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Born Yesterday by Philip Larkin

Most of all, may you be safe, may the spaces around you that I can’t touch be filled with my love, and may you go to sleep every night believing there’s always tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Born Yesterday
Philip Larkin

For Sally Amis

Tightly-folded bud,
I have wished you something
None of the others would:
Not the usual stuff
About being beautiful,
Or running off a spring
Of innocence and love —
They will all wish you that,
And should it prove possible,
Well, you’re a lucky girl.

But if it shouldn’t, then
May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
Nothing uncustomary
To pull you off your balance,
That, unworkable itself,
Stops all the rest from working.
In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.

1 This is from Collected Poems by Philip Larkin, published by Farrar, Straus and Girroux, 2003.

2 This is a reading of Larkin’s poem, by Tom O’Bedlam.

Comments (9)

  • A fantastic summation of the virtues of the ordinary, those qualities you can count on. Really liked this one.

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  • good poetry!

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  • Ldawwgbraggerzz

    love this poem top banter I love the ambiguity of the poem. If this isn’t poetry I don’t know what is! I was in a dark place and then my friend said hey why don’t you read this poem? And as an open minded spontaneous person I was all for the idea! Now I feel rejuvenated. Personally I feel it really reflects modern day society and standards of beauty. But remember nobody’s perfect just be yourself because everyone else is already taken. Keep up the good work Larkin!!!!!! xxxxx

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  • Donna Enguita

    I rediscovered this poem recently when my Grand-daughter was born and thought it was perfect. I studied it for my O level at school and had buried it away in my brain roladex after learning it by heart all those years ago. When Penelope was born last week I thought “tightly folded bud” as I held her at an hour old. The whole poem came back to me. I thought it particularly poignant in this day and age of superficial and materialistic values….may you be ordinary and dull…yes because then the spectacular things you will achieve will all come from within you. I love poetry and what it can invoke.

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  • princess1234

    Very intriguing and heart-felt poem! Touched my heart and made me feel surprised as I read it.

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  • Worth reading Sinead Morrissey’s response to this poem “On Balance”. It gives a different perspective (importantly, a female one) that breaks off from this one powerfully and profoundly.

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