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Seventy Feet Down By Philip Larkin - With A Free Essay Review

"Seventy Feet Down" By Philip Larkin: Reality Versus Imaginary

In “Seventy feet down”, Philip Larkin depicts an internal monologue that reveals a desire for self-exploration. The artistic ego longs for his rich, fantasy-like inner life as symbolized by the “sea” while the immediate reality is symbolized by the “sky”. The outside world is preventing him to enter his inner world. With vivid imageries and personifications, Larkin provides a clear view on the reality and imaginary through the eyes of the persona. Readers are joined on his journey between the two worlds.

In the first stanza, the poem describes the entrance into the imaginary life. “Seventy feet down/the sea explodes upwards” there's a force reaching out to him: the sea. The sea is a place of unknown due to its depth and the water that fills it which sometimes prevent us from seeing what's inside the ocean. As the “steps” and “running suds” are presented to the reader in the next few lines, one may get the image of being closer to the sea. In the fifth line, the rhetorical exclamation “rejoice!” leads one to think it's a reflection of the artistic ego's emotions as he joins the sea---his inner world.

Continuing the first stanza, the second stanza is the discovery made during the stay in the imaginary life. With personification and the vivid imagery of “rocks”, “mussels” and “limpets”, a shade of surrealism is added to the poem. The line “Creatures, I cherish you!” gives a direct indication of how enjoyable the persona finds the imaginary world is.

Stanza three transitions the inner world to the reality. The “sky” builds and replaces the ocean imageries from the last stanza. If the sea is a place of fantasy, then the sky is a stark contrast due to its clarity and association with the reality: as the sky builds, things become more related to daily life such as the words “slat”, “grape”, “fields” and “radio”. Line 14-15 “Radio rubs its legs, telling me of elsewhere” underscores the pull of the outside world with a personification as if the world has a mind of its own and is forcing itself upon the artistic ego. Readers are compelled to ask: where eslewhere?

The fourth stanza illustrates that elsewhere is the reality. “Barometers”, “ports”, “inns” are all man-made objects. Natural elements “wind” and “fire” relates back to the “sea” and “hounds” is certainly a “creature” as mentioned in stanza one. The conflicting thoughts are highlighted through using elements of nature against artificial things. One may feel that this stanza is where the two worlds collides as the two appears to have a confrontation. “Ports wind-shuttered”, “Fires in humped inns”. The tone of the poem grows more violent. This is the height of the conflict between reality and imaginary.

The tone of the fifth stanza changes dramatically after the first line “Keep it all off!”, which can be seen as a rejection towards “elsewhere”. The tone becomes calmer returning to its nature imageries. As the imaginary world has been chosen, the same surreal feeling surrounds the poem again with epithet related to the sea such as “leather-black waters”.

The last stanza can be seen as a reunion with the inner world as the artistic ego seems satisfied now that he's “guarded by brilliance”---the safe enclosure of his imagination. The last line “grope like mad worlds westward” not only echos the second line from the first stanza “the sea explodes upwards” and “telling me of elsewhere” in terms of direction and realms, it also gives the impression that the persona had truly chosen his inner world.

Larkin presents two realms: real and imaginary. The poem seems to imply that the latter is the release of the soul and reality is hindering us to truly explore oneself.



If someone, a bad poet, tells me that King Richard had the heart of a lion, then given the general unlikelihood of a heart having been surgically transplanted from a lion to a medieval king, I feel justified in assuming that the poet is either lying or speaking figuratively. I can then recall that the heart has been often imagined to be the seat of courage and that the lion is regarded as a fearless predator, and believing that poets are more likely to speak figuratively than lie brazenly, I feel further justified in thinking the poet is telling me that Richard was a brave warrior. Since the stuff about Richard having the heart of a lion is a cliche, however, I could probably skip the analysis that justifies my interpretation and just say that Richard is being imagined as brave. In most cases of good poetry, however, I cannot skip that part.

Larkin is a good poet. He does not give us cliches whose figurative meaning can just be read off without further ado. So if you want to claim that "Seventy Feet Under" is an allegory of the conflict between the poet’s “inner life” and “immediate reality,” the process of justification required will be quite extensive.

You need to begin with what the poem is literally about. Literally speaking, the speaker of the poem is seventy feet above the surface of the sea. For this reason, and because he seems to be isolated, and because he references "landing-stage steps" and claims to be guarded by "brilliance," which word makes us think of light, it is reasonable to think that the speaker of the poem is in a lighthouse and the poem is about what things are like for someone living in a lighthouse. (The poem belongs to a section of poems called "Living.”)

You need to begin there. You need to begin with what the poet is actually describing. So in the first place the sea refers to the sea, and steps refer to steps, and mussels refers to mussels that are clinging to rocks (their "tenacity" is literal too.)

Once you've figured out what the poem is describing, then you will be in a position to ask whether the poem also has an allegorical meaning, and what that meaning might be, and how its existence might be demonstrated. In the current draft of your essay, you make very little effort to demonstrate the existence of such a meaning. You skip the step that involves clarifying what the poem describes, and for the most part skip the steps that involve demonstrating a link between the things described and the proposed figurative meaning, and you go straight to assertions of this kind: "The poem describes the entrance into the imaginary life;" the word "rejoice!," "leads one to think it's a reflection of the artistic ego's emotions as he joins the sea--his inner world."

So why is the sea his "inner world" and not just the sea? How does the word "rejoice" reflect "the artistic ego's emotions"? Why, to move on to your assertions about the subsequent stanza, is reference to "rocks" and "mussels" "surrealism" instead of realism. Why, next, is the sky associated with reality while the sea is associated with fantasy?

I am not trying to imply here that the poet did not think that the life of the imagination or the life of the poet was analogous in some way to the life of the lighthouse keeper. I think you could write an essay that makes a reasonable argument of that kind. But, again, you need to begin with what the poem is in the first place about: A lighthouse keeper listening to the radio in the midst of what appears to be a storm. Explain how the poet creates that scene. Explain what the lighthouse keeper experiences and what he thinks. Then, and only then, ask whether and in what way this lighthouse keeper might serve as an analogue of the poet.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: dreamyclouds

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