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Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin demonstrates the use of “piquant mixture of lyricism and discontent” through his poetic explorations in Here and The Whitsun Weddings. Both pieces were published in 1964 as a collection of poems collectively titled ‘The Whitsun Weddings’. In the poem Here you see both lyricism (expression of emotion in an imaginative and beautiful way) and discontent (dissatisfaction, typically with the prevailing social or political situation) though in The Whitsun Weddings you tend to see more lyricism. In Here this is shown through industrialism and society while in The Whitsun Weddings by marriage and the passage of time.

Here is a moving poem that takes the reader on a visual journey through the countryside, to towns and finally the coast. The opening stanza of Here commences with the word ‘swerving’, which is repeated twice in the same verse, implying that the train is trying to avoid something, for example the irreversible destruction of the surrounding nature. This speculation can be demonstrated by the description of the ‘thin and thistled’ fields; they are no longer flourishing, as their abundance is not the priority. This statement shows the alliteration of t, which gives it, precision.

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The first line describes the ramifications of the industrial revolution on society with its ‘rich industrial shadows’. This shows both lyricism and discontent with the adjective ‘rich’ offering images of wealth and prosperity, which would be a result of the industrial advancement of the town. However this positivism is withdrawn with the noun ‘shadows’ placed in juxtaposition, which suggests that the light is being blocked out and therefore, the town cannot grow and flourish. The consequences of nature on life is mirrored in the shifting of the ‘widening river’s slow presence’.

The river gives a perception of reassurance, and endurance over industrialism. The lengthened assonance slows the pace and provides the feeling of security and tranquillity. This reference to water is persisted later in the poem with the description of the ‘beach of shapes and shingle’ in the final stanza. The narrator views the sea as wild and untamed and allows liberated expression of self through ‘unfenced existence’, in a stark contrast to the boundaries of a society dominated by industry and rules. The residents of the town are described in a harsh, negative way.

Larkin is abusive of their lifestyle, commenting stereotypically on their activities ‘stealing flat faced trolleys’. This biased judgement is furthered with the derogatory description of their appearance ‘Cheap suits…sharp shoes’. He suggests that the people are merely a by-product of their surroundings “residents of raw estates”. This is a depressing statement with estates having a negative connotation meaning the place lacks individuality and it’s all the same. The Whitsun Weddings however, produces powerful imagery.

The stagnant heat of the English summer transcends from the words on the page to form a sensual experience that the reader endures. “All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense of being in a hurry gone”. The repetition quickly establishes Larkin’s landscape as we acknowledge the lethargic and motionless existence of his surroundings. While maintaining the sense of slothful heat that hangs through the “three-quarters-empty train”, Larkin also generates the sensation of movement as he recounts the imagery that passes by his carriage window; “wide farms… short-shadowed cattle, and canals with floatings of industrial froth”.

Larkin’s writing adapts us to his senses, enabling us to feel at one with what he sees, smells and hears thus creating lyricism. “All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept for miles inland”; Larkin further develops the relaxed feeling as the train crawls through the English countryside in a “slow and stopping curve southwards” towards London. Without condemning what he sees, Larkin simply observes, producing a vivid panorama of his surroundings for his reader’s to indulge. As his surroundings shift, so does his tone. We gain a sense that Larkin is not impressed or interested in the weddings that happen outside his cabin’s window.

After mistaking them for something else Larkin “went on reading”. A sense of superiority blankets his work as we recognise the upper class, an almost arrogant approach. Unlike the introduction to the text, which draws the reader into his own eyes, his shift in tone distances the reader from the intimate relationship that has been developed between poet and reader. Larkin describes the reception of the Whitsun Weddings; “parodies of fashion… fathers with broad belts… mothers loud and fat… nylon gloves and jewelry-substitutes”, and paints an unsophisticated image of the perils of life of the working class.

While the couples and families enjoy themselves at the end of a day of celebration, we perceive Larkin sitting on the train watching through narrowed eyes, quietly and skeptically feeling a sense of disappointment as the “fresh couples [climb] aboard”. Here and The Whitsun Weddings both indicate discontent and lyricism. Here shows lyricism through the visual description of the sea and water while discontent shows the demeaning lifestyle of the townspeople and industrialism. The Whitsun Weddings shows lyricism of the train and its surroundings and discontent is shown by his thoughts of the wedding.


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