For Sally Amis
by Sophia Brookshire
Philip Larkin's poem "Born Yesterday: For Sally Amis" is about the birth of his friend Kingsley Amis' daughter, Sally Amis. She was born on January 17, 1954. Kingsley Amis is a British writer, whose most famous work would probably be Lucky Jim, which was published in 1954. The poem is written in free verse; the lack of rhyme in this poem makes it conversational, and puts emphasis on the rhyming couplet at the end. This poem expresses Larkin's hopes for Sally's future; he didn't impose his lofty dreams upon her, instead he wished her happiness.
Stanza one begins with the image of a "tightly-folded bud," which translates to a newborn baby swaddled in a blanket. He goes on to say that he wishes her "something that none of the others would." This scene is one that is typically found after a baby is born; everyone huddled around the newborn, each holding the baby in turn, and sharing their wishes for the baby. They wish the baby beauty, and a never ending "spring of innocence and love," which Larkin refers to as the "usual stuff." Those things would be nice, but they are not everything and the likelihood of the child actually achieving these things is incredibly slim. Many parents tend to impose their lofty dreams on their children; for example, they say that their child will be president someday, or famous, or wealthy, etcetera. Only a lucky few actually get to be everything that their parents hoped that they would be, so wishing for these things is almost futile.
In stanza two, Larkin reveals what he truly wishes for Sally. If Sally isn't lucky enough to have the "usual stuff" then he wants her to be ordinary, which in Larkin's opinion seems to be the better outcome. He wants her to be like other women: possessing "an average of talents," which probably means cooking, cleaning, sewing, etcetera; average looking; not too extraordinary; dull (stupid; slow in action; lacking intensity; lacking brilliance or luster); skilled at the things she does well; vigilant (alertly watchful, especially to avoid danger); flexible (readily changed; adaptable); understated (modest, simple); and enthralled (to hold spellbound) with happiness. Happiness is hard enough to achieve, and is very complex; so wishing her all the happiness in the world is the highest compliment that Larkin could bestow upon this little "bud."