[28 November 1950. From The Less Deceived]
April 2002. Chosen by Andrew Swarbrick.
Larkin claimed a special affection for 'Absences', perhaps because he knew that in matter and manner it works in ways which might take his readers, and himself, slightly by surprise: "I fancy it sounds like a different, better poet than myself," he wrote of it. 'Absences' was one of the poems from The Less Deceived that we O level schoolboys of the early 1970s didn't much bother with; not when there were so many other poems which seeemed to say so much more. Now, the poem's not-saying, the absorption in emptiness, the thrill of self-forgetting seem more fundamental to Larkin's imagination as a kind of half-submerged, almost-secret longing.
February 2010. Chosen by Graham Chesters.
Larkin thought of the last line as sounding ‘like a slightly unconvincing translation from a French symbolist’ – and surprisingly went on to say that he wished he could write like this more often. Coming from a background of research into French poetry, I have naturally been intrigued by this confessional analysis. And all the more so since Larkin’s wish wasn’t a casual comment – there is plenty of evidence that, of all his poems, ‘Absences’ held a special place in his eyes. When asked to choose a poem that represented his work, he submitted ‘Absences’ to an anthology called Poet’s Choice in 1962. Elsewhere in his selected letters, he writes ‘I have...special affection for ABSENCES’ and in his famous interview with John Haffenden he again mentions ‘Absences’ as a candidate for his most typical poem. So I could hazard a guess that if Larkin were asked for a Poem of the Month he would choose this little ten-liner whose deceptively objective sea- and cloudscape is shattered by that explosive and bewildering last line.