Places, Loved Ones – Philip Larkin – Analysis

Places, Loved Ones

No, I have never found
The place where I could say
This is my proper ground,
Here I shall stay;
Nor met that special one
Who has an instant claim
On everything I own
Down to my name;

To find such seems to prove
You want no choice in where
To build, or whom to love;
You ask them to bear
You off irrevocably,
So that it’s not your fault
Should the town turn dreary,
The girl a dolt.

Yet, having missed them, you’re
Bound, none the less, to act
As if what you settled for
Mashed you, in fact;
And wiser to keep away
From thinking you still might trace
Uncalled-for to this day
Your person, your place.

Philip Larkin 1922 – 1985

This poem, written in 1954, consists of three stanzas each a sentence broken in two parts by a semicolon. The second part a reflective extension to the first. Each stanza has rhyming scheme ‘ababcdcd’.

A typical Larkin ignoble poetic reportage on institutional life and the establishment, in this case the poem centres on the construct of marriage and how it restricts individuals by tying them down to one person. Larkin regarded himself as a poet of dullness and deprivation. And there is certainly a dull veil covering his thoughts on marriage in this poem.

In his day it was difficult to divorce it being an irrevocable affair. So it may happen that a dolt (stupid person) is your lot and the place where you live turns dreary. He suggests perhaps that marriage may cause such tendencies due to lack of freedom.

PL was never quite content with place or partner, and he wanted to keep relationships open. He was engaged at one time but he never married. He had several relationships. He lived in Hull for thirty years while Librarian at Hull University. He regarded Hull as a fringe city and he too was on the fringe of the poetic establishment of his time. When the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, died in 1984 he was offered that position but declined. It has been said that he was the defacto Poet Laureate.

The poem ends stating that while not being satisfied with the status quo it is best to make the most of it anyway. Making the most of being mashed, marriage mashes the individual – and the potato is no longer a potato. On the positive side he could have been stronger in his wording and used ‘Smash’! And the last part of the concluding sentence gives advise – it is wise not to think of looking for something better.

So make the most of your day whatever the circumstances.

Philip Larkin on Wikipedia

And here is a link to a positive ending from Philip Larkin in his poem Arundel Tomb.

I remember, I remember – Philip Larkin – Analysis

I Remember, I Remember

Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
“Why, Coventry!” I exclaimed. “I was born here.”

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been ‘mine’
So long, but found I wasn’t even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed

For all those family hols? . . . A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
‘Was that,’ my friend smiled, ‘where you “have your roots”?’
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:

By now I’ve got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn’t spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family

I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
‘Really myself’. I’ll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,

Determined to go through with it; where she
Lay back, and ‘all became a burning mist’.
And, in those offices, my doggerel
Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,

Who didn’t call and tell my father There
Before us, had we the gift to see ahead –
‘You look as though you wished the place in Hell,’
My friend said, ‘judging from your face.’ ‘Oh well,
I suppose it’s not the place’s fault,’ I said.

‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’

Philip Larkin

What a different poem from the poem with the same title as that by Thomas Hood. I can’t help thinking that Larkin chose the title with Hood’s poem in mind to give an honest statement of his unhappy childhood experience. Coming up England by a different line – a very clever way of saying his lines are markedly different from the ideal country exprience exressed in Hood’s nostalgic escapist lines.

Men with number plates an intersting way of saying they owned a car – perhaps it was their pride and joy in running down the platform to make contact – or perhaps congestion was a problem in the parking area.

Well his childhood was a disappointment – where my childhood was unspent – time is equated to money and money value. And in replying to a fellow traveller makes synical comment – wasn’t spoken to by an old hat – (by adults who should have given explanation), I never ran to when I got depressed – (no emotional connection with family). Larkin concentrates on the things that didn’t happen that he thought would be common in other families.

Their Comic Ford, their farm – the other children created their own imitation reality – which to Larkin was comic and I think he was being synical by saying he could be ‘really himself”. And laments no sexual contact with the girls who were all chest, the boys all biceps. Perhap he had a different emphasis – his doggerel was not set up – like that of other children who had recognition nor read By a distinguished cousin of the mayor and given feedback that they were gifted.

And that great last line – ‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’ The place itself, Coventry, is not at fault.

Apart from the clever word play slant the pentameter and rhyming construct shows that Larkin put a lot of work into this expression of his childhood – ensuring that his experience will be remembered by the many who treasure Larkin as a top poet.

The Whitsun Weddings – Philip Larkin – Analysis

The Whitsun Weddings is the first poem by Philip Larkin in his collection of that name.

I have been reading Clive James’ ‘Poetry Notebook’ and this is one of his five favourite poetry collections the others being – Richard Wilbur (Poems 1943-1956), W. H. Auden (Look Stranger! 1936), Robert Frost (Collected Poems) and W. B. Yeats (The Tower, 1928).

Considering The Whitsun Weddings – There are eight ten line stanzas. The poem’s rhyming scheme is – abab (Shakespearian quatrain) followed by cdecde (Petrachan sestet).

The first two stanzas …

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.

The poem is about a train journey in England on a hot Whitsun weekend in June 1954. If you read these lines aloud you will get into the ‘clickity-clack’ rhythm as you follow the syllabic track of the words. I consider the journey as one from Hull to London and if you ever traveled by steam train through England in those years you would identify with the created imagery.

Stanzas three and four …

At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go

As if out on the end of an event
Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewelry-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochers that

In these two stanzas we see that out of the lethargic heat (sun destroys/
The interest of what’s happening in the shade) something is happening at each station. The sounds of gaiety (considered as noise) are initially thought to be porters larking around with the mail in fact it is wedding parties seeing bride and groom depart – perhaps to a honeymoon in London. Larking about is a nice pun on Larkin himself who was probably in the clouds in word thought taking time to be arrested on what was going on around him.

Stanzas five and six …

Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
Yes, from cafes
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known

Success so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

He now takes close notice at each marriage farewell and there is some generalisation … a happy funeral is that nice contrast in the death of one life and the start of another … weddings being a happy occasion, however a mother may lament at no longer having a daughter at home – on the other hand she may be glad to have her married. Marriage considered a religious wounding – words that marry with that famous arrow-shower in the last line – and typical Larkin negativity however realistic.

Stanzas seven and eight …

Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl—and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Traveling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

Twelve marriages – brides and grooms – hopefully they wouldn’t be considering all the others they would never meet – having stated religiously that they have met their one and only – nor indeed would they be thinking of how life had now been contained by their commitment to each other.

The last two sentences bring the journey to a close and all the young lovers disappear into the clouds never to be seen again in an arrow-shower. Larkin obviously thinks there are stormy times ahead and the arrows of Eros (love and Cupid) become the arrows of Mars—the arrows of war, shot by a body of archers. (Apparently Philip Larkin claimed he discovered the idea in Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V.)

But out of the storm comes rain and rain has that nice rejuvenating effect on nature. It is nice to know that Larkin thinks marriage is environmentally friendly!

Clive James states that although there may not be much ‘joy in Larkin’ he does get ‘the whole truth of life’s transience into unforgettable beautiful poetry, and it is hard to think of a greater joy than that’.

Wikipedia link 

An Arundel Tomb – Philip Larkin – Analysis

ArundelTombChichester

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.

The sculpture is of the Earl of Arundel and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster and it resides in Chichester Cathedral … in art dogs are a sign of fidelity … apparently over the years the sculpture has been vandalised and repaired

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

In all the cathedrals and churches Larkin visited he never saw such tenderness depicted in stone and he was quite moved by the sight … generating this poem.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends could see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They have been together for centuries in stone whereas in life they would never lie so close given that marriages were very much a political arrangement … there is a double take too on the word ‘lie’ as there probably would have been a lot of deceit in the arrangement. The Latin names around the base probably ignored by those visiting the cathedral today – but the holding of hands an attraction to the eye.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Well, the nature of marriage has changed over the years and those visiting today would view the holding of hands perhaps as a more loving union. Supine = lying on the back without energy.

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

I like the view of the outside while the tomb is fixed and oblivious to the changing seasons. Apparently the grounds of Chichester Cathedral are known for bird song.

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

People today don’t understand the history and context … washing over the sculpture … history becomes a scrap – unarmorial = not decorated with a coat of arms

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone finality
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Philip Larkin

We have the contrast – the truth of love – the reality of love being something different from what this time-frozen stone fixture might suggest … the important things that survive are not so much the physical –but ‘love’ (whatever this means to the reader) … but then the physical may be needed as a catalyst or prompt. It certainly prompted Larkin to think about love – and he was certainly not a ‘love’ poet – but it has been said that he was haunted by such notions although of a melancholic nature.

A YouTube video of Philip Larkin reading this poem