A Study of Reading Habits Poem by Philip Larkin Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“A Study of Reading Habits” is a poem written by Philip Larkin. It is a thought-provoking poem that presents the realities of life as opposed to the imaginative fantasy world in books.

About the Poet:

Philip Larkin (1922-1985) was a notable English poet. He wrote under the pseudonym Brunette Coleman. He is known for his post-war works. He was a Modernist and was known as a Poet of Realism. Famous works of his include “The Whitsun Weddings”, “High Windows”, and “Church Going”. 


This poem is short and concise in nature. It is divided into 3 stanzas consisting of 6 lines each. These three stanzas are three segments of the poet’s life.

Analysis and Summary:

Stanza 1:

When getting my nose in a book

Cured most things short of school,

It was worth ruining my eyes

To know I could still keep cool,

And deal out the old right hook

To dirty dogs twice my size.


The poem begins with the persona reading a book and how it “Cured most things” aside from school for him. He finds it “worth ruining my (his) eyes”. He also takes pleasure in how it helped him “keep cool” and fend off bullies– “dirty dogs twice my size”.


This stanza brings out the childhood phase of the poet. It brings out how the childhood of Larkin had both good and bad bits to it– he found solace in reading and imagining delivering “the old right hook” to his bullies as fictional characters do. How the habit of reading helped him to be calm and centred and get through life is thus highlighted in this stanza.

Stanza 2:

Later, with inch-thick specs,

Evil was just my lark:

Me and my cloak and fangs

Had ripping times in the dark.

The women I clubbed with sex!

I broke them up like meringues.


Here, the persona is found “with inch-thick specs” and has “evil” and “fangs”. He enjoys being “in the dark” and clubbing and having sex.


This stanza progresses to the phase in life where the poet is a young adult. This phase of his life is one where he indulges in dark and decadent fantasies. It is also the one where the poet is actively exploring the pleasures of sexual activities, dominating women and leaving them behind. This raunchy life the poet leads as a young man is through his reading habit, as is suggestive of the phrase “inch-thick specs”. 

Stanza 3:

Don't read much now: the dude

Who lets the girl down before

The hero arrives, the chap

Who's yellow and keeps the store

Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:

Books are a load of crap.


Here, the persona isn’t reading in the present. He no longer takes pleasure in reading about “dudes” who disappoint girls before “The hero arrives” and the pathetic “chap” tending to his store seems “far too familiar” to him. He advises people to thus give up reading and “Get stewed”.


This ending of the poem is rather anti-climactic. It denotes a phase in the poet’s life where, as an adult, he no longer is captivated by the fantasies he so loved as a child and teen. Rather, the very sources of escapism he found solace in only served in providing disillusionment for him as an adult. 


This is a Realist poem. It depicts the perils of the reality faced by an adult as opposed to the reprieve imagination provides for one as a youth.