On the surface, ‘Mr Bleaney’ is a poem about a man that has come to live in a home formally occupied by Mr Bleaney. The subtext of the poem is concerned with a man’s fear that his life has become a routine – in the way that he believes Mr Bleaney’s life had been. Throughout this essay, I shall discover whether the themes in ‘Mr Bleaney’ conform to the view of some critics – that Larkin’s poetry is a portrayal of bleak human existence – whilst analysing the undertones of the poem.
The title is very important for revealing the nature of the poem. ‘Bleaney’ has connotations of the words ‘bleak’ ‘mean’ and ‘dreary’, which could convey a lot about Mr Bleaney’s personality but also give a clue to the content of the rest of the poem.
The first stanza begins ‘This was Mr Bleaney’s room’. This establishes the precise setting for the rest of the poem. The use of caesura and enjambment help to control the pace within the first stanza. Mr Bleaney obviously used to work for a car manufacturing company ‘the Bodies, till they moved him’. This could either mean that the company moved him elsewhere or that Mr Bleaney is dead. Larkin then begins to describe the surroundings ‘Flowered curtains, thin and frayed, Fall to within five inches of the sill’. This shows a lack of comfort and concern with luxury within the home. Alliteration is used to emphasise this point and the stanza is end stopped to slow down the pace of the poem.
The second stanza continues to describe Mr Bleaney’s backdrop – ‘Whose window shows a strip of building land, tussocky, littered’. This implies that a drab, depressing and bleak environment enclosed Mr Bleaney, which amplifies Mr Bleaney’s decline. The colloquial language in the third line indicates that Mr Bleaney’s life had been rather uncomplicated ‘Mr Bleaney took my bit of garden properly in hand’. It also implies that there is another person with the narrator. It can be ascertained that this other voice is the Landlady. The utilisation of un-poetic concrete nouns ‘Bed, upright chair, sixty watt bulb’ emphasise a rigid routine.
‘Behind the door, no room for books or bags’ begins the third stanza. This line implies a lack of permanence. This home, which Mr Bleaney lived in, cannot be personalised and is not comfortable. Yet, in the next line, narrator speaks ‘I’ll take it’. After a repetition of negatives, ironically comes a hurried acceptance from the narrator. This draws a contrast between the narrator and Mr Bleaney, which is further enhanced in the next lines.
‘So it happens that I lie’ suddenly reverts to the present tense allowing the reader to see the situation through the narrator’s eyes rather than Mr Bleaney’s. This line shows that the narrator resigns to his fate and does not hope for anything better. ‘Where Mr Bleaney lay’ develops the parallel between Mr Bleaney and the narrator. The unpleasant, vivid and colloquial language in the next line ‘and stub my fags on the same saucer-souvenir’ makes the reader feel negative towards the narrator and Mr Bleaney. It also highlights that the Landlady did not care enough about her tenants to purchase a less shabby ashtray and that the narrator and Mr Bleaney were happy to accept this degree of carelessness.
The ‘jabbering set he egged her on to buy’ is intrusive to the narrator. Onomatopoeia in the word ‘jabbering’ emphasises the noise that probably imposes upon the silence and solitude that the narrator prefers. ‘I know his habits’ implies that the narrator has tried to find out as much as possible about Mr Bleaney from the Landlady. The non-poetic detail of Mr Bleaney’s habits ‘what time he came down, his preference for sauce to gravy’ makes Mr Bleaney’s life seem incredibly insular and very tedious.
‘He kept on plugging at the four aways’ shows that Mr Bleaney had a sense of persistence however, he followed an empty hope. Although the ‘four aways’ means ‘the pools’, it could also symbolise the seasons – that although Mr Bleaney continued to exist, his life was one of very little excitement or joy. The syntax in ‘The Frinton folk who put up with him for summer holidays’ makes it obvious that the people from Frinton tolerated Mr Bleaney. Frinton is a rather parochial and boring place, which adds to the ongoing theme of dreariness. Similarly ‘Stoke’ contributes to this same theme. The fact that Mr Bleaney had no wife or children implies that he led a meagre and lonely life.
Larkin uses pathetic fallacy to indicate that the mood becomes darker and emptier in the last two stanzas – ‘watched the frigid wind, tousling the clouds’. The utilisation of ‘frigid’ and ‘fusty’ conveys a sense of cold and dirt. This could represent the surroundings of the narrator and Mr Bleaney but also the way that they feel about themselves – that they deserve nothing better than the lifelessness that they subscribe to. ‘Telling himself that this was home, and grinned’ shows that the narrator is trying to convince himself that the life that he leads is bearable however, the next line indicates that narrator cannot convince himself ‘And shivered, without shaking off the dread’. This implies that the narrator is frightened of what and who he has become.
The first line of the last stanza summarises the main themes of everything in the poem ‘That how we live measures our own nature’. This line conveys Larkin’s feelings about lifestyle reflecting personality. Mr Bleaney and the narrator are satisfied with their dreary and depressing life, without comfort, care or luxury thus they are dreary and depressing people. The narrator is frightened that the life he leads is repetitive – that he has become Mr Bleaney. ‘And at his age having no more to show than one hired box’ has connotations of a coffin which implies that Mr Bleaney lived this way until the day he died. The last line of the poem reveals why the narrator will not change his lifestyle ‘He warranted no better, I don’t know’ – the narrator does not believe that he is worth any more than what he has, just like Mr Bleaney.
The structure of the poem reflects the content. It is written in Iambic Pentameter and has a regular rhyme structure up until the last stanza, which reflects the tedium of Mr Bleaney and the narrator’s lives. The last stanza uses eye rhyme which I believe symbolises that things are not always as they seem – that the narrator might deserve more than he thinks that he does. The last two stanzas of the poem are more complex than the other stanzas as the tone shifts from concrete to abstract. They also encompass the main themes of the poem by building upon the parallel between Mr Bleaney’s life and the narrator’s – almost making them united.
The poem is all about monotonous existence. There is no hope in the poem for anything better. The poem ends in a way that indicates nothing will change for the narrator and that he will be destined to repeat Mr Bleaney’s fate. Larkin does not look upon routine with any positive sentiment in this poem. He uses dark, negative language to convey his feelings for example ‘tussocky, littered’. He creates a sense of empathy between the reader and the narrator when he utilises objects to convey a meaning. For example the ‘saucer-souvenir’ in the room shows that the Landlady lacks care and treats her rooms in a similar way. The fact that Mr Bleaney and the narrator are happy to accept this cheap treatment shows that they also lack care, for themselves and for others. They accept the way that they live because, they believe that they ‘warrant no better’.
I believe that ‘Mr Bleaney’ is an excellent example of Larkin writing about a bleak human existence. Through the characters of Mr Bleaney and the narrator, Larkin expresses that humans will continue to follow a life of tedium and monotony whilst ever they allow themselves to accept less than what they are really worth. For this reason, I completely agree that Larkin is trying to portray human existence as bleak in ‘Mr Bleaney’.