by Sophia Brookshire
Philip Larkin, an English poet famous for his "average Joe" poetical voice, wrote his poetry for the everyday man versus his contemporaries. He wanted to portray the world as it is rather than mucking it up with the artificial. He had a tendency to write about events that happened long ago as if they were currently happening. Homage to a Government is timeless; its subject is relevant as much today as it was after WWII. Homage is defined as an expression of high regard, or a tribute. This poem was written on January 10, 1969, and published in 1974. The subject of this poem is the decline of the British Empire following WWII. It is a nationalistic poem with a hint of sarcasm.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, during the Age of Discovery, Portugal and Spain began the European global exploration trend by establishing large, profitable overseas empires. England, France, and the Netherlands were jealous of this new found wealth, so they also began to establish colonies and trade networks in the Americas and Asia. After a series of wars in the 17th and 18th centuries England severed itself from France and the Netherlands, becoming the dominant colonial power in North America and India. In 1783, the war of independence cost England the thirteen colonies that they had established in North America. Britain then turned toward Africa, Asia, and the Pacific to establish new colonies and territories. In 1815, Britain defeated Napoleonic France, which left them to enjoy a century of nearly uncontested dominance. Britain became a genuine empire. The United States and Germany had grown significantly by the end of the 19th century, which severely weakened Britain's economic leadership. One of the major causes of WWI was the military and economic tensions between Britain and Germany. The war placed a huge financial strain on Britain. During WWII Britain's South-East Asia colonies were occupied by Japan, which only served to further decline of the British Empire. Following Britain's victory of WWII, the British government decided to give most of its colonies and territories independence; partly because the other great European powers were doing so, and partly due to the fact that they were already bankrupt and couldn't afford the costly wars that they would inevitably find themselves in. In 1947, Britain's most valuable and populous territory, India, was given its independence.
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly.
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right. (lines 1-6)
The soldiers are going to be returning home from their posts in Britain's colonies and territories, because Britain can't afford to keep them there any longer. Britain had to get a $3.5 billion loan from the United States in 1946, in order to support themselves; they finished paying off the loan in 2006. The narrator uses the phrase "it is all right," in line two, as a way to show that the British government's decision was correct; it also comes off a little sarcastic. On the one hand, the government had no choice but to disengage from its colonies otherwise they would be further risking the future of citizens of England; on the other hand, Britain just gave up. The British Empire, who was once the leading world power, is no longer; it has to be a blow to both Britain's pride and the pride of its people. The soldiers, who once kept the peace in the colonies/territories, are leaving, and the newly independent nations will have to govern themselves. "We want the money for ourselves at home/ instead of working;" meaning that it would be pointless to spend a ton of money on a war that they will ultimately lose. The first stanza ends with another justifier; it's all right because we have no other choice.
But how it's been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds. (7-12)
WWII changed the lives of everyone all over the world: money was tighter, food and stuffs were hard to get, soldier's died or came home damaged; it's hard to say who made the final decision to cede the rest of the colonies or territories, but it was for the best. "Nobody minds" is another justifier. The places are far away from Britain so their well-being is no concern of the English, the North America and Asia. "Which is all right" is another justifier. Once the colonists were established they didn't want to be ruled by Britain anymore, which often led to rebellions making it increasing unsafe for the soldiers who were stationed there to govern. Soon the British will no longer have to worry about the state of its colonies; the pressure to be a powerful Empire will be over.
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it's a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money. (13-18)
Next year everything will be different, but oddly the same; England will no longer be the most powerful empire, but the children won't know the difference. The statues will still be standing, but may appear a little less brilliant due to a sense of shame or sadness at the loss of their power. The only legacy that they have to leave their children now is the money that they had to borrow from the United States. It is an end of an era.
* Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. 2565-6,2571-2.
* Wikipedia contributors. "British Empire." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 Feb. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.
Sophia Brookshire - http://voices.yahoo.com/analysis-philip-larkins-ambulances-11975314.html