I've been trying to understand the last line from the poem "The Importance of Elsewhere" by Philip Larkin. The line goes

Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.

I found it difficult to decide on the subject in this sentence, and that made it really hard for me to get the meaning of this sentence. What is it that "underwrites my existence"? Is it "here"? Or is it "Elsewhere"? Or is it that "here" is an adverb and "No elsewhere" is the subject? I'm really confused! Thanks for any help!

Below is the poem.

Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home, 
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech, 
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome: 
Once that was recognised, we were in touch. 

Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint 
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable, 
The herring-hawker's cry, dwindling, went 
To prove me separate, not unworkable. 

Living in England has no such excuse: 
These are my customs and establishments 
It would be much more serious to refuse. 
Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.
  • You may need to post more context. It isn't immediately clear that the quote is grammatically correct. But using the poem's title as a guide and assuming that the quote is grammatically correct, I'd read elsewhere as some kind of 'place'. That is, the poet asserts that here, his/her existence isn't underwritten by any 'elsewhere'. – Lawrence Apr 5 '17 at 12:47
  • I'd say that "no elsewhere" is the subject of "underwrites my existence". The locative adjunct "here" ("in this place") is a preposed (fronted) element; its 'basic' position would be at the end of the sentence. The preposed element "here" acts as a pro-form anaphoric to, presumably, "Ireland". This may help with the meaninglink – BillJ Apr 5 '17 at 12:57
  • Thanks for that! I've read it and it really helped with the understanding of the poem. – Emilie Apr 5 '17 at 13:19
  • I take "here" to mean "back in England". (Now) back in England, I cannot excuse my behavior with the fact that I'm a stranger, as I could when I was in Ireland. Note the tenses in the stanzas. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 5 '17 at 13:40
  • Thanks for sharing. That also makes sense. So in that case, the poet is saying back in England he cannot find an "elsewhere" to underwrites his existence. – Emilie Apr 5 '17 at 13:54

The verb is underwrites and the subject is elsewhere, with no as a determiner.

Here answers the question "where is elsewhere underwritten", and this is modifying the verb underwritten so it is an adverb.

Elsewhere isn't normally a noun, but poems, being art, have license to break rules in order to provide expressiveness.

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  • So can I understand the sentence in this way: "no elsewhere" actually means "no other places than this one here", and the poet is trying to say "only here underwrites my existence"? – Emilie Apr 5 '17 at 13:12
  • The poet is saying no "elsewhere" is underwriting his existence here, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything else here is underwriting his existence. I glean from the last paragraph that he cannot refuse English customs, etc. because there is no "elsewhere" or other culture that he is from. – LawrenceC Apr 5 '17 at 13:21
  • I'm sorry but I feel more confused now. So, do you mean the poet begins to realize the importance of his hometown in the last stanza? And that elsewhere means places other than his hometown? – Emilie Apr 5 '17 at 13:31
  • That is how I'm interpreting it. – LawrenceC Apr 5 '17 at 13:33
  • I've been struggling between two different interpretations of this line for quite a long time. And thank you so much for having taken time to discuss this with me! – Emilie Apr 5 '17 at 13:41

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