Need a perfect paper? Place your first order and save 5% with this code:   SAVE5NOW

Comparing and Contrasting ‘This Be the Verse’ by Philip Larkin and “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara.


In the following essay, one will extensively analyze parent-child relationships, cross-cultural differences, innocence, and experience family dynamics and societal expectations through a comparative study between Philip Larkin’s poem, “This Be the Verse,” and Toni Cade Bambara’s short story, entitled The Lesson. Through this critical examination, these works peculiarly portray concepts. The thesis of this analysis claims that Larkin’s poem presents the dark side of inherited flaws, while Bambara’s narrative advocates for a more sophisticated reading that addresses societal inequalities and encourages deliberate intervention to change systemic oppression. Comparing these texts will disclose the elements of themes, characters’ interactions, and types of storytelling techniques that reveal bigger topics such as authority, friendship, and teaching-learning paradigm with symbolic representation. More attention will also be paid to the similarities and differences between the two poems.

To start, “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin and “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara use first-person narrative voices; however, they differ in tone, perspective, and theme. The speaker in Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” presents with a cynical and distanced tone. The poem reveals a gloomy understanding of family and generational patterns. The narrator analyzes negatively the influence of parents on children, stressing the transmission and inevitability of depression. The language is direct and concise, highlighting how bad a family inheritance can be (Bambara, 1997).

On the other hand, the story “The Lesson” by Bambara has a first-person narrator, a young girl named Sylvia. The tone used in this story is less formal and more reflective. Sylvia’s voice is representative of their surroundings and the lives she has lived in poverty. The story deals with social and economic injustice by comparing the lives of these children to those who can afford expensive toys. Unlike Larkin’s poem “The Lesson,” the story incorporates dialogues, clear descriptions, and an undercurrent of youthful curiosity. Therefore, though both the works use a first-person narrator’s voice, Larkin reflects on family life and distance. In contrast, Bambara uses personal engagement to assess the problem situation of an unfortunate group of children (Larkin, 1974).

Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” setting is abstract, representing generational cycles and leaving behind a specific physical environment. Larkin says, “Man passes the misery of man—it gathers like a coast curtain.” Using metaphorical language highlights how the theme is universal throughout this poem. The setting of Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” is urban and economically disadvantaged. Miss Moore organizes all of us at the mailbox, to which Sylvia reflects: “Our girl rounds us up guide for collection in a middle-class neighborhood near [F.A.] O Schwartz.” This physical setting becomes a significant part of emphasizing social and economic differences, which points out the attention of thematic investigation (Bambara, 1997).

Aiming at social views, two perfect examples of this are that societal expectations were implicitly criticized by looking at Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” in questioning both hereditary succession and traditional norms (Larkin, 1974). Traditional expectations are denied by the cynicism of Larkin regarding cycles in passing on faults and misery. The lines “Man hands on misery to man” thus pose a challenge over the role attributed in society towards family as a source of comfort. On the other hand, Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” straightforwardly discusses societal norms about economic differences. Miss Moore sets the children against such a striking image of their slum as compared with F.A.O Schwarz, leading them to think about social and class injustices and equal opportunities for all humanity (Bambara, 1997).

In Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse,” friendship is not a key theme and familial relationships are central in this poem. Larkin’s sarcastic tone does not explain the specificities of friendship. On the other hand, friendship plays a major role in Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson .”The bond among the children, such as Sylvia and Sugar, is tangible in their joint quest to learn Miss Moore’s lessons. However, their friendship persisted regardless of the economic challenges that they faced. Friendship is illustrated in the story as a source of support against societal inequities, highlighting the benefits of solidarity and sharing that provides the strength needed (Larkin, 1974).

The themes of innocence and experience in both poems can also be reduced to a comparison. Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” and Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” consider these two ideas very differently. Larkin’s poem highlights the characteristic of familial flaws’ circular nature but carries a cynical tone, which undermines purity as it states, “They fill you with their faults.” Inheritance implies that innocence would be lost. On the contrary, Bambara’s “The Lesson” describes the loss of innocence under the class divide. As a consequence of Miss Moore’s lesson, her students are introduced to reality in terms of economic imbalance, transforming them from innocence into greater consciousness about social problems. Innocence lost in Bambara’s narrative is connected to understanding social privilege and unfair treatment that differs from Larkin’s investigation into genetic sins (Larkin, 1974).

Different symbols are used in the imaginative works of Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” and Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson”. Although Larkin’s poem lacks symbolism, the symbolic representation of family flaws is used. In the saying, “Man hands on misery to man,” familial relationships are used as a metaphor for passing on suffering through generations. On the other hand, “The Lesson” by Bambara contains various symbols, like F.A.O Schwarz’s expensive sailboat toy the sailboat thus representing privilege and society’s class structure. Sylvia ponders, “Suppose for a second what class of society it is in which some people could spend on a toy at the cost of feeding an entire family.” In this instance, the sailboat serves as a symbol that powerfully signifies oppression and skewed socioeconomic systems (Bambara, 1997).

Differences in culture are not directly addressed within the cross-cultural comparisons of ‘This Be the Verse’ by Philip Larkin and “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara, where there is no consideration of cultural elements such as ethnicity or nationalism. On the other hand, Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” offers a delicate representation of cultural clashes. The characters’ hopeless neighborhood is contrasted with the honored locality of F.A.O Schwarz in this story. This contrast highlights economic inequalities and refers to the separation of various cultural and socioeconomic factions. Mercedes embodies all these differences as a symbol of the upper class. This association makes the reader consider social and economic inequality, which simultaneously tackles cross-cultural disparities regarding wider notions of societal demand (Larkin, 1974).

In Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse” and Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson,” two different tones are evident. Larkin’s tone is cynical, distanced, and judgmental (Bambara, 1997). The language used in this poem is organic and matter-of-fact, presenting a downbeat perspective on generational loops that stresses the negative influence of family transmission. In lines like “They fill you with the faults they had,” Larkin’s cynicism reflects a defeated attitude in passing down suffering. On the contrary, Bambara’s “The Lesson” uses a more colloquial and recollected tone (Larkin, 1974). The story’s narrator, Sylvia, manages to involve a reader in a more individualized and internalizing narrative (Bambara, 1997). The tone moves from wonder, often borne of resentment, to the hard-won realizations as one grows up in poverty. Both the dialogue and rich description add to a multilayered tone that journeys through societal divisions with elements of introspection and youthful boldness.


In conclusion, the comparative analysis of Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” and Toni Cade Bambara’s idealization of family relationships exposed differences in attitudes towards society. Characterizing inherited defects as purely destructive, Larkin’s poem takes on a cynical and detached tone. On the other hand, Bambara’s story is a more indirect portrayal of social inequality and intentional intervention. These works were well placed in comparison to emphasize the moods of human interaction and societal structure, serving as an important reference point regarding how these two outstanding writers perceived such complexities differently.

Works Cited

Bambara, Toni Cade. “The lesson.” Gorilla, My Love (1972): 85–96.

Larkin, Philip. “This be the verse.” High Windows 30 (1974).


Don't have time to write this essay on your own?
Use our essay writing service and save your time. We guarantee high quality, on-time delivery and 100% confidentiality. All our papers are written from scratch according to your instructions and are plagiarism free.
Place an order

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Need a plagiarism free essay written by an educator?
Order it today

Popular Essay Topics