Philip Larkin Whitsun Weddings Essays

The Whitsun Weddings: Philip Larkin - Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin is about the poet’s journey to London in a train. The day is a Whitsun Day on which the British Government frees marriage taxes for one day. Therefore the day fascinates people belonging to the lower economic class because they cannot afford the payment of marriage taxes on other days. The poem on the surface level is a description of these experiences of that particular day.

Philip Larkin

In the beginning the poet seems to be showing a kind of hatred for marriage or the newly married couples. Therefore, his description of physical appearances of those couples and their relatives is full of mockery. But towards the end of the poem, the poet realizes the importance of marriage. This time he realizes marriage to fertility (“the arrow shower” and “rain”) and thus to the continuity of the human race. The new knowledge contradicts his previous attitude towards marriage, it results in a kind of irony which affects the poet himself, therefore, the poem becomes self ironic.

In the first and the second stanza, the poet describes his past experiences when he was traveling in a train. These two stanzas are full of panoramic description of the scenes; that pass by as the train moves forward. The description shows that the poet is beginning his journey from the country area to a city that is London. The important moment in the poem comes when newly married couples board on the train. These newly married couples are accompanied by their relatives and they certainly belong to a lower economic class. The description of their physical experiences with the words and phrases like “pomaded girls”, parodies of fashion” suggest that they are from the lower economic class. In each station and platform the poet witnesses the flow of such newly married couples. The poet virtually being an unmarried man is full of disgust for marriage with the arrival of those people and the poet undergoes mystifying experiences of suffocation. He is put in an uneasy situation and starts mocking the appearances of those married couples and their relatives.

The poet after the description of the wedding couples and their relatives once again focuses on scenes outside landscape. The description can be contrasted to the description of the landscape. The turning point in the poem comes at the end shown by the lines “A sense of falling, like an arrow shower sent out of sight, somewhere becomes rain”. In these lines the poet expresses his realization of importance of marriage. The poem suddenly becomes ironic because his realization contradicts his previous attitude towards marriage. In these lines “arrow, showers” and “rain” relate marriage to fertility and to the continuity of life. Therefore the ultimate knowledge about marriage is finally achieved by the poet.

Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings Essay

Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings

    As I was reading Philip Larkin’s "The Whitsun Weddings," I was initially struck by the difference between his use of language and the language used by many of the poets we read earlier in the course. The difference between the language of the two W.B. Yeats poems we wrote about previously and this poem by Larkin was particularly striking. Of course, the use of language changed slowly, with each poet we have read between Yeats and Larkin becoming less like the former and more like the latter. But, I suppose I noticed it more in this poem because I was paying more attention to detail in order to comment on the poem.

    The speaker of this poem is on a train headed south to London for a long weekend, and begins his/her journey on a Saturday afternoon. It is a late spring or even early summer day, as it is seven weeks after Easter (fn. 1061). Initially, the content of the poem is rather simple, but the language and description are quite rich. Larkin appeals to four of the five senses and makes his reader feel as if they are on the train with the speaker. As I read the poem, I felt like I could hear the train pull out of the station and feel the heat of the cushions under my legs. Then I was seeing the "blinding windscreens" and smelling the "fish-dock". As the poem and the rich description continued, I was then looking at "[c]anals with floatings of industrial froth" and smelling the grass of the passing fields.

    In the third stanza, Larkin introduces the subject of his poem—the weddings. It is the ideal time of the year—late spring or early summer—for weddings, as well as being a Saturday afternoon—the traditional day and time of marriage—and the speaker sees many groups of wedding-goers at the stations at which the train stops. The people are bidding farewell to brides and grooms who are setting off to make a life in London. The speaker describes the groups of people as "grinning and pomaded" and the scene I initially conjured up in my mind was lively and fun. For example, an uncle is described as "shouting smut," lending the impression that this is a light-hearted and happy affair. The poem also leads you to believe, though, that everybody involved is simply putting on an act of sorts. This feeling of falsity is generated in part by the line "girls / In parodies of fashion". As a parody is a humorously exaggerated imitation of something, I then began to get the impression that these people are only pretending to be light-hearted and happy. ...

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