Ideals and Freedom in Philip Larkin's "High Windows"
Freedom is an ideal people of every generation aspire. In the poem, it is discussed in terms of different forms and is compared as the "long slide" which going down endlessly, suggesting the freedom without restraints. However, at the end of the poem, the other image is used to represent freedom and ideals, "high windows." This image which is high above people is contrast to the declining image of "long slide." It shows that probably it is better to view or experience freedom with some constraints as to see the blue sky through the framed high windows. Besides, the poem is written in the sixties, the age of free sex. The speaker is an aging man who looks at the young generation enjoying the sexual liberalization with envy, thinking that when the religion is liberated, as a young man, he also was watched and envied by the older generation. Through the speculation of the young people and the older generation, the poem also raises the issue of generation gap which interweaves the ideas of freedom.
The poem itself is composed of different binary oppositions. The first one is the aged versus the young. The poem begins with the aging speaker looking at "a couple of kids" and speculating, "he's fucking her and she's / Taking pills or wearing diaphragm." The language is shocking and vulgar, and the speaker talks as young people do. It may reflect that the speaker's own feelings of envy towards the young people and anger of his incapability to enjoy the sex liberalization as they do because of his age. It is also possible that he is disguising his age through the young people's vocabulary. However, once the speaker is the object too, watched and envied by the older people--"Anyone looked at me, forty years back, / And thought, That'll be the life; / No God anymore," because at that time, his generation was emancipated from the strict religious dogmas.
In this poem, the grudge of the older generations against the young generations' free state brings out the second binary in the poem, bonds vs. freedom. The opposition is clearly presented in the second stanza in which the poet deliberately points out: "Everyone old has dreamed of their lives- / Bonds and gestures pushed to one side" while "everyone young going down the long slide // To happiness, endlessly." Bonds here are related to conventions and also to the older generations. The aged people can only dream about the world of freedom but unable to live in it. Unlike the youngsters, they are restrained by conventions and unable to set themselves free. The speaker finds himself too old to enjoy the sex liberalization while the kids can have as much sex as they want without any constraints. Likewise, the people of the past older generation could not exclude their religious fears from their mind while the speaker could talk anything about God or the advocators, priests. However, when there are no bonds, the connection between people dissolves. For example, free sex means no commitments and responsibilities between couples, and they will try to avoid having children just as the speaker speculates that "she's / Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm." Thus, as bonds are pushed aside, the "combine harvester" will be outdated and deserted because there will be nothing for them to harvest. The consequence of liberalization seems not so wonderful as people imagine.
The image of the long slide, which is full of fun, excitement, and enjoyment, is used to present paradise, a state everybody desires. However, the image is ambivalent, and it also is the implication of indulgence and loss of control. Compared to the common idea of rising up to paradise, here people go down the long slide, losing their control while rejoicing their freedom. Thus, the other binary opposition related to freedom is shown, long slide versus high windows. At the end of the poem, the thought of high windows occurs to the speaker. The high windows usually are associated to the church windows. The image of them also implicates the idea of paradise, but unlike the long slide, it is up there in the sky. Moreover, the windows are framed and the glass is "sun-comprehending" as if it can understand the sun and even can frame it. The thought of the high windows replaces the image of long slide, and it suggests the transformation of the speaker's idea about freedom. Though it is excellent to liberate from conventions and constraints, but people may lose their control. It is better for people to enjoy freedom through some frames; otherwise people may go down endlessly like the "free bloody birds" which show the sense of falling and failing. The word, "bloody," is the common British expression of cursing, but its literal meaning implicates the awful consequence of freedom. When it comes to freedom, people may be too overwhelmed as the birds that are just freed from the cage, eager to fly out of the house without being aware of the windows, and then bumped into the glass. The scene is bloody and cruel. Sometimes, people's ideals like freedom maybe just an illusion or even is like "deep blue air, that shows / Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless." It is depressing that the ideals may be full nothing but emptiness.