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Larkin's 'Days': Realization Of Human Limits - With A Free Essay Review

What is human's position in the universe? Many people have tried to answer this question, be it scientists, astrologist, or religious leaders, all try to explain the position of human civilization. Poet Philip Larkin has an answer of his own, as well as an observation. "Where can we live but days?" is the central question raised by Larkin's poem "Days" which revolves around the theme realization of human limits. Larkin uses rhetorical questions and metaphors to bring out the message of his poem.

The opening line "what are days for?" makes a striking start for the answers to follow: "days are where we live". The word "where" suggests its a place in a static form that confines us. They "wake" human beings, showing that humans are passive in the relationship and implies that humans have little control over days. It seems humans have come to the conclusion that "they are to be happy in", to make the best out of a situation in a passive voice. The "priest and the doctor" were there to solve the question, yet they ran over the fields instead of answering it directly. "Running" creates a sense of urgency, implying that humans are racing against time to find meaning.

Metaphors also play an integral part in conveying the theme. "Days" is used as a synonym for time, the priest and the doctor representatives of social beliefs. For the former, time is depicted through one of its measurements, a miniature reflection. If days are "where we live in", human beings are living in a small part of the vast concept of Time, contrasting human's limitations. The latter represents the ideologies that humans succumb to while trying to explain the universe. It shows that there's an innate desire of humanity to rationalize or conceptualize life through religion or science, but they may not reflect the reality. Humans accept adequate, but may not be satisfying explanations of life.

"Days" by Philip Larkin is about the realization of human limits: how humans and time have an unequal relationship and the civilization's struggle to understand the universe.



This seems like a genuine effort to read the poem and takes a serious stab at articulating its meaning. Some parts of your explanation are too vague, however. This is especially the case in the first paragraph: "revolves around the theme 'realization of human limits'"; "Larkin uses rhetorical questions to bring out the message of the poem." Why not just tell us what limits you think apply, what exactly you think the message of the poem is, and then explain how that message is conveyed. In the second and third paragraph, you focus on specific lines and words with a view to establishing that the poem's theme concerns human limits. I find the interpretation questionable, however, and wonder whether your idea of what the poem is about to some extent determines how you interpret the significance of particular words and images instead of the other way around.

The last sentence of the first paragraph suggests that in telling us how the message is conveyed, you will look first at what you call "rhetorical questions." But you don't really examine the rhetorical status of the questions in the poem. You begin your analysis by claiming that the opening question "makes a striking start for the answers to follow" and I suspect you knew that to call the question "striking" is not really to say much about it at all. If there were a way of explaining what exactly makes the question striking, then you would probably have something worth saying. Why is it an interesting question to ask? What does the question mean?

You say later in the essay (in the next paragraph) that "days" is a synonym for "time." It seems that you wait to make that point because you want to devote one paragraph to figurative language ("Metaphors also play an integral part"), but if you are going to start with the opening line, you may as well explain what you think the opening line is about.

You also focus on the word "where," which "suggests it's [note apostrophe, but is "it" the right pronoun for "days"?] a place ... that confines us." How does that claim chime with the claim that the word "days" is a synonym for "time"? And is it really the case that we are confined where we live? I live in a house, but am not confined to it; perhaps I am confined to the Milky Way, where I also live, but that's not quite like being bounded in a nutshell. But even if the point is that we are confined in "days," is that a bad situation that we are forced "to make the best ... of" or is it not rather the case that given that we do and can only live in days (one possible interpretation of the second question in the poem), we just ought to be happy about that, and not be hankering after some other place, or some other mode of existence?

You turn next to the word "wake" in the sentence "They come, they wake us / Time and time over." And you say this shows that "humans have little control over days." But again what does that mean? Perhaps you mean we have no control over the rising of the sun, but it doesn't really seem like that's what you mean, and it wouldn't be a very interesting thing for the poem to be telling us in any case.

Your third paragraph seems highly speculative and vague. You take "the priest and the doctor" to represent what you call "social beliefs" and say that for the priest "time is depicted through one of its measurements" but don't clarify what that means or why you think the priest (perhaps you meant to say the doctor, if you are taking "doctor" as a representative of "science") would have that conception of time. You say "the latter," where "latter" refers grammatically to "the doctor," "represents the ideologies that humans succumb to while trying to explain the universe." That is also pretty vague. What ideologies are you thinking of here? Why is the doctor representative of them?

For what it's worth, I think your reference to rhetorical questions would be a good place to start to reassess the poem. The second question, if not the first, really does seem to be a rhetorical question at first reading. That is, it seems to demand initially the answer "nowhere," as though to say that life really is confined, if you want to put it that way, to day to day existence. This living from day by day is all there is. This is where we get to be happy and what we ought to be happy with because there is nothing else. But then the poet reminds us of priests and doctors who, perhaps stupidly, take the rhetorical question to be a real question, and instead of answering "nowhere" come up with other silly answers (heaven?). That would be an unreasonable view if "doctor" meant "scientist" but I doubt that's what it means, and assume it means rather "doctor of philosophy" or perhaps even "doctor of divinity."

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: dreamyclouds


*credits to my friend who phrased the theme.
April,29 2012

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