Use of Tone in “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin
In his poem “This Be the Verse,” Philip Larkin uses several different tones. Over the course of just 12 lines, the tone goes from harsh to soft, with several stops in between. The poem immediately grabs the reader’s attention, goes on to convey emotions like hopelessness and bitterness, then ends with an imperative. Despite the complex and frequent changes, the poem’s overall tone is darkly humorous.
In the first stanza, Larkin uses harsh slang to make a jarring assertion about parents: “They fuck you up your mom and dad” (1). It is vitriolic, and it is an absurdly broad generalization. However, it is so vitriolic and so absurd that it is funny. In the second line, Larkin is gentler and momentarily lets parents off the hook, explaining that “They may not mean to, but they do” (2). The tone here is softer, almost apologetic. Larkin is telling us that they may try their hardest to be good parents. But despite their best intentions, they can’t help but “fuck you up” (Larkin 1). The stanza ends bitterly, with the blame put back on the parents: “They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you” (Larkin 3-4). This illustrates the burden that (in Larkin’s opinion) parents cannot help but pass on for their children to bear. The first stanza ends on a note of hopelessness.
The second stanza begins on a much gentler tone, again explaining that the blame does not lay entirely with the parents. Larkin reminds us that although we have been damaged by our parents, they were damaged, “in their turn” (Larkin 5) by their parents. Just as Larkin would have us feeling empathy for our parents, he disparages their parents, calling them “fools” (6). The next line is interesting, saying...