosophical" of British poets from the second half of the 20 th century, he was also the most reluctant to "philosophise" about his work. In and out of his writer’s vocation, he was a staunch resister.
Characteristically, Larkin refused the post of Poet Laureate, partly on the grounds that poetry was for him a highly personal affair that did not readily lend itself to public purposes. He wrote to a friend that he couldn’t face the "representing-British-poetry-in-the-‘Poetry-Conference-at-Belgrade’-side-of-it-all" (Motion 1993, 510). Moreover, throughout his life he cultivated a prickly aloofness from academics and their concerns. Yet since his death interest in Larkin’s work has grown steadily, and has flowed across borders, beyond the United Kingdom.
This volume reflects that interest. For its international emphasis, it is the first of its kind but it is surely not the last. Tellingly, Larkin’s tenacious resistance to categories, his refusal to be pigeonholed and his rejection of even the idea of centrality, has provided the unifying theme for this work. Larkin’s unapologetic individuality does not necessarily result in isolation. In fact, it allows him to reach across barriers.

The first part of this volume, "Toward a Theory of Resistance", draws on a variety of approaches to his texts and questions some of the more long-standing assumptions about his writing which classify Larkin’s resistance as static conservatism.
One of these assumptions has been the writer’s resistance to translation. Raphaël Ingelbien re-assesses Larkin’s pronouncements on the subject through a detailed analysis of his poems in relation to post-war trends in British writing, especially poetry, whose mode of expression Larkin felt to be increasingly obscurantist and, consequently, alienating. Not only is Larkin inquisitive about the notion of linguistic determinism, a central question to translation problems, he is also sceptical of post-war moves in poetry politics to crown the (North American) Modernist mode as king.
Jacques Nassif, Larkin’s French translator, approaches the question of resistance from a very different perspective. For Nassif, resistance in the text comes about at the point of conflict between speaker and signifier, those points of tension where the autonomy of both parties in the linguistic pact is called into question. Nassif’s account of translating Larkin, his commentary on these moments of resistance in the text and their relation with the translator, that is, the voice of the Other, offer insights into Larkin’s poems.
Paradoxically, Larkin’s resistance to other-ness does not translate into aggressive self-proclamation a technique favoured by some of the more colourful, purportedly Other-centric voices of Modernism (one thinks of Pound, for example). Instead, as Jean-Charles Perquin argues, Larkin’s texts are in a sense self-resisting, open in their linguistic limits to the reality of non-verbal realities.
Pursuing the idea that Larkin’s texts are supremely doubtful about themselves, Charles Holdefer puts forward the hypothesis that sexually-charged self-derision is sometimes a conscious modus operandi for Larkin. Bringing together poetry and prose, including the recently published Brunette Coleman novels, Holdefer makes the case for reading Larkin in the light of recent camp theories, questioning accepted readings of the more performative and "symbolic" texts in, for example, the collection High Windows.
The role of images in Larkin’s work is crucial, especially so in texts concerned with Time. István Rácz explores how Larkin’s imagery provides visual figures of Time transposed into Space. The conflict between Time, both divisible and continuous, and humans, resisting the latter within the space of the former’s "days" and "afternoons", gives Larkin’s writing a dialectic tension, elevating its subjects out of their divisibility, argues Rácz. In this way, they are able to "answer" the silence of Time’s non-verbal reality: death.
No survey of Larkin’s poetics should overlook his use of form. Martine Semblat provides a detailed analysis of how Larkin resists the "appeal" of certain traditional poetic forms, while maintaining a degree of classical prosody. It is here in fact that the poems succeed in innovating, catalysing certain technical features normally associated with Modernism, re-working them in order to return them to their readers under the guise of "tradition". Semblat’s account of "traditional innovation" closes this section of the volume with a challenging, different perspective on Larkin’s unwillingness to translate his voice into other, borrowed voices, that is, the resistance to "translation" on which this part of the volume opened.
The second part of this volume, "Resistance in Context" places Philip Larkin’s work in historical and political perspectives. It offers a rich array of interpretations of both his prose and poetry in the light of current scholarship.
Earlier critics have frequently discussed Larkin’s putative relationship with "The Movement" in the 1950s. Helen Goethals shifts the emphasis to an earlier period, and demonstrates how Larkin’s early poetry can be read as war poetry. Although central to his novels Jill and A Girl in Winter, the importance of the Second World War in his early poetry has been generally overlooked.
Steven Cooper suggests another kind of revisionist perspective by questioning many of the received images of Larkin: notably, his reputation as reactionary and sexist. By taking into account unpublished materials from the 1940s, and with comparisons to Auden and MacNeice, Cooper goes against the grain and proposes a much different reading.
David Ten Eyck explores how such tensions frequently depend on a recurring strategy: Larkin’s isolated speakers are dramatized as trying to work within an "alien territory". This territory can be a language system or a set of social conventions, but in either case, the problem of poetic discourse is to shape statements that are capable of opening up this territory, to make room for the representation of experiences that the inherited forms would not have been able to relate.
At the same time, Larkin’s poetry is also animated by an "impulse to preserve", and Adrian Grafe addresses the means by which the poet accomplishes this kind of resistance. A rigorously undeceived view of life is expressed by an interlocking triad of questioning language, understatement, and extreme forthrightness. These impulsive elements make for compulsive reading.
Andrew McKeown offers a close reading of ‘Money’, and demonstrates that earlier thematic readings overlook the crux of the poem, which is less a meditation on materialism than on language, and its failed attempts to possess ourselves and our desires. Moreover, this poem articulates a view that informs many of Larkin’s later and most admired texts, including ‘High Windows’ and ‘Love Again’.
Lastly, James Booth questions the received idea of Larkin and T.S. Eliot as polar opposites. He offers a more nuanced view from the vantage point of the 21st century, observing that beneath Larkin’s vigorous resistance to Eliot, there in fact lies an intimacy, even a profound similarity in sensibility. Both poets aspire to a lyricism that approaches the very edge of words and meanings. Ultimately, this is a place where two great poets meet, where their ideologies and cultural politics become irrelevant.

Larkin’s readership is growing and this volume is intended to contribute to this trend. In sum, a writer sometimes accused of being a "Little Englander" has become a subject of international interest. Larkin, a connoisseur of ironies, would surely have found something unsparing and trenchant to say on the matter. For the writers herein, it suffices to say that the opportunity to participate in this appreciation has proved irresistible.

Andrew McKeown and Charles Holdefer
University of Poitiers
Primary Sources
This volume uses the following abbreviations in reference to Larkin’s work:

Collected Poems
All What Jazz
Required Writing
Further Requirements
Selected Letters
Toward a Theory of Resistance
An Enormous No!: Larkin’s Resistance to Translation
Raphaël Ingelbien

" Foreign poetry? No !" ( FR 25). On the face of it, this famous answer is a clear indication of Larkin’s literary and political conservatism; it emphatically expresses the philistine Little Englandism that he increasingly came to cultivate. Yet it is perhaps more complex than it seems. For one thing, it has been partly falsified by the critical focus on Larkin’s youthful interest in French Symbolist poetry: Larkin may have told the truth about what he was reading in 1964, when he was interviewed by Ian Hamilton, but he was obviously keeping silent about earlier influences. There have already been several valuable studies of Larkin’s relation to French Symbolism (see Everett 1980 and Chesters 1998); my aim is not to rehearse the points they have made. Rather, I would like to ask what exactly Larkin meant when he flatly denied any interest in "foreign poetry." As we will see, the phrase can turn out to be quite ambiguous. We should first wonder whether Larkin is rejecting poetry written in a language other than English, or poetry written in a foreign country (other statements by Larkin can point either way). Although the distinction might seem otiose, the various ways in which Larkin justified that enormous "No!" to "foreign poetry" can reveal unsuspected complexities in his attitude as well as that of his critics.

I will first of all consider the possibility that Larkin’s "No!" is directed at poetry written in a language other than English. Since his resistance to foreign languages is bound up with a radical scepticism about translation, I will use translation theory to assess the implications of Larkin’s stance. When examined through that prism, Larkin’s "No!" can be seen as something more subtle than a crude form of Little Englandism or an attempt to cover the Symbolist tracks of early influences. It can be re-interpreted as an expression of linguistic determinism, as a brand of aestheticism, or as an indirect but strategic form of resistance to specific developments within English poetry.
The link between a rejection of the foreign and English political conservatism might seem to be firmer if we adopt the second hypothesis, that is, if we regard Larkin’s "No!" as motivated by cultural rather than linguistic isolationism. Yet Larkin’s insistence on what he called the "compelling argument in support of provincialism" (RW 69) also needs to be qualified in view of other statements. This contrast will give us yet another insight into the nature of Larkin’s opposition to foreign poetry. Although we should be wary of ascribing a coherent view to Larkin, I will suggest that his resistance to "foreign poetry" is mostly a blend between radical aestheticism and a suspicion of certain trends within English literature.
Larkin’s "No!" dates from 1964. The interviewer (Ian Hamilton) did not challenge Larkin to explain his rejection; in fact his question "I wonder if you read much foreign poetry" was probably disingenuous. Hamilton went on to ask Larkin about "contemporary English poets, " and then "Americans" ( FR 25-26). By "foreign, " then, the interviewer seems to have meant "not written in English, " although his own distinction between English and American might point to the sense "written abroad." If there is a slippage between the cultural and linguistic definitions of foreignness in Larkin’s statements, the slippage can also result from his interviewers’ own confusion. The confusion persists in critical commentary on Larkin: those who take Larkin to task for his resistance to foreign poetry rarely try to define the term. "Foreign poetry" mostly functions a vague but convenient Other, a stick with which to beat those suspected of Little Englandism. However Larkin interpreted the question, the answer was of course clear enough. But if Larkin’s "No!" became notorious, the shifting nature of what he rejected was less often noticed.
In a speech delivered in Hamburg in 1976, Larkin deplored the tendency of modern poets to travel "from country to country and from continent to continent until [their] sense of cultural identity becomes blurred." Pondering whether this was a good thing, he commented: "politically it may be, poetically I’m not so sure." Larkin explained that he himself was an exception, since "this is only the second time since 1945 that [he has] been abroad" ( RW 89-90). Although Larkin remembered his trip to Paris in the early 1950s, he did not take his stay in Belfast and his holidays in Ireland with Monica Jones into account. Yet, as ‘The Importance of Elsewhere’ reminds us, Larkin clearly experienced a sense of "strangeness, " of cultural otherness in Ireland, whether North or South ( CP 104; Motion 1993, 392). In Ireland, of course, Larkin did not experience linguistic alienation, which is the factor he emphasized when pressed about his reluctance to travel. In 1981, John Haffenden asked Larkin to elaborate on the comments he’d made in Hamburg about the blurring of the modern poet’s sense of identity. Larkin’s answer first shifts the focus to his terror of linguistically foreign environments: "It’s a language thing with me: I can’t learn foreign languages. I just don’t believe in them." He then considers cultural difference: "as for cultural identities […] I think people get pallid if they change countries. Look at Auden." Haffenden then reverts to the question of languages himself with his next question: "in not exposing yourself to European cultures or literature, you’re possibly cultivating a sort of narrow-mindedness or chauvinism…" Larkin’s answer was: "But honestly, how far can one really assimilate literature in another language? In the sense that you can read your own?" ( FR 54)
Linguistic competence would thus seem to be at the heart of Larkin’s resistance to foreign poetry. The last time Larkin was asked to clarify his position, the interviewer for the Paris Review (Robert Phillips) was actually quite specific. His question was: "you stated that you were not interested […] in any poetry but that written in English. Did you mean that quite literally? Has your view changed?" Larkin’s answer confirms his resistance, but introduces another element, namely a resistance to translation:

I don’t see how one can ever know a foreign language well enough to make reading poems in it worthwhile. Foreigners’ ideas of good English poems are dreadfully crude: Byron and Poe and so on. The Russians liking Burns. But deep down I think foreign languages irrelevant. If that glass thing over there is a window, then it isn’t a Fenster of fenêtre or whatever. Hautes Fenêtres , my God! A writer can have only one language, if language is going to mean anything to him. ( RW 69)

Here, apparently, is Larkin as a linguistic determinist. His rejection of foreign languages, however, is packed with ironies. His very choice of examples seems almost perverse on several accounts. Two years before that interview, Barbara Everett had suggested that the Symbolist mode of High Windows owed much to French Symbolism, and in particular to two poems by Mallarmé and Baudelaire both entitled ‘Les Fenêtres’ (Everett 1980, 237). Larkin knew about Everett’s readings, and comments he made about them in his letters were far from dismissive (SL 653, 658). A further irony is that in the eponymous poem, "high windows" are supposed to be a purely mental image, rather than a verbal reality: "Rather than words comes the thought of high windows" ( CP 165).
The interview thus belies the very line in which the phrase "high windows" appears, since it draws attention to the verbal embeddedness of that pure thought which the poem tells us transcends words. It is tempting to turn this into a deconstructive lesson in the impossibility of finding anything outside the text, but the contradiction between the poem and the interview may also be symptomatic of another paradox in Larkin’s attitude to foreign languages. Larkin’s refusal to "believe in" foreign languages seems to partake of an extreme form of linguistic determinism: different languages shape different worlds, translation is vain, there is no equivalence between even the simplest words. The radicalism of this position looks surprising, all the more since Larkin betrays a certain command of foreign languages in the act of disowning them. He knows the French, even the German word for "window." Many letters are peppered with asides or jokes in French which show that he remained fairly competent in the language; he even commented (sarcastically) on French translations of his poems ( SL 497). In his published work, however, he seemed intent on stressing his lack of proficiency in the language. The description of the moon in ‘Sad Steps’ ( CP 169) even suggests that French had become out of bounds for him:

High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.

"Immensements" is an awkward English neologism that sends up the artificial poetic diction of Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella (from which Larkin borrows his title), but it can also be read as a French adverb ("immensely") with a missing accent, improbably used as a noun and put in the plural. The word concludes an elliptical enumeration that strongly reminds one of Laforgue’s lunar poems, especially ‘Litanie des premiers quartiers de la lune’, with its lines "Lune bénie / Des insomnies, / Blanc médaillon / Des Endymions" (Laforgue 1947, 210-211). But Larkin’s word is grammatically wrong in a way Laforgue never was, for all his syntactic eccentricities. It is no wonder that Larkin pulls himself up after that mistake: "No" reminds him that foreign poetry is not supposed to be for him. Or rather, it is no longer for him: looking back at earlier poems in 1962, he could still congratulate himself on managing a "slightly unconvincing translation from a French Symbolist" in ‘Absences’ and wish he could "write like that more often" (quoted in Motion 1982, 74). "Such attics cleared of me! Such absences!" ( CP 49) is actually a pseudotranslation, since trying to turn it back into French shows how English the line really is. In other words, it is the product of a real assimilation (rather than translation) of French Symbolism into English. In ‘Sad Steps’, however, Larkin seems to dramatize the loss of his ability to write such lines. The "No" that follows "immensements" indicates that, like the "strength and pain of being young" (and reading Laforgue?), the ability used to be his, but "it can’t come again": what remains is the inability to translate the transcendental flights of French Symbolism a move which plays down the fact that the impossibility of achieving transcendence is also a theme of French symbolists like Mallarmé and Laforgue. {1}
The corrective "No" of ‘Sad Steps’ still suggests that Larkin is proficient enough to recognize his mistake. If linguistic determinism thus seems too extreme an option, Larkin’s resistance to foreign poetry could instead be interpreted in the light of a more general scepticism about the translation of poetry. That "glass thing over there" is of course a fenêtre as well as a window, but not for the poet. Larkin’s objection could then be a variation on the time-honoured idea that poetry is what disappears in translation. As George Steiner reminds us, the belief that translation is impossible has always been fairly widespread among writers "we shall find great poets holding it" and "traditionally, the weight of the argument [against translation] bears on poetry" (Steiner 1975, 74, 241). Reading foreign poetry in the original is useless because the poet/reader comes up against the vanity of even mental translation: foreign poetry can never really be assimilated by the poet who has to create in his own language. As for translated poetry, Larkin once declared:

Translations always perplex me […] almost all translations seem to me condemned to be poetic zombies, assemblages of properties walking around with no intelligence or soul, unless the original poem can be digested in the imagination of its translator and used to produce a new poem. ( FR 239)

Translation theory suggests that both rejections are in fact two sides of the same coin:

One could distinguish between cases where a SLt [Source Literature] is known directly in its own language and cases where the SLt is known and read only, or mainly, through translation ... In both cases however one encounters the process of translation because of the fact that a translation already occurs in the first case. (Even-Zohar 1978a, 47)

It also teaches us that Larkin’s radical doubt about translation is shared by many illustrious figures in the history of Western poetry, not all of them conservative or narrowly nationalistic. In the ‘Defence of Poetry’, the archradical Shelley wrote:

… the language of poets has ever affected a certain uniform and harmonious recurrence of sound, without which it were not poetry, and which is scarcely less indispensable to the communication of its influence than the words themselves, without reference to that peculiar order. Hence the vanity of translation: it were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its own seed or it will bear no flower and this is the burden of the curse of Babel. (quoted in Wu 1994, 959)

Among more conservative temperaments, the cosmopolitan and eminently bilingual Nabokov could reflect teasingly on his own work as a translator:

What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.

(‘On Translating Eugene Onegin’, quoted in Steiner 1975, 240)

This long tradition of considering poetic translation as impossible is what Georges Mounin set out to disprove in Les Belles Infidèles. According to Mounin, poets’ rejections of translation are sheer rhetoric, they are never based on theoretically valid or verifiable arguments. Although attacks on translation abound, Mounin argues that they can always be reduced to a polemical, historically determined hostility to translation (Mounin 1994, 13-26). When poets reject the possibility of translation, they are really attacking the uses to which translations are put in a given context. Thus, Joachim du Bellay’s hostility to translation may be quite eloquent: "Toutes lesquelles choses se peuvent autant exprimer en traduisant comme un peintre peut représenter l’âme avec le corps de celui qu’il entreprend tirer après le naturel" (quoted in Mounin 1994, 19). But the context is that of his "Défense et Illustration de la Langue Française": what du Bellay was really objecting to was the fact that some of his contemporaries spent too much time translating the classics into French, thus flooding the market with prestigious works that could drive out original writing in French.
Mounin may generalize too rashly when he states that arguments against translation always have another subtext. He finds it remarkable "chose remarquable" (Mounin 1994, 19) that those who object to translation often use the same metaphors as du Bellay, as if no-one had been able to go beyond du Bellay’s argument. The metaphors used to denounce translation are indeed strangely similar, but this may indicate that the poets’ various objections stem from a similar reading experience: for Larkin, Shelley and Nabokov as well as du Bellay, translation amounts to the dissection or usurpation of an organic body and the concomitant removal of a spiritual principle. It is perhaps no coincidence that Larkin chose the image of his "high windows" as an example, since the phrase "high windows" has a "certain metaphysical or even ecclesiastical status" (Everett 1980, 238) that "(hautes) fenêtres" lacks. Nevertheless, Larkin’s claims about untranslatability remain fraught with contradictions. Since we have reasons not to take them at face value, we can use Mounin’s suggestion and wonder whether Larkin’s "No!" to foreign poetry and his scepticism about translation might be motivated by another agenda.
It is here that another theory of translation becomes useful. According to Even-Zohar, a national literature is a polysystem made up of competing trends, schools and norms ("co-systems"). Within that polysystem, foreign literature and/or literary translation are often weapons that can be used to either challenge or confirm the dominant norms. Even-Zohar’s theory makes sobering reading for those who regard the reading of foreign poetry as a sign of ethical openness to the Other:

Translated works do correlate [to each other] in at least two ways: (a) in the way they are selected by the target literature, the principles of selection never being uncorrelatable with the home co-systems (to put it in the mildest way); and (b) in the way they adopt specific norms, behaviours, and policies which are a result of their relations with the other co-systems. (Even-Zohar 1978b, 118)

Literary translation, in that view, is generally the result of strategic choices by publishers and poets: "it is the leading writers (or members of the avant-garde who are about to become leading writers) who produce the most important translations" (Even-Zohar 1978b, 120). The choice of what (and how) to translate reflects tensions within the national polysystem. Even-Zohar’s theory often sounds bleakly deterministic; one feels that he neglects the role played by freelance translators who are driven by personal enthusiasm and sometimes manage to impose their choices on a reluctant audience (Venuti 1998). Translated literature is never quite as monolithic as polysystem theory suggests, but Even-Zohar’s analysis nevertheless provides a useful corrective to naïve or idealistic assumptions about literary translation. Even-Zohar further insists that translation is of itself neither revolutionary nor conservative: it can be used to challenge the dominant taste (by those who promote alternative norms of their own) or to confirm certain orthodoxies; he even cautions that in large polysystems like French or Anglo-American literature, literary translation rarely introduces genuinely new elements: rather, it tends to confirm or support pre-existing trends (Even-Zohar 1978b, 120-24).
When read in the light of that theory, Larkin’s objections are not so much a form of resistance to the foreign or even to translation as such, but to those elements within post-war English poetry that used foreign models and translations in order to promote their own norms. Larkin wasn’t always opposed to foreign poetry or even translation; not only had he read French Symbolists in his youth, but he even recognized that foreign influences and translation had sometimes been beneficial to English poetry. In a 1967 interview with Neil Powell, he readily conceded that the so-called "English" tradition had often been influenced by French and Italian poetry ( FR 29). He went one step further when he emphasized the merits of foreign input in a review of the Oxford Book of Irish Verse. He wrote of the minor representatives of the Celtic Revival that "the most distinctive contribution of these poets is a hesitant freshness of metre found in translated Gaelic, " and that this, together with the rediscovery of the "matter of Ireland, " helped Irish poetry of the period to avoid "the typical blemishes of its contemporary equivalent in England" ( FR 203). Larkin could also appreciate the merits of translations like FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam ( FR 380) or Donald Davie’s The Forests of Lithuania, although his 1960 review of the latter is interestingly ambiguous: "This, instead of being a collection of lyrics concerned with the life of the author in the Fifties, is a long poem in six parts ‘adapted’ (we are not told whether this means translation or what) from the celebrated Polish poem ‘Pan Tadeusz’ (1834) by Mickiewicz" ( FR 233).

Larkin is both appreciative and puzzled:

The story line of The Forests of Lithuania eludes me. Nor can I attempt to estimate how much credit in a case like this should be given to Davie for images, adjectives, and so on. All I can say is that he has devised a most telling metre a varying two or three stress unrhymed line in which to set out his descriptive passages and episodes. ( FR 234)

There follows a passage from The Forests of Lithuania which Larkin actually reprinted in his Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (Larkin 1973, 535). Larkin can thus bring himself to praise certain aspects of Davie’s poem, arguing that "this poem is far from the customary stale upholsteries of translation" ( FR 234). But his suspicions about the enterprise are revealed by the following comment: "I do not mean to imply that Davie has produced this unusual poem to avoid his own charges of narrowness and provincialism" ( FR 233).
It is here that we begin to get an insight into the uses of foreign poetry in the post-war English scene. Davie was busy graduating from honorary membership of the Movement to being a distinguished commentator on Ezra Pound, and eventually turned out to be the harshest critic of Larkin’s editorial choices for the Oxford Book of Modern English Verse (see for instance SL 475-500). But Davie’s case is part of a broader trend. Foreign and translated literature were increasingly used to support or promote values antithetical to Larkin’s. Larkin himself was already familiar with the charge of provincialism: in his famous review of Robert Conquest’s anthology New Lines, Charles Tomlinson had referred to Larkin as a "mild xenophobe" who "never goes abroad, " and whose poetry struck him as "astonishingly provincial, " the product of "a suburban mental ratio" (Tomlinson 1957, 208, 214, 215). Tomlinson, who also became known as a translator, regretted Larkin’s "refusal to note what had been done before 1890 in the ironic self-deprecating vein by Laforgue and Corbière" (Tomlinson 1957, 214), which prompted Larkin to complain to Conquest: "If that chap Laforgue wants me to read his things, he’d better write them in English" ( SL 274). The inaccuracy of the comment is symptomatic of the tactics Larkin adopted: he chose to counter-attack by accepting the terms of his critics. He could easily have pointed out that he had read Laforgue, as he had already done to colleagues in the 1950s (Motion 1993, 202). He could have added that the "provincial" and "suburban" attitudes of which he stood accused were also a French Symbolist trademark, from Mallarmé (Everett 1980, 237) to the author of ‘Complainte de la lune en province’ (Laforgue 1947, 102-03). But Tomlinson’s failure to notice this, and Larkin’s decision not to set him right, betray the fact that in the post-war years, "foreign poetry" did not really refer to poems written in another language: it was actually becoming a by-word for certain attitudes within English poetry.

If Tomlinson had a very selective view of French Symbolism, other contemporaries were already turning to other directions altogether. Davie championed East and Central European poetry, but a more narrow version than his would soon be actively pushed by other English poets who had even fewer affinities with Larkin. The 1960s and 1970s saw the translation of poets such as Holub, Miłosz, Herbert, Pilinszky or Popa. In 1965, Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort set up the journal Modern Poetry in Translation , and Hughes also translated East European poetry (e.g. Pilinszky, Amichai). Thematically speaking, the emphasis was on poetry that was felt to respond to the pressures and disasters of contemporary world history. Significantly, it was partly for the absence of those themes that Larkin and the Movement had been criticized by Al Alvarez (Alvarez 1962, 21-23). East European poetry was also eagerly adopted by American poets responding to a Cold War climate and cultivating their cosmopolitan credentials Larkin had after all dismissed Tomlinson by writing to Conquest: "If he wants to take his time from bookish young Yanks, let him" ( SL 274). In terms of poetic form, a frequent neglect of rhyme or metre in the original was intensified by the process of translation. This yielded a product which could only vindicate the aesthetic choices of free verse poets in the Anglo-American scene, as expressed for instance in Tomlinson’s own poetic practice and his strictures about the metrical orthodoxy of Movement poets (Tomlinson 1957, 213). Larkin, by contrast, had mostly praised translations which achieved striking metrical effects: those of Celtic Revival poets, Davie and (implicitly) Fitzgerald.
"Foreign poetry, " in other words, was mostly a body of work that was helping shift the centre of the Anglo-American literary polysystem towards Larkin’s poetic enemies, and which consecrated what one critic has called the "imperial domination of the American free verse epic" (Clark 1999, 174). That this interest for a certain type of "foreign poetry" and its translation had political as well as formal implications was wryly acknowledged by Donald Davie himself in one of his last interviews:

Adam Czgrniawski: There is also another criticism, as I understand it. The fact that the Cold War created a demand, perhaps, an interest in East European poetry because it was a witness to the horrible events that were occurring at the time, and so one was reading the poetry to understand the politics of the situation rather than because these were good poems […] Now that the Cold War is over should we not look again at that poetry and say to ourselves, well maybe 80% of it was created for this specific purpose?
Donald Davie: Yes, it is what I very much would like to have, say, Tadeusz Rózewicz presented to me out of the ambience which Weissbort and Alvarez and Tom Paulin and others have created for him. To get him pulled free of the purely adventitious historic matrix in which he has been presented to us so far.
Adam Czerniamki: … Has Mickiewicz performed the role for the British poet that you were hoping for?
Donald Davie: Not at all. Not at all, of course. That is what I have to reply. Those hopes were no sooner expressed than they were dashed. I see no sign at all that Mickiewicz or Milosz are any more presences in modern British poetry than they were thirty or forty years ago. (Davie 1996)

Quite ironically, the one place where Mickiewicz remains present in modern British poetry is in Larkin’s Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse, which Davie spent much time demolishing for its philistinism and unadventurousness.
Larkin’s hostility to linguistically foreign poetry is thus bound up with tensions within English poetry, and the same dynamics can also help explain his negative comments about culturally foreign poetry. A poet, according to Larkin, cannot change cultural identities (which does not imply that a poet cannot be influenced by other cultures). Culturally foreign, in fact, often means American for Larkin (see Clark 1999). Apart from some kind remarks about individual poets like Donald Justice and Anthony Hecht, or the Beat poets "debased Whitman, but debased Whitman is better than debased Ezra Pound" FR 26) Larkin was generally quite critical of his American contemporaries, and he never tired of denouncing the effects of Auden’s American exile. Yet this doesn’t amount to a wholesale rejection of American poetry; rather, it is a comment on evolutions that had been taking place within American poetry for several decades. Larkin, who sometimes talked of an "Anglo-American mainstream" ( FR 204), is in fact making an intervention in the Anglo-American polysystem. Larkin cited Frost and Whitman among his poetic exemplars ( RW 86), but by the 1960s he felt that their influence on American poetry was either limited or seriously distorted: instead, the American scene appeared to Larkin to be dominated by the legacy of Poundian modernism, and its determination to be cosmopolitan was as suspicious as English poets’ turn towards the foreign. Robert Lowell was initially praised for Life Studies , but his next book "was all about foreign poets well, I think that’s the end" ( FR 26).
The cultivation of foreign poetry was bad enough, but if it was practised by Americans, it encapsulated everything that Larkin rejected. It was, so Larkin replied provocatively to Haffenden’s misgivings about "insularity, " an "American idea it’s American, isn’t it? Started with Pound and Eliot…" Yet the rest of Larkin’s reply makes it clear that this is only American in the sense that it corresponds to the hegemonic tendency within American poetry: "You remember that wonderful remark of Sidney Bechet when the recording engineer asked if he’d like to hear a playback: ‘That don’t do me no good.’ That’s what I think about foreign literature". ( FR 54)
Bechet, of course, stands for what Larkin admired most about American culture. His profound love of jazz dates back to the 1930s, i.e. a time when jazz was regarded by some as a Negroid-American music that was polluting the English landscape (Matless 1998, 73, 146). But unlike foreign poetry, jazz was greeted with "an enormous yes": ‘On me your voice falls as they say love should, / Like an enormous yes. My Crescent City / Is where your speech alone is understood […]’. ( CP 83)
Bechet might have seemed doubly foreign to Larkin (culturally as well as racially); he might also have seemed an equivalent of the rootless Auden, since he had himself left America for France (Osborne 2003, 20) by the time Larkin wrote his tribute. Yet Bechet’s presence is not experienced as threatening or interfering. This may be partly because Larkin regarded jazz as "an international language, not a local dialect" (quoted in Clark 1999, 181), but another reason is that with music, the issue of linguistic difference and translation does not arise. The choice of Bechet (rather than, say, Armstrong) means that the "voice" and "speech" mentioned in the poem are purely musical: "rather than words, " Bechet communicated through his instruments.
In ‘For Sidney Bechet’, Larkin paid a splendid tribute to jazz, but to what extent was jazz important to him as a poet? The "enormous yes" of the poem strikes an odd note in a poetry that is famous for its range of qualifiers and negatives. And although some scholars have drawn attention to echoes of jazz songs in some specific poems (see Leggett 1999), no reading of Larkin has ever shown that his poetry was influenced in any systematic way by jazz rhythms or techniques. This absence would reinforce the view that aesthetic determinism played a key part in Larkin’s rejection of foreign poetry: if poetry is what disappears in translation, it is as illusory to translate foreign poetry into English poetry as it is to translate music into language or vice versa. Larkin was significantly hostile to musical settings of poetry: "Real poems are not meant to be set to music […] or to be diluted or distracted by anything that is not themselves. They are self-sufficient as eggs" (FR 319). Here too, Larkin’s scepticism ties in with his rejection of translation: "The composer who sets a text to music is engaged in the same sequence of intuitive and technical motions which obtain in translation proper" (Steiner 1975, 416). And here too, we find him in illustrious company: Victor Hugo had once warned off interlopers with the blunt statement "Défense de déposer de la musique le long de cette poésie" (cited in Steiner 1975, 424).
But although it is a "foreign" medium for the poet, music did not confront Larkin with the same kind of otherness as foreign poetry. If Larkin said "yes" to foreign music in his poem to Bechet, his "No!" to foreign poetry resounded in several interviews. This is because neither linguistic nor aesthetic determinism are enough to account for Larkin’s hostility. Jazz did not affect English poetry in any significant way, but a strategically defined version of foreign poetry was obviously helping change power relations within English poetry, with results that Larkin tried to resist. When all those factors are combined, they leave one with a very different explanation for Larkin’s "No!" than the usual charge of xenophobic insularity. The focus so far has largely been on Larkin’s rejection of " foreign poetry, " but to understand Larkin’s attitude, we should really stress both words as well as the question mark, and try to define the changing meanings of " foreign poetry? " in English literary politics.
"Out of Reach": Philip Larkin’s ‘Here’
Jacques Nassif {2}

I am often asked how I hit upon the rather daunting idea of translating Larkin. The simple answer is that the idea came to me when I was living in the French town of Vendome with a conference interpreter called Susan Patton who was my partner. One of my fellow psychoanalysts, through another colleague, asked me if it would be possible to meet Susan Patton to show her his translations of Philip Larkin and talk them over with her, with a view to getting her to clear up certain points of difficulty and see if she would agree to modify and if necessary put right what he had done. They had dinner together while I stayed at home. When she got back Susan was truly shocked, appalled as the English might say. She found it impossible to understand how anyone could translate a poet in such a bland, unpoetic way.
Naturally, she had the Faber & Faber editions of the poems on her bookshelves such a pleasure to read and so easily slipped into a pocket. I took them down and thoroughly enjoyed what I read, somewhat angered nevertheless by the thought that a meeting with a friend had come to a dead end for my partner who was always so careful and professional in her dealings with others.
For some reason, the pleasure of discovering Larkin turned into a challenge, even if my partner did not present things explicitly in this way: such are the strange things that go on in a couple. I must admit that it was I who transformed her disappointment into a rivalry between two men seeking to charm the same woman. It was also a challenge between England and France as I was living with an Englishwoman and there was always the Channel between us, so difficult to cross and ever ready to turn into a challenge.
That was how the die was cast. But the wager was lost, first of all in a race against time. My colleague published his translation before I had finished mine even if several goes at translating Larkin had proved successful and had convinced me that I was up to the task, having shown my work to friends who were translators and having found a poetry publisher. This meant that we had to wait before publishing Larkin again in France, and had to buy back the rights that Solin, the first publisher, had acquired for poems that I myself had already translated. My publisher agreed to do this but the process inevitably took some time.
My wager was in fact doubly lost because the delay meant that my modest collection was not published until April 1994, six months after the death of Susan. So it was that all my efforts to win her over came to nothing, were "meaningless" as Larkin himself says in the poem written on the death of his father (‘An April Sunday brings the snow’: CP 21).
My pots of jam, to continue the metaphor from Larkin’s poem, did not even bring in the meagre income they were intended to produce as my publisher went bankrupt and I never got paid. Furthermore, the slim volume was quickly sold out, with the result that my translation has remained an almost private affair, so much so in fact that I wonder how the organisers of the Poitiers Larkin conference were able to track me down.
Understandably, I had no heart to press on with Larkin and afterwards I chose to go in a different direction, towards another exile, you might say. I no longer live with an Englishwoman in a small French town, but with a Spanish woman, so that I now spend my time between Paris and Barcelona, crossing the Pyrenees.
It would seem that working as a psychoanalyst on a consultancy basis in these two cities has also distanced me from the French language, my native tongue. It is also the case that journeys in poetry defamiliarise us with our own tongue, enabling us to rediscover our language and make it ring truer or purer.
This is how I came to be a translator of poetry, bringing together my personal experience and my role as psychoanalyst. It goes without saying that strictly speaking this role is ‘non-poetic’, but it is a role which nevertheless allows us glimpses, in other circumstances, of what it is that poets see or hear.
To return to Larkin, I was greatly helped in my project by two individuals. First, my friend Antoine Berman, known to some no doubt for his work on translation as "facing up to foreignness" and whose book of multiple translations of a John Donne poem was published by Gallimard after his death. Second, I should like to mention my friend Bernard Simeone, translator of Italian poets, also published in the "Orphée" collection.
Clearly, at that time I was in an environment where translation as intellectual endeavour was being reassessed and redefined with great conviction. You only went into translation on the understanding that you were taking something of a risk. What was at stake was seen as very important. The Larkin conference on ‘Resistance’, especially resistance to translation, was the final nudge which got me to come to Poitiers.
This is a very interesting word for a psychoanalyst, especially so given the misunderstandings it can lead to. As I see it, resistance points to the ways in which the signifier resists appropriation by the subject a definition which in the end we can apply to all languages. The subject is a product of the signifier while at the same time putting itself forward as wanting to possess the signifier, in such a way as to force it to disappear in the face of what is meant. But the signifier resists and the attempt to appropriate it, as soon as it is transformed into visible letters on the page, in fact intensifies, contrary to what the author might think he who strives to make the letters do his work. The letters escape his control and manage to circulate in spite of the subject: they manage to be heard by other ears, since it is with the ears that we read, giving voice to the letters on the page. This is how our missives reach other recipients, in other tongues. If I may be allowed to borrow Poe’s expression, these signifiers or "letters" are always "purloined".
What role does the psychoanalyst play when it comes to poetry and literature? It is my belief that the psychoanalyst’s role and duty is to take a stand against all use of psychoanalysis as a ready-made theory applicable to the text and/or the author, his duty is to act in fact like a living human shield. It is the psychoanalyst first and foremost who has to take a stand against psychoanalysis. This may sound paradoxical but those who are familiar with the terrorist tactics of literary scholars meting out psychoanalysis tailored to their own tastes, will readily see my point. Psychoanalysis is not and must not be a sort of panopticon, watching over the literary text, seeing into its every pre-determined corner.
Psychoanalysis is a willing ear tuned in to what makes the individual individual: it is a way of interpreting what the subject says in confidence. Consequently, it must avoid the pitfall of applying some pre-established theory to the text, seeking out confirmation. On the contrary, psychoanalysis strives to learn what it does not already know. Psychoanalysis worthy of the name is a form of knowledge working toward surprise discoveries.
So what happens when a psychoanalyst becomes a translator? My answer to the question will fall into two parts: first, a broad account of my efforts at translation, and second, a more detailed account of my translation of ‘Here’ (CP 136-37), the opening poem of The Whitsun Weddings.

The situation I am in today is one of a certain distance from the English language, though at the time when I was translating Larkin I was in the process of becoming bilingual. There were times when I used to switch from one language to another without noticing it, which obviously made finding good ideas a lot easier. I am still fascinated by translation, but it is now from Spanish into French that I work. I would never go so far as to translate into a language other than French, into English or Spanish for example. I believe that this is how we are to take Larkin’s exhortation cum threat concerning translation in general and poetry in particular ( RW 69). It is my view that someone who translates into a tongue which is not his native own is an idealist seeking the aid of knowledge to go beyond the realities of language: this is just not possible.
My situation is also one which benefits from hindsight, it being now ten years since the publication of my translation Où vivfe, sinon ? (Nassif 1994). So much so in fact that re-reading my translations sometimes fills me with admiration, but more often than not leaves me confused and even more often disappointed. If I could do them again I believe I would translate more straightforwardly with fewer embellishments.
In a sense then my ten years’ hindsight gives me the ideal perspective to look back and analyse how and where Larkin’s poems held out against my efforts and hold out still. I should make clear that it is not a question of resisting being turned into French, but resisting being turned into poems, an important distinction I am going to to try to illustrate with concrete examples.
Translating poetry is a highly specialised task, particularly so given the ease with which words are made to rhyme in French, which is not the case in English. But this is not where the major difficulty lies. The real obstacle in fact is the poetic conventions that rhyme is based on in French the infamous 12-syllable alexandrine line with the preciosity and prettinesses entailed in such writing and which would be so alien to Larkin’s intentions.
Attention must therefore be paid so as not to fall into the trap in French where it is occasionally