Philip Larkin Poems
Larkin’s Portrayal of Place in “I Remember, I Remember” and “Places, Loved Ones”
Philip Larkin’s wrote his collection of poems The Less Deceived in 1955, and it became a work which garnered him public recognition. His poems often include a deep sense of his feelings of inadequacy and contain his view that he did not belong within society or at least that he never fulfilled the requirements of society’s expectations. As a consequence of this his works often contain a melancholic and negative mood. An example of Larkin not meeting the expectations of society can be found in the fact that he never felt that he belonged in a specific place, this view is expressed in his two poems, I “Remember, I Remember” and “Places, Loved Ones.:
The poem “I Remember, I Remember: portrays the physical journey of Larkin on a train where he passes through the place in which he was born, Coventry. This is shown by the lexical choice of the word “line” in the opening of the poem and the later reference to a “whistle” both of which have connotations with the railway environment. Despite this journey to his place of origin Larkin is revealed to be just stopping in an unmoving train to some other unspecified destination. This shows his lack of attachment to the location of his birth, throughout the whole transience of the poem he remains onboard the train. The reason for his lack of attachment is described later on in the course of the poem when his uneventful childhood is revealed. The classic imagery that people normally associate with their place of origin is illustrated through Larkin’s use of reference to the literary works of authors who have romanticized the world of childhood such as Enid Blyton. Larkin achieves this reference in stanzas four and five of his poem. His use of images such as “Spoken to by an old hat” and “flowers and fruit” provide a direct contrast to the nature of his own childhood. He feels no connection to the location of Coventry due to the fact that he did not have the idyllic childhood that is illustrated in so many literary works. The use of the negative to portray this area of Larkin’s life is characteristic of Larkin, bestowing a typical melancholic and depressed tone to the mood of the poem. This is another indication of Larkin’s own personal feelings of not fitting in with the average member of society, he has not gone through the same childhood experiences as most people.
Larkin portrays his disconnection to his place of origin through the lack of emotional response that he has for being there. He describes at the end of the poem his uneventful childhood as being not the “places fault” again revealing his feelings of inadequacy, he does not blame the location but himself for not having the idyllic childhood that is presented by the authors that he makes reference to in stanzas four and five. The regular structure and rhythm of the poem again reveal his lack of strong emotion or attachment to the place where he was born. This is suggested through the constant regularity. Just as an irregular structure could be seen to emphasise strong emotions which take over the structure of the poem, the ordered consistent regularity of Larkins poem acts to highlight the absence of strong emotion. The regular consistent iambic pentameter rhythm mimics the passage of time within the poem and also reflects the theme of growing up. The regular rhyme pattern, A, A, B, B, C, again reflects the uneventful nature of his childhood. The one break in this regularity and uniformity of the poem is its final line where Larkin results to the conclusion that places are interchangeable, he could have “unspent” his childhood anywhere due to the fact that “Nothing, like something, happens anywhere”.
Similarly, in his poem “Places, Loved Ones,” Larkin demonstrates his lack of connection to any particular location. This poem contains strong references to Larkin’s acknowledgement of the fact that he does not fit the typical expectation of society. This is shown through his reference to other expectations of society such as marriage, Larkin reveals that he has not, “met that special one” again demonstrating his acute awareness of the fact that he does not fit the regular pattern. Larkin’s lack of success in love is also a prominent theme across his other works for example, maiden name, again in this area of his life it appears to be his own inadequacy’s and lack of commitment that prevent him from being successful.
In “Places, Loved Ones,” Larkin condemns the expectations of society that you have to belong to a place by portraying this expectation as a removal of individual freedom. This is shown in the line, “You want no choice”. Although this façade of meaning that Larkin creates within the poems acts as a cover to hide his deeper desires to belong to a person and place that he is unwilling to admit. He does this in an attempt to dispel another expectation of society that those who do not find their person and place should be damaged by this emptiness in their lives. This view is achieved by the use of the visual image created by the lexical choice of the word “mashed” which gives a sense of the damaging effects of not belonging to a person or place. Recalling “I Remember, I Remember,” “Places, Loved Ones” contains a regular structure and rhyme scheme. This is again reflective of the passage of time. Larkin describes the ongoing search through his lexical choice of the word “found” for person and place upon which to have an “instant claim”. The regular rhythm also acts as a cover for Larkin’s hidden desires to belong. In the regularity a sense of emotional detachment to place and people is expressed.
The same negative tone is thus found in both of the two poems “I Remember, I Remember” and “Places, Loved Ones.” Such purposeful negativity used to describe the sense of not belonging to a place. In both poems, Larkin portrays place as something that he feels no emotional attachment to. The poems also present Larkin’s feeling of inadequacy that he does not fit into the template that society provides due to the fact that he does not belong to a specific place. This sense of not belonging and detachment provides both poems with a melancholic mood typical of the style of Larkin.
Wit and Humor in Larkin’s Poems: Ambulances and The Building
Larkin’s poetry reflects a certain dark humor, with an often-witty conveyance of a powerful message. There is certainly control and elegance in Larkin’s work; the subject matter is apposite and therefore has an impact on his reader rather than an expression of elegance in the traditional sense. There is elegance in the brutality of his messages in both ‘Ambulances’ and ‘The Building’, but to what extent are these comments powerful and relevant enough to be considered ‘valued’, and how far can they be said to be patterned and controlled?
A large fraction of Larkin’s wit lies in the intelligence of his perspective on his subject matter. A text is undoubtedly regarded to hold literary value when the subject matter is considered serious, perhaps dealing with moral and philosophical topics of acknowledged importance. Given that both poems I have chosen question the purpose of life and the inescapable truth of death, this confirms the seriousness that renders them valued. For example, in ‘Ambulances’, the moral and philosophical approach he takes can relate to the way Larkin thinks of the dying patient as they experience “the sudden shut of loss Round something nearly at an end.” At this point he sympathises with their fear. The symbolic use of the verb “shut” has a cruel sense of finality, metaphorically emphasizing the closure one would literally feel in an ambulance, but the possible ending of life itself. Here he is reflecting on the loss that death will bring; which “loosens” all from family and identity – the philosophy behind this is the questioning of “family” and “identity”, are they all that really matters?
Comparably, in ‘The Building’ there is an elegant fatalism as he writes “All know they are going to die. Not yet, perhaps not here, but in the end, and somewhere like this. [the hospital]” which evokes an emotional reaction from the reader. As I mentioned in my introduction, there is of necessity a brutality in the seemingly matter of fact message, and here the pattern and control is deliberately rigid reflecting the finality of death. As Larkin presents the inevitability of dying, he commands us to acknowledge that regardless of a person’s identity or qualities, we are all going to die. In another of Larkin’s poems, ‘Mr Bleaney’, the darkness of his subject matter recurs in his reference to “Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook Behind the door, no room for books or bags” The meagre listing of the room shows his belief that it is reflective of the emptiness of ‘Mr Bleaney’s life and the absence of character, similarly, the reference to “books or bags” highlights a lack of desire for furthering literature and imagination. In ‘Mr Bleaney’, Larkin challenges his readers to reflect on how we live.
An absence of individuality is also enforced in ‘The Building’, when he describes the patients as “women, men; old, young; crude facets of the only coin this place accepts”. Here he suggests we are all sorted like “coins” into corresponding categories, dehumanised and instead judged upon medical notes and labels. As with most poems by Larkin, he takes a particular experience and finds a general truth in it with his witty and striking language. To be valued, the subject matter must contain themes concerning all. In ‘Ambulances’, the suffering of the victim becomes the model for all life lived and all deaths experienced – thus concerning all people. However the theme itself is bleak; and living, according to this, is just a rush towards death. The line “[dying] brings closer what is left to come”, refers to the process of dying; becoming ill and growing old leads to the inevitability and finality of death itself. The final line “And dulls to distance all we are”, suggests that we are left isolated by the experience of moving towards death, distanced from all that we associate with “our identity”. The ingenuity Larkin presents in this final line can be compared with the final line of ‘The Building’; “nothing contravenes The coming dark, though crowds each evening try With wasteful, weak, propitiatory flowers.” Larkin’s ironic wit is clear in both these final lines in which he expresses the futility of trying to ignore or mask the truth of death itself, here Lark challenges us to question “the coming dark” and once more reflect on the way we have lived. The alliterative phrase condemns the meaningless flowers which are used as protection from the visitors inability to help the patients.
Comparatively, in both ‘Ambulances’ and ‘The Building’, there is a contrast between the context of the death experienced in the two. Given that ‘Ambulances’ was written in 1961, this was at a time when the NHS was just beginning to make it’s impact felt on universal medicine. At this point in time, if one was on their journey towards death, there was no going back as their fate was inevitable; before the advent of the NHS, the majority died quiet deaths at home. The introduction of the new system of healthcare gave a sense of hope, disregarded by Larkin in ‘Ambulances’, suggesting he did not have the same optimism as others. ‘The Building’ was written in 1972, after a period of time when the NHS had developed greatly. This contrasts with the description of the hospital in ‘The Building’; the language like the buildings is layered and complex, representative of the NHS which was developing. ‘The Building’ represents the new religion of medicine as Larkin writes “For see how many floors it needs, how tall It’s grown by now” The used of the verb “need” suggests a sense of urgency, as if ‘The Building’ itself is in a race to constantly keep up with the consistent development of the new medical world.
Larkin uses a metaphoric thread related to religion throughout both poems. The philosophical nature of his word choices focus on this central metaphor; that medicine was as this time seen by many as the new religion. This is especially clear in ‘The Building’ where a sense of hope drives people through illness, allowing them to hope this particular illness will not be a part of their journey towards death. At a time where the NHS was in its infancy, people had a new-found sense of hope. However, in both poems, Larkin shuts down the false hope seen in the new and largely unknown medical world, emphasizing his belief that regardless of any medical development, death will always remain an inevitable part of living. He asks his readers to think about death in order to live; he suggests people must accept the ‘slow dying’ and inevitability death entails in order to make the most of every day. Taking a more direct approach in ‘Ambulances’, there are many literal references to religion itself. For example, the description of the ambulance is “closed like confessionals” instantly evoking a sense of secrecy and isolation for the reader. The hope linked with the “new religion” of medicine is apparent when he says “Poor soul, they whisper at their own distress”, showing the empathy people feel towards the patient in the poem; yet their “own distress” proposes an expression of common vulnerability to sickness and death, something inescapable yet put aside with the idealistic hope of the new development in medical technology at this time.
Larkin’s ability to shape and control language is further reflected in ‘The Building’ with another religious reference to the “confession”. While in ‘Ambulances’, the vehicle taking the patient towards the inevitable horrors of death is described as a “confessional”, at most a last moment to redeem oneself. In his later poem, ‘The Building’, Larkin mimics this simile with “all here to confess that something has gone wrong. It must be an error of a serious sort.” This similar use of the word “confess” plays on this metaphor of religion; as by saying “gone wrong” suggests this is not how things are supposed to have happened. He imagines the “confession” a patient would have with a doctor regarding their health as an “error of some sort”, elevating the role of the doctor to that of a priest. The clinical and scientific language highlights to the reader the trauma of illness, instead allowing them to perceive a sense of hope in medicine; this metaphorical language taken from the semantic field of religion emphasizes the point he wants his reader to understand.
With regard to patterned language, Larkin centers his poetry on this. His lack of romanticism allows him to put his philosophical themes into carefully constructed poetry, his aim was to show ordinary human emotion rather than heightened falsehoods. Larkin’s elegance relies on the revelation of simple truths: his forcing his readers to face what they don’t want to hear is poetic, yet expresses his incisive use of simple language. For example in ‘Ambulances’ “They come to rest at any kerb: All streets in time are visited.” The gentle connotations of the word “rest” plays on the idea that death does not discriminate between anybody as suggested by “any kerb”; the harsh inevitability of “the coming dark” is reinforced as he says “All streets”. The elegance here lies in the word “time”; he uses this to juxtapose the immortality of time, with the finality of death. He describes ambulances as they “thread” through the veins of the cities, reminding us of the concept of human frailty and mortality which is threaded through our lives. The common mortality Larkin writes about is most evident in ‘The Building’; “To realise this new thing held in common makes them quiet.”, as we as readers are given a pause for thought to reflect on our physical fallibility.
The elegance in ‘The Building’ is reinforced by his use of grand and striking vocabulary with subtle references to “time” once again; as he says “The thought of dying, for unless its powers Outbuild cathedrals nothing contravenes the coming dark.” The use of the word “dark” could be interpreted anti-religiously, proving the poems value through its invitation to debate; in this case the “dark” is symbolic of emptiness, not the religious promise of the bright light of heaven. While I have discussed the use of “contravenes the coming dark” previously, attaching it to the “outbuilding of cathedrals” gives a grand perspective, the connotations of “cathedral” being a strong, grand and indestructible structure. His elegance lies in the blunt assertion that simply the “nothing” outbuilds “the thought” of dying. In this case it is the inability to escape and avoid death, regardless of any situation or context; that is the great unifying fact of life.
‘Ambulances’ and ‘The Building’ by Larkin continue to be considered valued texts because they contain unpalatable truths posed with a blunt elegance. The beauty in Larkin’s work lies in this ironic brutality that forces the reader to experience the harsh realizations. When talking about the subject matter, Larkin said “Deprivation for me is what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” In these poems the “deprivation” is the ongoing absence of hope.
An analysis of “Church Going” by Philip Larkin
When one reads the title Church Going, one is inclined to think the poem that follows is going to be deeply religious. However, Philip Larkin’s “Church Going” introduces an interesting play of words; when one goes on to read the poem, it becomes clear that it isn’t about going “to” church but the going “of” it. This poem addresses the slow demise of Church as an institution. Throughout, Larkin explores the possibility of what would happen if the Church were diluted in its essence, all while acknowledging the ongoing attraction of the religiosity that the Church embodies.
In the very first line the poet has made it clear that he’s a sceptic and he doesn’t wish to be involved in any ceremonies. He mentions the phrase “Another church”, as in just another church. This phrase is important because this is a part of the idea of religion being diluted, where all he sees is just “another church”. His tone is almost provocative in this context. Even when he says that everything is “brownish now”, he tries to imply that it is slowly eroding and isn’t quite as potent as it used to be. He brings out the idea of decay in this part of the poem. Also, the fact that he calls the alter the “holy end” almost seems to be in a subtle yet distinctly mocking tone. What is interesting, however, is that there is an “unignorable silence”. While this is a way by which he is questioning why he finds no answers, it may also mean that it is in this condition of the church that the speaker finds the peace needed for introspection. However, in the end, there is an “awkward reverence”, exposing a sense of ambiguity in the attitude of the speaker towards God.
The speaker then shows a level of cynicism, moving his “hand around the font”- is he searching for God or checking out the place? (sense of ambivalence). He reads out a few verses, saying “here endeth” much louder than he meant. This phrase could have a deeper layer of meaning and perhaps can be associated with the idea of the demise of church as an institution. “The echoes snigger briefly” is another very significant phrase that might point to the fact that even the echoes of his voice are mocking the whole idea of this demise. He donates an “Irish sixpence”, knowing it has no value. This sixpence may metaphorically symbolize the church and its waning significance.
The first stanza brings out the ambivalence of the speaker, despite the fact that the speaker says that the place is not worth stopping for, he stops there nonetheless. What is he looking for? But he finds himself at a loss again, not having found what he was looking for. He wonders what will happen when “churches fall completely out of use”. He wonders if they will become monuments to be admired or if they will be considered unlucky. He also wonders if this will become a place where only superstition finds a space. The fourth stanza covers the idea of the possibilities of events that could happen if church is gone.
In the fifth stanza, he speaks of the hypocrisy of the way religion is seen and wonders if the church will only be useful for these purposes. He wonders if it will become a place towards which a “Christmas-addict” would be drawn. Perhaps one can conclude that this phrase brings out the idea of the importance of church as a purely ceremonial landmark. People only go to church during Christmas. He goes on contemplating whether the Christmas-addict will be as ambivalent as him, bored and uninformed. In this stanza, he delineates the church as potentially a place that just holds important ceremonies. He also brings out a very important fact that the most important times of our life are tied to religion- birth, death and love.
Despite all his cynicism, the narrator ultimately talks about being drawn towards the church, not knowing what he has come for. He says that someone will be always looking for a greater calling, and so the church can’t ever fall completely out of use. Despite the fact that the speaker believes that the place wasn’t worth stopping for, he does in fact stop. This brings out a sense of ambivalence in the poem and shows that the poet isn’t entirely cynical of church as an institution. He speaks of church being a shelter where the compulsions of the visitors converge. These elements in the poem render it less certain and bring out a sense of ambiguity due to the conflicted stance of the poet. He says that “It pleases me to stand in silence here”, implying that despite the fact that he doesn’t completely understand the theological purpose of the church, there is a part of him that is drawn back to the church time and again.
Analysis of ‘Dockery and Son’
‘Dockery and Son’ is a reflective, pensive and uncertain poem in which Larkin produces a sense of life drifting away and considers “how much had gone of life, / How widely from the others.” Although it cannot be assumed that the narrator is Larkin, the tone, ideas and reflections in the poem support a biographical reading. The poem begins with Larkin returning to his former university and speaking with the “Dean” who mentions that Dockery who “was junior” to Larkin now has a son attending the same university. As Larkin makes his journey back on the train, he considers how young Dockery must have been when he had his son, which leads him to his later thoughts on the consequences of their different choices in life. The ambiguity early in the poem such as the precise purpose for visiting the “Dean” and being “death-suited, visitant” sets the tone for personal uncertainty of emotions as Larkin considers the purpose in his life. The narrative detail ends by the fourth stanza as Larkin conflicts with the central tenet of the poem: an attempt to understand “Where do these innate assumptions come from?” –the obsessive attachments and faith in personal purpose in life as our emotions “harden into all we’ve got”. Larkin juxtaposes himself with Dockery, “embodying / For Dockery a son, for me nothing, / Nothing” which is the most uncertain notion of the poem as he could be showing how his choices in life do not ‘embody’ “adding.” However, the sombre tone and repetition of nothing seem to reflect a realisation of the negative consequences of believing “adding […] was dilution.” The personal perspective of Larkin remains ambiguous “Like sand-clouds, thick and close” although a familiar finality ends the poem suggesting that life, “whether or not we use it, it goes”.The language is of an ‘everyday’ lexis and contemplative register, almost conversational but with definite tones of thought in phrases such as “But Dockery, good lord,…”. The rhythm is uneven and often disjointed early in the poem, much like the abrupt beginning in medias res that brings the reader immediately into the situation. The second stanza begins abruptly, “Locked.” and the imagery of the “Canal and clouds and colleges subside / Slowly from view” – emphasised by the euphony of the hard ‘c’ alliteration and ‘l’ consonance – are broken abruptly by “And ate an awful pie”. The early broken rhythm contrasts with the later accumulation of enjambment and long sentences showing a deeper submersion in thought “Of finding out how much of life had gone.” The thoughts seem to begin as Larkin “walked along / The platform to its end” and saw the:Joining and parting of lines reflect a strongUnhindered moon. To have no son, no wife, No house or land still seemed quite natural.The symbolism in these lines is moving and “lines” (similarly to the “Bright knots of rail” in The Whitsun Weddings) could be of choices and potential in life and the different routes of opportunity (with the present participle of “joining and parting” adding to the flow in the poem). The “Unhindered moon” is a powerful image suggesting certainty and a sense of destiny among the range of “lines” of life. However, the juxtaposition with the repeated “no” presents an undertone of uncertainty which is also mildly connoted in an alternative sense of the “moon” as constantly changing when juxtaposed with “natural.” The continuous enjambement used in the final stanzas reflects the contradictions and complexity of Larkin’s thoughts:Only nineteen, he must have taken stock Of what he wanted, and had been capableOf…No, that’s not the difference: rather, howConvinced he was he should be added to!As Larkin considers in these lines how his life deviated so “widely from the others”, the use of an ellipsis, one of three in the poem, reflects contemplation and uncertainty. The completeness of the first line of stanza five suggest an understanding of his difference that he was not “convinced” that he “should be added to”. The immediate juxtaposition with the more complex lines emphasises the extent of Larkin’s preoccupation as he contemplates, “Where do these innate assumptions come from?” The remainder of the poem is bound by this powerful question and is the most ambiguous. Larkin continues to use simple language; however, the syntax of the lines becomes increasingly complicated with the ambiguity of the objects in sentences that use pronouns such as “they”, “those” and “it”. The imagery of “Those warp tight-shut, like doors” implies that despite the opportunities in life (possibly suggested in the symbolism of doors), there is suppression of what is “truest” and an inexplicable movement towards “innate assumptions”. “Warp” suggests an immense pressure, as if “doors” themselves bend under the force keeping them “tight-shut” (which is also emphasised by the sharp ‘t’ and ‘s’ sounds”). Larkin draws more conclusions than suggested by a first reading. An ambiguity may begin with “To me it was dilution” in which “was” is interpreted as a subtle yet significant indication that Larkin begins to sense a change in his attitude that his life “still seemed quite natural.” The completeness of the line “Suddenly they harden into all we’ve got” is powerful; it embodies the abruptness of this change and despite the enjambment into the next stanza leaves this thought as striking in the mind of the reader. By not punctuating after “Suddenly” Larkin increases the speed of the line and makes it more conclusive than his otherwise undulating, meditative rhythm. This may be the “fear” which Larkin describes later in the poem, as he considers the transformation from the seemingly fond reflection “We used to stand before that desk” to how “a numbness registered” that the “innate assumptions” lamentably become “all we’ve got”. The simile of “they rear / Like sand-clouds” is both ambiguous and a route into conclusions. The immediate connotations of “sand-clouds” is poignant, it suggests an engulfing, coarse and painful force but also undertones of natural and therefore irresistible forces (similar to “watched the frigid wind / Tousling the clouds” in ‘Mr Bleaney, an equally self-reflective poem). Larkin concludes from this imagery that these “innate assumptions” ‘embody’ “for Dockery a son” but Larkin is less fulfilled, stating, “for me nothing, / Nothing with all a son’s harsh patronage.” The repetition of “nothing” adds a sombre emphasis of being unfulfilled and although the meaning of “all a son’s harsh patronage” is ambiguous, the connotations are immediately negative. The phrase could possibly offer an undertone of his personal remorse as a son, having had a difficult relationship with his parents, reflecting personal anxieties of having his own son (although his comments in 1971 of ‘This Be the Verse’ may offer a different indication to his family attitudes). The lexis remains ‘everyday’ in the final lines; however, the register becomes almost euphemistic with the enigmatic – “leaves what something hidden from us chose”. Grammatically, the line seems to refer to life as fleeting and leaving only the innate assumptions that “harden into all we’ve got” although it contains the essence of the poem of choices and opportunities introduced using the consistent devices of ambiguity and uncertain thought as part of complicated syntax. The conclusion is typical that life will bring “the only end of age.” The euphemism in this phrasing is poignant as it gives a sense of inevitability and Larkin with his continued cynicism, despite some attempt to understand the purpose of his existence, falls again to what he knows is certain and most fears.
Changing Seasons Metaphor in ‘Mother, Summer, I’
In ‘Mother, Summer, I’, through a mother and son’s shared distaste for summer weather, Larkin focuses on the dangers of ‘perfection’ which works to hide underlying issues and faults of any given situation. Larkin, through the extended metaphor of changing seasons, hones into the faults and negativity ingrained into a relationship between a mother and her child, and whilst the speaker is characterised as eager to rejuvenate a healthy relationship with his mother- the structure of the poem warns of the ultimate futility of this quest.
In the poem, Larkin uses the transition between the seasons summer and autumn as a metaphor for the fluctuating emotions felt within a mother-son relationship. Imagery surrounding warm weather in the first stanza is immediately eclipsed by a bleak autumn setting in the lines ‘brittle frost/ Sharpens the bird-abandoned air’, in order to mark out rainy weather as able to sedate and subdue the ‘suspicions’ and negative feelings brought on by summer. Indeed, the alliterated plosive ‘b’s’ of this lines further hone into autumn’s capacity to ‘sharpen’ and clarify the mother’s mindset, with the compound adjective ‘bird-abandoned’ perhaps used as a metaphor for the lack of worries in the mother’s mind once summer has passed. The even rhyme pattern ‘A B A C B D C D’ paired with the even 8 line stanzas reinforces the capacity of the winter months to soothe and ease any pain brought on by summer, evident in the personification of summer in the opening lines in which the mother ‘Holds up each summer day and shakes/ It out suspiciously’ in order to present a character attempting to humanize nature and shackle it into her control, with the sibilance and use of enjambment reflecting the action of ‘shaking’, evoking the meticulous detail in which the mother seeks for faults of ‘grape-dark clouds… lurking there’ in a seemingly perfect summer scene: the metaphor of ‘grapes’ suggests that summer allows for the mother’s emotions to sour- like rotting fruit- due to the worries of faults within the summer season, and additionally is just one of the many compound adjectives scattered throughout the stanzas, used to suggest that the emotional relationship between mother is son is one that defies the general constraints of language, whilst also suggesting the speaker’s attempts to repair their relationship through crafting new linguistic terms to describe it: this idea is drawn upon in the closing lines ‘I must await/ A time less bold, less rich, less clear’- in which the monosyllabic diction coupled with the form of imperative is suggestive of the speaker’s desire to put aside his status as a ‘summer-loving’ child in order to please his dissatisfied mother. The form of list here creates a sense of pace, suggesting that the rapid speed at which the speaker feels he must act in order to rejuvenate a healthy relationship with his mother, with the use of enjambment mirroring the action of smoothing out any faults or irregularities within the pair’s relationship. Furthermore, that each stanza is one sentence long additionally echoes the continuous passing of the seasons, perhaps suggesting that the relationship will inevitably change- for better or for worse- with the continuous progression of time.
Whilst the metaphor of seasons might be seen to strengthen the relationship of the characters, it might also be read as a divisive force able to fracture the bonds between the pair. Such ideas are immediately set up from the poem’s title- ‘Mother, Summer, I’, in which the syntactical positioning of noun ‘summer’ literally fragments the two words referring to the poem’s characters, suggesting that the uncomfortable summer months will create an unbridgeable divide within the characters’ relationship: indeed, whilst the the possessive pronoun in the opening line ‘my mother, who hates thunderstorms’ is suggestive of the speaker’s desire to reconnect with his emotionally distraught mother, to separate her through caesura from the rest of the stanza implies that she will ever remain psychologically distant from her son, due to her suspicions wrought by summer months- and to immediately classify her through the pejorative description of a hater of thunderstorms creates a pessimistic presentation of the mother that will dampen the reader’s perspective of her throughout the poem, implying that the son will never truly be able to rid himself of those negative perceptions gained of his mother, which will ever taint their relationship. Indeed, the toxicity of this familial relationship is mirrored in the structure of the poem, with the use of two stanzas- the first describing the mother, the second the son- suggests that summer weather has driven an irreparable divide between the pair that will not, in fact, be bridged by cooler and calmer weather. Furthermore, that the poem is a form of monologue implies that despite his attempts, the speaker’s mother will ever remain emotionally isolated from her son- and that ‘rain’- the traditional natural symbol of sorrow- is said to renew the relationship, implies the rather unfortunate idea that sorrow and negativity is ingrained into the very structure of the pair’s life, and thus they will never truly be able to enjoy a heartfelt and fulfilling connection as should be the case for any mother and son.
In conclusion, Larkin in ‘Mother, Summer, I’ explores the underlying issues in a relationship between mother and son, with the extended metaphor of fluctuating weather patterns in addition to the format of the poem placing ultimate blame for the fragmentation of the relationship on the mother, for her irrational and unpredictable thought.
The Loss of an Idyllic World in “MCMXIV”
Larkin’s idealised image of nostalgia of 1914 is reiterated through the use of the roman numerals, ‘MCMXIV’ to represent the Roman Empire. The title gives the overriding impression that although Larkin was not born until 1922 – subsequent to the war – he still appears to lament this idyllic time he was not even present in. Despite this historical disjunction, Larkin tries to draw attention to the everyday life that preceded the worst of World War I, and does so in a manner that reveals a peaceful world that is quickly falling into the past.
The opening line of the first stanza elucidates that a myriad of eager men volunteered for the war through the adjective ‘long’. The use of personification in this first stanza specifically evokes emotion to be experienced by the reader. I think that this technique is used to engross readers and present Larkin’s admiration toward what life was like during World War I. The use of the simile ‘as if they were stretched outside the Oval or Villa Park’ Is operative in that these volunteers correlate with crowds of fans waiting for a major sporting event and thus, oblivious to the serious nature and impending calamity of the war itself. ‘The crowns of hats’ represent these men as figures worthy of respect and the royal language is utilised to elevate their manner. The volunteering men had ‘moustached archaic faces’ which was, given the time, prevalent in War-stricken Britain. ‘Grinning’ implies a sense of the men’s credulity and therefore augments their scepticism of what will happen. The fact the end of the stanza presents an ‘August Bank Holiday’ this would have been, coincidentally, weeks before the start of the War – July 1914. The impression that this was merely a great escapade, which would not last long or even be particularly detrimental, was one that was current among large numbers of people in 1914. It was truly an “age of innocence”, which is an integral theme of Larkin’s poem.
The second stanza directly flows on from the first with ‘the shut shops, the bleached established names…’ Suggests these shops have been present for many years – maintained and passed on from father to son – until the imminent change from the War. Likewise, the ‘shut shops’ suggest the women and children of that particular area have been evacuated and the town is therefore desolate. Larkin evinces that there was profound change at this time which ultimately altered people’s lives for a long time. The representation of the obsolete currency ‘farthings and sovereigns’ shows how distant this age seems from our own, almost as remote as Ancient Greece or Rome. Furthermore, the Persona’s use of the ominous description ‘dark-clothed children’ shows how modest and conservative these times were, along with ‘black’ acting as the catalyst, foreshadowing the deaths to come. And, the fact these children are ‘at play’ suggest anything such as this are imperative in temporarily reassuring the kids into thinking all is well – they are at ease and content. ‘For cocoa and twist’ are articles associated with home and comfort that are the every-day essentials for a British person. This and ‘Pubs wide open all day’ enthral readers into thinking this is what Larkin reveres and truly laments.
Furthermore, the third stanza of this poem sees Larkin discard from the pivotal setting of a town, allowing the audience to empathise with a wider picture of how England, presently, was standardised. The countryside is “not caring” about the forthcoming conflict, but evidently it could not escape the consequences. Just as the war would put an end to gold sovereigns and all-day pub opening, so would it have a significant impact on the countryside, because food production had to be inflamed. And yet, despite imminent war change, people of the countryside are carefree and abstracted. The diversity of this stanza is that it is set pastorally – antithetical to Larkin’s description of industrialised locations. ‘With flowering grasses and fields’ could reflect the wretched events of Flanders and Ypres. Larkin’s use of ‘Domesday lines’ shows he is nostalgic for the social hierarchy of master and servant – again, augmenting the idea of a standardised and aristocratic Britain. ‘Limousines’ is archaic language for a car – it adds to the grandeur of these people – and justifies how it is different to the mass-produced cars of the contemporary world.
The final stanza of the poem is deeply embedded with the adverb ‘never’. It is repeated several times in order to reaffirm the unprecedented outcome, that this war changed the world and that no matter what happened in the future, men would never again view war with such innocence. We are referred back to the men of the opening stanza who, in their innocence of what was to happen, left their neat, ordered lives and went off to fight. The innocent way of life embodied by the pre-war world, and outlined earlier in ‘MCMXIV’, has gone for eternity. The stanza shows the irrevocability of the war – an inability to regain what was once an image of perfection. Larkin utilises alliteration through ‘Lasting a little while longer’ this mimics the sound of a fading age. The letter sound drags but ultimately fades. People were not prepared for WWI and the poem conveys the difficulty that the families of the soldiers might face in accepting the loss of normality they had previously relished. The poem includes sentencing which allows it to move from detail to detail like a photograph. It ends on a full stop, marking the definitive end to this idyllic way of life.