AQA Poetry 'Born Yesterday' by Philip Larkin
by Phillip Larkin
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I first started reading Larkin when I was studying for my A-Levels and working part-time evenings and weekends for Blockbuster Video Rentals. As jobs go it wasn't that bad, and I did get nine free video rentals a week, so at the very least I managed to keep up with all the new video releases. Anyway, it was around this time that I started trying to write my own poetry and failing for the most part. I bought a small notebook and would jot down any interesting things I heard in pubs or cafes and enjoyed seeing myself as something of a trainee poet. One of my favourite haunts was an old book shop called Books Do Furnish A Room in Leamington Spa which, unfortunately, is no longer there. The shop owner was a wonderfully cynical philosophy graduate and one day, sick of hearing me babble on about poetry, he told me to read some early Philip Larkin and get over myself. Since then I have been fan of Larkin's delicately coarse style and I would encourage anyone interested in poetry to take a look. His poem Born Yesterday isn't one of my favourites, but it's certainly an interesting one, not least because of the real-life events which informed it. Written in two stanzas with a short line and informal tone touching on affectionate and paternal, Born Yesterday presents itself as a few kindly words of advice from an older man to someone new in the world. At the heart of this poem there is a profound sentiment and one that we would all do well to remember as we struggle through life: to take joy in who you are.
If you were to sit down and think of one piece of advice that you would offer to a young person you would probably come up with something quite similar to Larkin's advice. People are fond of telling you that anything is possible and life is an adventure and so on, but there is an awful lot of happiness to be found in finding simple satisfaction in your own individuality. At the start of the poem the speaker uses the metaphor of a tightly folded flower bud to introduce the subject of his poem: a friend's baby daughter. He tells the baby that he has wished for her something 'none of the others would', suggesting that he wants to give her something original and personal. However, from a structural point of view this is also an allusion to Elizabethan conceit poems in which the poet breaks with convention and does something different, usually revealing affection by teasing the subject and using clever, self-conscious writing. Rather than wishing her to be beautiful and innocent he wishes her to be ordinary, since wihtout the burden of beauty and expectation she is free to be who she wants to be. He is essentially saying that should she grow up to be a beautiful woman then more power to her; however, should the adverse be true then there is much to said about the virtue of being ordinary.