“Sexual Intercourse Began in 1963″


 A new poetry anthology has just been released containing poetic responses to music that fifty years ago changed the world. I haven’t yet seen what poems are included in Newspaper Taxis: Poetry after the Beatles, but I suspect one of them is Philip Larkin’s “Annus Mirabilis.” The poem talks about how sexual mores were never the same again after 1963.

As usual with Larkin, his irony makes it difficult to figure out how exactly he felt about Beatlemania and the sexual revolution that the Fab Four helped usher in. When he says that “life was never better than/In nineteen sixty three,” does he really believe this or (what is more likely) is he just talking about how it felt to glimpse a world where sex could be guilt free? A “year of miracles” where there would no longer be “a wrangle for the ring,/A shame that started at sixteen/And spread to everything”?

Of course Larkin, always old before his time, doesn’t believe in “unlosable games,” and we know now that relationships wouldn’t become as easy as people predicted. Different but not easier.

Still, Larkin captures the dreaming that the music inspired. 

Annus Mirabilis

By Philip Larkin

Sexual intercourse began 

In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) – 

Between the end of the Chatterley ban 

And the Beatles’ first LP. 

Up to then there’d only been 

A sort of bargaining, 

A wrangle for the ring, 

A shame that started at sixteen 

And spread to everything. 

Then all at once the quarrel sank: 

Everyone felt the same, 

And every life became 

A brilliant breaking of the bank, 

A quite unlosable game. 

So life was never better than 

In nineteen sixty-three 

(Though just too late for me) – 

Between the end of the Chatterley ban 

And the Beatles’ first LP.

From Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

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  1. […] be getting used to changes in marriage by now. Fifty years ago (when, according to Philip Larkin, sexual intercourse began) ideas like “living in sin” were taken very seriously. Homosexuality was punishable by […]

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