2020 Countdown, Day 23: there’s no place like home but I wish I could leave

According to latest statistics, over half of Americans under thirty now live with their parents. For the 23rd day before the end of 2020, a poem for people who’ve had to move back home. I left “Home is so Sad” on a “Please Slow Down” sign in a pretty suburban neighborhood. Young adults whose lives are stalled out probably don’t need to be reminded of either sentiment.



Home is so Sad

by Philip Larkin


Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,

Shaped to the comfort of the last to go

As if to win them back. Instead, bereft

Of anyone to please, it withers so,

Having no heart to put aside the theft


And turn again to what it started as,

A joyous shot at how things ought to be,

Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:

Look at the pictures and the cutlery.

The music in the piano stool. That vase.


I always felt it. It would last an hour, maybe a day. Stepping into my parents’ home, I’d get a wave of melancholy. The silence of that house, once so full of noise and life (a split-level house with thirteen people is rarely quiet); the useless objects that crowded it— a small cabinet whose sole purpose was to house telephone books, tchotchkes on the windowsill, an electric can opener on the counter; the deterioration of carpets and upholstery alongside the same downward slide of my beloved parents’ health. Yes, home is so sad.


No doubt my own kids will feel that way too, and maybe already do. This is perhaps the most melancholy feeling of all, to know that my life will some day depress visiting children.


No one’s whining of course—at least there is a home to come back to—and poet Philip Larkin isn’t whining (or whinging as he would say, being British) either. He looks at the old house in human terms, with sympathy, as if it were an aging athlete—

And turn again to what it started as,

A joyous shot at how things ought to be,

Long fallen wide.


Like the house it describes, the formality of the poem’s structure is out of fashion, from another time. But the neat stanzas and end-rhyme scheme are deeply pleasurable, metered and beautiful as the music in the piano stool. And such a title! One of my favorites.




By necessity poets’ biographies for this series are going to be brief. I can spend hours reading up on poets’ lives, but with a post-a-day schedule for this countdown, I won’t be able to put in the time. Apologies.

Philip Larkin (1922-1985) was born in Coventry, England. He went to Oxford where he met and became lifelong friends with a fellow curmudgeon, writer Kinsley Amis. He worked as a librarian at various universities, published two novels and enough poetry to make him the second most famous living British poet in his time. (The first being poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, who Crown watchers may have heard mention in several episodes.)

He died of cancer at age 63.


His life and work deserve a much fuller discussion. Link to an obituary here and an essay (along with a wonderful animation of his poem “Trees”) here.

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