Collected Poemsnby Philip Larkinnedited by Anthony ThwaitenNew York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux;n330 pp., $22.50nPhilip Larkin, who died in 1985 atnthe age of 63, has been commonlynregarded as the finest English poet ofnhis time. His reputation is founded notnmerely on the opinion of professionalncritics but on his remarkable popularitynwith readers, including many who rarelynlook at poetry. As I begin writing thisnreview, I notice that Larkin’s CollectednPoems is a Book-of-the-Month Clubnselection, which is decidedly unusualnfor a book of verse. Anyone attemptingnto gauge Larkin’s achievement mustnponder the reasons for his nearlynRobert B. Shaw, a poet, teaches atnMount Holyoke College. His latestncollection is The Wonder of SeeingnDouble (University of MassachusettsnPress).nBeyond All Thisnby Robert B. Shawn”. . . the wish to be alone.”n— “Wants”nunique popular appeal.nIt might be easier to explain if henhad engaged in the sort of self-promotionnthat many poets now accept as annatural adjunct to their calling. In fact,nLarkin’s poems, once written, had tonmake their way with very little helpnfrom him. He did not give readings,nand only rarely agreed to be interviewed.nHe did not cultivate disciplesnby teaching at universities on shorttermnhigh-paid appointments. Althoughnhe did his share of book reviewing,nhe almost never wrote about contemporarynpoetry; while maintainingnlifelong friendships with a few writersnsuch as Kingsley Amis, Larkin distancednhimself from the English literarynestablishment and its policies andnperquisites.nThe distance was geographical asnwell as emotional. Literary activity innBritain remains centered in London;nLarkin, for most of his life, remainedncentered in the Humberside city ofnHull, where he spent his days as headnlibrarian at the university. He likednnnHull, he once said, “because it’s so farnaway from everywhere else.” In thisnisolation he produced the poems thatnmade him famous; and he producednthem very sparingly. In this, too, henshowed himself indifferent to the obviousnways of advancing a literary career:nfrequent appearance in print is certainlynone of these. After his first book. ThenNorth Ship (1945), which he virtuallyndisowned as juvenilia, Larkin publishednonly three slim volumes during hisnlifetime. Appearing about once a decade,ntogether they contain 85 poems—na body of work remarkablynsmall in proportion to the reputation itnengendered. Clearly something, ornseveral things, in this writing struck anpowerful chord in those who read it.nWhat could it — or they — have been?nSeveral explanations come to mind,nall no doubt valid up to a point. Onenthing that strikes me immediatelynwhen reading Larkin’s mature work isnits profound descriptive fidelity. Hisnyouthful ambition was to be a novelist,nand he published two novels in hisnNOVEMBER 1989/29n