In this essay I will compare and contrast three poems by Philip Arthur Larkin, the three poems are: ‘Dockery and Son’, ‘Mr Bleaney’, and ‘Self’s the Man’, all poems from Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings.
‘Self’s the Man’ deals with Larkin’s preoccupation with self by taking on the persona of the poem. However the persona does not interact with the character of Arnold but wonders whether he has a better life, by not being married. Whereas ‘Mr. Bleaney’ is about a man who carries out a very monotonous life all alone without being married like Arnold. ‘Dockery and Son’ describes the different paths that people take in life or the choices they make.
“He married a woman to stop her getting away
Now she’s there all day,”
This is from ‘Self’s the Man’ and displays Larkin’s feelings towards marriage, he is cynical about marriage. The simple and predictable rhyming scheme displays Arnold’s predictable life now that he is married.
Irony is also an almost constant presence in Larkin’s poetry and this is no exception as Arnold’s hopes for a happy life are disappointed. All three poems suggest loneliness in our existence and treats it in a meditative way. In ‘Mr. Bleaney’ life is described as meager, disappointing and depleted and is brought to the reader by precise and exacting descriptions of the bare and cramped room Bleaney left behind,
‘Flowered curtains, thin and frayed’.
An alternate rhyme scheme is also used in ‘Mr Bleaney’ to highlight his monotonous routines. The word Bleaney is Bleak and Lonely put together which highlight the pessimistic ideas highlighted in the poem.
All three poems use enjambment which allows the poems to flow like a story however they are sometimes stopped by full-stops to emphasise a shift in tone or emotion.
There is a sharp shift in tone in ‘Mr. Bleaney’ and ‘Self’s the Man’ with the use of the word ‘But’. It changes the mood and in both poems the focus shifts to the narrator who relates what he has of these characters to his own life.
‘But wait, not so fast:
Is there such a contrast?’
Larkin doesn’t seem to know if his unmarried life is better than Arnold’s unhappy married life. Throughout the poem Larkin has used the line “That Arnold is less selfish than I,” however after this turning point it is not used anymore as he comes to a pessimistic conclusion that his life is as miserable as Arnold’s.
‘So he and I are the same,’
Larkin’s views of life are very bleak as we can see he does not believe in marriage or happy couples, he is miserable so he thinks everyone else must be as well.
At the end of the poem Larkin still tries to tell us that he prefers his life to Arnold’s married life.
‘Only I’m a better hand
At knowing what I can stand
Without them sending a van-
Or I suppose I can.’
However the ending is ambiguous and it is not made clear who’s life is superior, Larkin’s or Arnold’s.
Larkin also identifies himself with Mr. Bleaney even though he doesn’t want to. The tone of the poem changes with the word ‘But,’ preceded by a full stop which emphasises the change in atmosphere. The shift is further emphasised as the language before the turning point is very colloquial and easily accessible however it then turns into language which is typical of Larkin, full of pessimism pointlessness.
‘And at his age no more to show
Than one hired box,’
Larkin may have chosen the words “One hired box” to represent a coffin, Mr. Bleaney’s coffin. It truly shows how miserable his life must have been that all he had achieved in his life has come to nothing and all that he has is a coffin.
The ending of the poem displays Larkin’s increased pessimism that is constant in nearly all of his poems.
‘He warranted no better, I don’t know,’
It is almost as if Larkin can not make up his mind at the end if it was just for Mr. Bleaney to die a lonely and miserable man. “He warranted no better,” shows Larkin’s cynicism and low regard for Mr. Bleaney’s bleak life. Larkin feels that because Bleaney was relatively happy, unlike himself, he should not have deserved any better than him as he finds himself identifying with Bleaney more and more.
As in the other poems Larkin finds himself comparing the way he lives to the way Dockery did in ‘Dockery and Son’. The poem starts as an anecdotal and works it way to a conclusion.
‘Dockery was junior to you…’
‘His son’s here now…’
As in ‘Self’s the Man’ this poem also comments on how children affect people’s lives and Larkin’s views on commitments and children are clearly shown in the poem. ‘Dockery and Son’ also comments on how time equals loss and how time changes people and things, this is a strong theme in a lot of Larkin’s poems.
‘I try the door of where I used to live:
Larkin comments on how you cannot go back in time and how he is isolated from his past.
The language is colloquial and there is a casual mood as the persona drifts through the poem as time goes on with use of enjambment. ‘Yawning…I fell asleep.’
The ending is pessimistic and is again typical of a Larkin poem.
‘And age, and then the only end of age.’
Larkin wants us to see that fatherhood and bachelorhood are only superficial differences over essential sameness.
All three poems cover themes of choice and chance, the past and nostalgia, and life and death. They all seem to have bleak and miserable moods. Larkin seems to identify a small part of himself within every character he criticises and makes himself, but also the reader, think about how he lives his own life and how different it actually is from those people’s lives.