In confronting an analysis of “The Whitsun Weddings” by Phillip Larkin and “Ariel” by Sylvia Plath, it is immediately obvious that both authors consider human relationships in different ways. There are some similarities between the way in which they look upon other individuals, as both are prone to moments of depressive thought and in some cases such as “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “Mr Bleaney” by Phillip Larkin their expressions become somewhat exaggerated and one could say even hysterical in parts. Throughout the two Anthologies the feelings and emotions of the authors become apparent in the use of rhetorical devises and lexical choice, and thusly show the inner state of the poet at the time of composition.
Plath is known for writing from her emotions; her poetry is really a reflection of self and generally carries a sinister undertone with a depressive view to humanity and the relationships she encounters through her life. “The Applicant” personifies Plath’s image of marriage as an archaic and fake ceremony that allows people to put on the false pretence of happiness; in some ways this is reminiscent of her own life. The connotations of death and life are heavily linked with the idea of marriage in the fourth and fifth stanza; Plath identifies the wedding suit similarly to that of the suit a man would be buried in:
“Black and stiff, but not a bad fit…” (line 21)
“Believe me; they’ll bury you in it…” (line25)
This powerful imagery displays a sense of cynicism about the bonds of marriage and creates a disdainful tone throughout the rest of the poem, which becomes like an imperative sales pitch with the repetition of the line:
“Will you marry it?…” (line 14)
The use of the impersonal pronoun “it” distances both Plath and the reader from the subject of the poem, and contrasts wonderfully to “The Whitsun Weddings” by Phillip Larkin. Although prior knowledge of Larkin suggests that his view of marriage is somewhat similar to that of Plath’s in “The Applicant”, during the last stanza of this particular poem Larkin views the ceremony as a positive:
“That being change can give…” (line 77)
This sudden and almost alarming change of tone is reflective of Larkin’s style when writing. Although the negativities of the Wedding ceremony are pushed forward, this ending stanza allows the reader and indeed the poet to have a sense of positivity towards the uncertainty of life and love; which is in comparison to Plath’s viewpoint in “The Applicant”. The use of the uplifting tone creates a sense of hope through the disengaged view of married life and can be compared to the tone in “Home is so Sad” by Larkin; the repeated idea of a wedding and marriage as a:
“Joyous” (line 7)
Occasion that ought to be celebrated is juxtaposed with the awkward normality of life after a wedding. This particular poem demonstrates Larkin’s negative view towards his parents and we are able to see why his attitudes of resentment are as they are. Larkin views the “House” in terms of domestic items:
“Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That Vase” (lines 9 & 10)
This allows him to shift the focus from his own personal dwelling, to the implication of all homes as fake and materialistic.
Plath’s view on human relationships changes dramatically with the change of focus. For example, when Plath is writing about her father in “Daddy”, her emotions demonstrate her hysteria on the subject and also the plosive nature of her personality; when, however she is writing about her children, specifically Freda in “Morning Song”, Plath’s language and tone settles somewhat to a sensitive and delicate overview of her feelings towards her child. Plath’s choice of lexis demonstrates her protectiveness towards her child:
“Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls…” (line 6)
The use of the lexeme “Shadows” makes the parent’s (herself and her husband) existence seem less important as the child is pushed forward and idealised throughout. Also the use of caesura is very effective in creating ambivalence and keeping the pace very monotonative, thusly allowing for a more relaxed and calming tone to surround this particular poem. In comparison to this change in tone for Plath, Larkin adopts a similar style when writing about a lover in the “Broadcast”. His tone although critical at first of the music involved in the poem, changes when the subject is brought forward.
“I think of your face among all those faces…” (line 6)
This particular line is very tender when writing about someone in his life, that otherwise hadn’t been demonstrated, it allows a flicker of humanity to be seen by the reader, almost as if Larkin has let his guard down at the thought of this:
“Beautiful and devout…” (line 7)
Woman. Generally speaking this is very irregular of Larkin’s style as his tone when identifying an individual is negative and cutting, in contrast his views of the woman’s surroundings receive the negativities rather than the woman herself.
In conclusion, it is the differences in the poet’s reaction to individuals and circumstances that highlight not only the similarities between the two, but also the differences as well. Whilst Plath’s work is a demonstration of her mental and inner emotional state, Larkin’s work tends to approach different situations and the idea of human relationships in a superior tone with a limited use of positives to weigh against his negative opinions. It is both these differences and similarities between both Plath and Larkin that identifies them as clearly modernist poets.