This Be The Verse
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"This Be The Verse" is a lyric poem in three verses of long measure with an alternating rhyme scheme, by the English poet Philip Larkin (1922–1985). It was written around April 1971, first published in the August 1971 issue of New Humanist, and appeared in the 1974 collection High Windows.
It is one of Larkin's best-known poems; the opening lines ("They fuck you up, your mum and dad") are among his most frequently quoted. Larkin himself compared it with W. B. Yeats's "Lake Isle of Innisfree" and said he expected to hear it recited in his honour by a thousand Girl Guides before he died. It is frequently parodied. Television viewers in the United Kingdom voted it one of the "Nation's Top 100 Poems".
The poem consists of three verses of four iambic tetrameter on an alternating rhyme scheme. The speaker, addressing the reader directly, expresses the idea that parents put a lot of emotional weight on their children with the famous line "They fuck you up, your mum and dad". The speaker goes on to explain that it is not intentional, but stems from their own emotional baggage (with "some extra, just for you"). In the second stanza, the speaker describes the way that the reader's parents were also given this emotional trauma by their parents. The third stanza is where the poem makes its assertion: the misery humanity experiences is a cycle that expands continuously. The speaker tells the reader that they should escape this cycle as soon as they possibly can, and to not have any kids, which would perpetuate the cycle.
A testament to the enduring appeal of Larkin's poem came in April 2009, when the first four lines were recited by a British appeal court judge as part of his judgement of a particularly acrimonious divorce case involving the future custody arrangements of a nine-year-old child. Lord Justice Wall referred to the emotional damage caused to the child, saying: "These four lines seem to me to give a clear warning to parents who, post-separation, continue to fight the battles of the past, and show each other no respect."
The title of the poem is an allusion to Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem. Stevenson's thought of a happy homecoming in death is given an ironic turn.
References in popular culture
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- The final stanza of the poem, in its entirety, becomes the last words of villain Count Olaf in The End, the final book of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
- Anne Clark performs a version to music in her album R.S.V.P., calling it "a nursery rhyme for grown-ups". The song was first published on her album "Hopeless Cases" (1987).
- The title of the 1991 Issue 37 of Granta "The Family: They Fuck You Up" is taken from the poem, which is also referenced in the editor's introduction.
- The opening of the poem is referenced in the fourth episode of the third series of the E4 drama Skins.
- In April 2009 a British Appeal Court judge quoted the opening stanza during a custody case, saying "These four lines give a clear warning to parents". The popular tabloid newspaper The Sun, reporting on the story, took the opportunity to quote the poem in full.
- The opening line was quoted by the Monkey Dust character known only as Chat room pervert, who writes "they fuck you up, your mum and dad... as eminem says".
- British clinical psychologist Oliver James published a book in 2002 entitled They F*** You Up, starting each chapter with a line or stanza from Larkin's verse, followed in 2010 by a further book on parenting and child development called How Not to F*** Them Up.
- The Talking Heads song "Sax and Violins" features a variation of the poem's opening line: "Mom and Pop, they will fuck you up, for sure."
- The Philadelphian punk band Ex Friends put the words of the poem to music in their digital single "This Be The Verse".
- The American television program Criminal Minds quoted the first verse in the second episode of its ninth season, but used the euphemism "They mess you up, your mum and dad."
- Grant Morrison's Multiversity name checks the poem in the third issue, Earth Me, in which Alexis Luthor, daughter of Lex Luthor refers to it as "the best poem ever".
- In The Wicked + The Divine, the first verse of the poem is associated with the character of Lucifer.
- A former peer quotes the opening verses to Nancy in "Dearborn-Again", the episode 10, season 6 of Weeds, an American TV show.
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie possibly references the opening of this poem in one of the voxpops of the first episode of season four. Laurie's character says to the correct iambic rhythm: "oh, how does that poem go? 'They bring you up, your mum and dad.'" The interlude is characteristically vague and without context.
- Allison Williams' character can be seen quoting the first two lines of the poem to Benedict Cumberbatch's character in the trailer for Patrick Melrose.
- Streetwear brand Supreme used the first verse of the poem on both a hoodie and t-shirt as part of its FW16 collection.
- First and last stanzas credited to poet Ruth Zardo in ‘’Kingdom of the Blind’’ by Louise Penny.
- First line of the poem is quoted in ‘’Little Fires Everywhere’’ by Celeste Ng.
- Rhys-Jones, Griff, ed. (1996), The Nation's Favourite Poems, BBC Books, ISBN 978-0-563-38782-4
- Foundation, Poetry (2019-04-15). "This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2019-04-16.
- Pidd, Helen (30 April 2009). "They quote you Larkin, your appeal court judges". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 November 2009.
- Crick, Andy (30 April 2009). "His lewdship". The Sun. Retrieved 16 November 2009.
- "This Be The Verse, (Digital Only) Single". Ex Friends. Bandcamp.
- Philip Larkin reads "This Be the Verse" - YouTube Audio File.
- The Poet of Dirty Words: History takes a second look at Philip Larkin by Stephen Burt at slate.com.
- Full text of the poem Philip Larkin, "This Be the Verse" from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.