The Building

Larkin, Philip

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Oct-27-1999


This poem is a detailed description of a hospital, focusing on the patients waiting in the outpatient department. The detail proliferates about these "humans, caught / On ground curiously neutral, homes and names / Suddenly in abeyance." These people drink tea and read paperbacks as they wait "to confess that something has gone wrong."

Outside the hospital the world is different, almost unreal. Occasionally, a nurse comes and beckons a patient to come in. "Some will be out by lunch, or four; / Others, not knowing it, have come to join / The unseen congregations whose white rows / Lie set apart above . . . " [64 lines]


The poet begins with external features, the building's size and accoutrements, then moves inward to reveal the rows of patients sitting in waiting rooms, and finally hones in on the real issue: "All know they are going to die." We visualize each person as he or she disappears into an examining room, but what lies beyond remains a mystery. All we know is that "nothing contravenes / The coming dark."

Primary Source

Collected Poems



Place Published





Anthony Thwaite