‘The Whitsun Weddings’ by Philip Larkin Essay Sample

‘The Whitsun Weddings’ by Philip Larkin Pages
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Larkin produces a powerful image for the reader; the stagnant heavy heat of the English summer that transcends from the words on the page to form a palpable experience that the reader really feels. “All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense of being in a hurry gone” quickly establishes Larkin’s landscape as we acknowledge the lethargic and inert 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 attunes us to his senses, enabling us to feel at one with what he sees, smells and hears.

“All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept for miles inland”; Larkin further develops the languid feeling as his train crawls through the English countryside in a “slow and stopping curve southwards” towards London. Without condemning what he sees, Larkin merely 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 very interested in the weddings that happen outside his cabin’s window. After mistaking them for something else, something far less celebratory, Larkin “went on reading”. A sense of condescension blankets his work as we recognise the upper-class, almost elitist approach he takes as he is offered a glimpse of these couples’ paramount moments. 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 a gauche image of the perils of the life of the working class. While the couples and families enjoy themselves at the end of a day of celebration, we perceive the author sitting on the train watching through narrowed eyes, quietly and cynically feeling a sense of disappointment as the “fresh couples [climb] aboard”.

The train crosses a frayed boundary as the rural landscape is slowly pressured more and more by the imposition of industry and forms into the outskirts of London; “poplars [casting] long shadows over major roads”. Larkin reflects on the “frail traveling coincidence” of the couples on the train, bound together by the same “farcical” moment that each have experienced on this Whitsun weekend; every marriage unique, yet every married couple identical to the pair that boarded the train at the previous town.

Larkin’s poem takes us on a journey not only through the landscapes of England, but through the lives of the very people who live in them by presenting us with a seemingly verbatim recount of the sights, smells and sounds the author experiences.

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