I Remember, I Remember, Philip Larkin: Summary, Analysis & Themes

Uncover the emotional depths of Philip Larkin's "I Remember, I Remember" with a comprehensive study guide featuring summaries, analyses, themes, and literary devices.

"I Remember, I Remember Poem Text, Philip Larkin"

Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
"Why, Coventry!" I exclaimed. "I was born here."

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been 'mine'
So long, but found I wasn't even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed

For all those family hols? . . . A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
'Was that,' my friend smiled, 'where you "have your roots"?'
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:

By now I've got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn't spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family

I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
'Really myself'. I'll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,

Determined to go through with it; where she
Lay back, and 'all became a burning mist'.
And, in those offices, my doggerel
Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,

Who didn't call and tell my father There
Before us, had we the gift to see ahead -
'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,'
My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well,
I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.
'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'

"Summary of I Remember, I Remember by Philip Larkin"

Stanza 1:
The speaker recalls a train journey in the cold new year, where the train unexpectedly stops in Coventry, the town of his birth. He observes the familiar surroundings and reminisces about his past connection to this place.
Stanza 2:
As the train halts, the speaker leans out, searching for familiar landmarks but struggles to recognize the town. The uncertainty of his surroundings leaves him disoriented, unable to distinguish one part of the town from another.
Stanza 3:
Amidst the confusion, the train's whistle blows, signifying its departure. The speaker reflects on his "roots" in Coventry, rejecting the idea and instead emphasizing that it was only the place where his unfulfilled childhood transpired.
Stanza 4:
The speaker further reflects on his unremarkable past, mentioning the garden that failed to inspire him and the lack of meaningful interactions he had, symbolized by the reference to an inanimate "old hat." He recalls the uneventful nature of his interactions with the people around him.
Stanza 5:
The speaker remembers a group of individuals, presumably a family, that he never sought solace in during his moments of distress. He mentions the comic Ford they owned and a farm where he could have been his true self, highlighting missed opportunities for connection and belonging.
Stanza 6:
Continuing his reflections, the speaker recalls a moment of youthful romance that never materialized into something significant, emphasizing the sense of missed opportunities and unfulfilled desires. He also mentions his unappreciated creative endeavors, underscoring the lack of recognition and appreciation he experienced in his youth.
Stanza 7:
In the concluding lines, the speaker's friend notices his discontent, to which the speaker responds with resignation, acknowledging that his dissatisfaction is not the fault of the place itself but a broader realization that life can be devoid of meaningful experiences. The poem concludes with a melancholic recognition of life's inherent unpredictability and the elusive nature of fulfillment.

Analysis of I Remember, I Remember by Philip Larkin

"Analysis of I Remember, I Remember" provides a nuanced exploration of Philip Larkin's poem, delving into the complexities of the speaker's relationship with his childhood town, Coventry. The analysis dissects each stanza, unraveling the speaker's emotional detachment and disillusionment, and emphasizes the contrast between idealized memories and the less-than-ideal reality of his past experiences.

Stanza One

Coming up England by a different line
“Why, Coventry!” I exclaimed. “I was born here.”

The analysis begins by examining the context of the speaker's sudden arrival in Coventry, unraveling the significance of the train's divergence from its usual path. The observation of the cold season and the brief glimpse of the town highlights the initial excitement mixed with a tinge of ambiguity as the speaker announces his connection to Coventry.

Stanza Two

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
Were standing, had we annually departed

The exploration of the second stanza emphasizes the speaker's search for familiarity in Coventry, revealing his desire for a sense of belonging. The analysis highlights the speaker's struggle to navigate the town's landscape, underscoring his lack of connection with the city.

Stanza Three

For all those family hols? . . . A whistle went:
I wanted to retort, just where I started:

The third stanza elucidates the speaker's internal conflict as he grapples with the idea of roots and belonging. The analysis delves into the speaker's reluctance to claim Coventry as his roots, emphasizing the underlying detachment and disappointment associated with his childhood in the town.

Stanza Four

By now I’ve got the whole place clearly charted.
And here we have that splendid family

Through the exploration of the fourth stanza, the analysis highlights the speaker's recollection of the lackluster memories associated with Coventry, revealing his unfulfilled expectations and the absence of joyful experiences in his childhood. The depiction of the garden and family dynamics underscores the underlying dissatisfaction with his past.

Stanza Five

I never ran to when I got depressed,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,

The analysis of the fifth stanza delves into the speaker's idealized imaginings of a different, more nurturing childhood. The emphasis on unfulfilled desires and the portrayal of an idealized refuge amplifies the contrast between the speaker's yearning for a comforting home and the reality of his disconnected experiences in Coventry.

Stanza Six

Determined to go through with it; where she
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,

Through the exploration of the sixth stanza, the analysis delves into the speaker's poignant reminiscence of missed opportunities and unfulfilled recognition. The depiction of intimate moments and the absence of validation highlights the speaker's disillusionment and the sense of unfulfilled potential in his youth.

Stanza Seven

Who didn’t call and tell my father There
I suppose it’s not the place’s fault,’ I said.

The analysis of the final stanza brings the speaker's reflections to a close, emphasizing his resigned acceptance of the past. The discussion of the speaker's conflicted feelings and the concluding cynical statement underscores the complex interplay between disillusionment and acceptance of life's imperfections.

I Remember, I Remember by Philip Larkin Themes

In "I Remember, I Remember" by Philip Larkin, several themes emerge that contribute to the overall emotional resonance of the poem. These themes reflect the speaker's disillusionment and emotional detachment as he reflects on his past experiences in Coventry. The poem delves into themes such as:

1. Nostalgia and Disillusionment: The poem grapples with the tension between nostalgia for the past and the realization that the speaker's memories are tinged with disappointment and unfulfilled desires. The speaker's longing for an idealized childhood contrasts sharply with the mundane and unremarkable reality of his experiences in Coventry.

2. Identity and Belonging: The poem explores the speaker's struggle to find a sense of identity and belonging in his childhood town. It portrays the speaker's inability to connect with his surroundings, highlighting the absence of meaningful relationships and a sense of place, emphasizing a profound sense of detachment.

3. Loss and Missed Opportunities: The poem emphasizes the theme of loss, particularly the loss of meaningful experiences and missed opportunities. The speaker reminisces about moments that never came to fruition, highlighting the unfulfilled potential and longing for a more meaningful and fulfilling existence.

4. Cynicism and Resignation: The poem conveys a sense of cynicism and resignation as the speaker reflects on the past. The speaker's resigned acceptance of life's imperfections and the acknowledgment that disappointment can be found anywhere underscore a sense of disillusionment and emotional detachment from the world.

5. The Passage of Time: The poem highlights the passage of time and the inevitable changes that come with it. Through the train journey and the shifting landscapes, the poem conveys the transient nature of life and the bittersweet realization that the past cannot be recaptured.

These themes collectively contribute to the overall mood of melancholy and introspection that permeates the poem, reflecting the speaker's complex emotional landscape and his struggle to reconcile his idealized memories with the stark realities of his past.

Literary Devices in I Remember, I Remember by Philip Larkin

"I Remember, I Remember" by Philip Larkin employs several poetic devices to convey the speaker's complex emotions and reflections. Here are some examples:

1. Alliteration: "stopped" and "sprint" emphasize the suddenness of the event, highlighting the speaker's surprise.
2. Enjambment: The use of enjambment in "Our garden, first: where I did not invent / Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits" emphasizes the continuity of the speaker's unremarkable childhood.
3. Imagery: The description of "men with number plates / Sprint down the platform" creates a vivid image of hurried movement, enhancing the sense of urgency and excitement.
4. Metaphor: The phrase "where my childhood was unspent" serves as a metaphor for the unfulfilled potential and unremarkable experiences the speaker had in Coventry.
5. Irony: The speaker's remark that "Nothing, like something, happens anywhere" conveys a sense of resignation and ironic acceptance of life's unpredictability.

The poem satirically lists events that didn't happen during Philip Larkin's time in his hometown, Coventry, presenting a reflective account of his experiences.


  • The repetition of 'I Remember, I Remember' conveys a reflective tone, emphasizing the cyclical nature of returning to one's hometown.
  • Larkin's use of the collective pronoun 'We' highlights the sense of a close-knit community typical of a small town.
  • The embedded quotations, "Why Coventry!" and "I was born here," illustrate a sudden outburst of memory and add depth to the narrative.
  • The use of the colloquial phrase 'wasn't even clear' contributes to the fabrication of childhood memories, creating a sense of nostalgia.
  • The verb 'retort' emphasizes the emotional distance between Larkin and his past, revealing his struggle to reconcile with his childhood.
  • The sophisticated expression 'theologies' reflects a mature and contemplative tone, inviting deeper reflections on his hometown.
  • The metaphorical use of 'old hat' symbolizes the influence of elderly relatives on Larkin's upbringing.
  • 'The boys all biceps and the girls all chests' encapsulates the various stages of growth within the community, highlighting the changes brought about by puberty.
  • The use of 'trembling' reveals Larkin's teenage angst and emotions, contributing to the overall reflective tone of the poem.
  • The passive verb 'lay' implies a lack of control and underscores the idea that one's past experiences shape their identity.


  • The use of 'Our garden, first:' sets the stage for the experiences and lessons Larkin learned during his upbringing in Coventry.
  • The extensive use of punctuation throughout the poem symbolizes the multitude of encounters and memories associated with Coventry for Larkin.
  • The standalone final stanza concludes that our past shapes us, while recognizing that such experiences can occur anywhere.
  • The italicized texts embedded within the poem represent an additional voice, possibly a memory from Larkin's formative years that influenced him.


'I Remember, I Remember' was written by Larkin after an unexpected stop in Coventry, his birthplace and hometown for the first eighteen years of his life. Coventry's history, deeply impacted by the war, particularly the Coventry Blitz, and its status as a mining town, significantly influenced Larkin's upbringing and perspective.

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