Larkin and abse discussing relationships Philip Larkin and Dannie Abse have very different and contrating attitudes to relationships. On the whole, Larkin presents the concepts of love and marriage as very superficial and meaningless, whereas Abse appears to be less such nihilistic and more open and positive about such topics. The essay will discuss this contrast by examing Larkin’s “Whitsun Weddings”, “Wild Oats” and “Arundel Tomb”, and Dannie Abse’s “Imitations” and “Sons”.
The poem entitled `The Whitsun Weddings` is an observational piece by Larkin when he was travelling from Hull to London by train. The poem has seven stanzas and is is typical of Larkin. The words are simple, the emotions are blunted and the verse is packed with cynicism, as on the whole, he was a grumpy individual. Whit Sunday falls on the 7th Sunday after Easter and years ago it was a public holiday. Whit Sunday and Whit Monday are important days in the religious calendar otherwise known as the Pentecost.
At a time when most of the families in Great Britain were in a celebratory Bank holiday mood Larkin was feeling discontent as he embarked on his train journey from Hull to London. Larkin has used the first line of each stanza to tell us what that particular verse is going to be all about, in the subsequent lines Larkin then tells us his tale. In stanza one the scene is set, Larkin had a late start and the lunchtime train from Hull to London felt clammy because of the heat even though there was plenty of fresh air coming in through the windows, this is classic contradictory Larkin.
As Larkin sat down on the hot train seat he began to feel a sense of relaxation. At last he could sit quietly and make his observations. The brilliant sunlight was almost blinding and the heat had further heightened the smell emanating from the already very smelly fish dock. So we can sense that the start of the journey is not scenic and the air is not aromatic but Larkin appears reasonably content about his forthcoming journey. In stanza two he emphasises how hot it is, `All afternoon through the tall heat that sleep for miles inland`.
At this point in his journey southwards he is noticing the hedgerows, the fields, the farmland filled with cattle but the beauty is somewhat spoiled because the cloth train seat is permeated with all kinds of unpleasant smells that override the sweeter smells of the passing countryside. At the end of the second stanza Larkin talks of passing a new town, a place that has nothing to offer but a large area of scrap cars. Between 1946 and 1955 a number of new towns were erected as overspill towns and it seems that Larkin is referring to one of these.
Larkin may have had some long lasting relationships but he never married, in fact Larkin may have been averse to the institution and all of its encumbrances. In stanza three they are approaching the next station and it’s obvious that Larkin is taken aback by the hullabaloo that is coming from the station platform. At that point Larkin sticks his nose back into his book and carries on reading. As the train pulls away from the platform he is able to see that the platform is filled with laughing young women.
Larkin lets cynicism creep into play and he sees fit to describe the young females in an almost unkind way. Larkin states that their mode of dress is a joke, at that point you could begin to wonder if Larkin is mildly slightly jealous. From this we can infer that Larkin is unsatisfied by such relationships and how they haven’t developed as he’s have liked in his own life. The happy group that have gathered on the platform are there to wave someone off and Larkin describes that someone as `something that survived it`. Was Larkin feeling left out?
If everyone around you is happy there can be no lonelier place on earth to be. This is therefore what I believe to be the main theme of the poem, loneliness and the need for a long term strong relationship. The rhyme scheme in the poem is present yet uneven, to represent Larkin’s own misgivings and discontent about his own situation and his lack of a long term relationship that those that surround him have. The heavy use of enjambment also carries this theory. Compare this to Dannie Abse’s “Imitations”. The poem centres on Abse’s thoughts about his son and how he has become an adolescent.
Although the poem is rather negative, describing his son as a “chameleon” therefore suggesting his son is changing. However unlike in “Whitsun Weddings” is less pessimistic, saying that although he will die like his son his family name will be passed down the generations and expresses some affection for his offspring, whereas Larkin has no such optimism, he focuses on the fact that he has no son and probably never will, much like in Larkin’s “Dockery and Son” where he contemplates his lack of contribution to his species existence of how his life when he dies will cease to have meaning.
The poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’ written by Phillip Larkin illustrates the relationship between two forms found on a tomb. This poem shows the ‘lies’ love can tell, and the falseness of how their relationship is portrayed. The fact that their hands are clasped in one another’s grip is seen to be symbolic of their undying and everlasting love for each other. Larkin uses humour, along with sarcasm and irony to demonstrate that this is in fact symbolic of nothing and merely by ‘a sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace’. How can we believe this evident lie, for it is not them who have chosen to be placed like this?
Therefore it cannot be a true show of emotions. Furthermore not just one life but two, and how their personalities were adjoined together cannot merely be judged by the way their hands have been similarly adjoined together on their tombstone. Archaic language is used within this poem to emphasise the age of the tombs. In the first line of the first stanza it says ‘their faces blurred’ this also illustrates the age of the tombs and how long it has been since they had lived and felt this ‘love’, as it shows the stone has begun to corrode.
This is perhaps also a metaphor for their feelings towards one another; they have also corroded like the stone. The truth of their love is ‘blurred’. This demonstrates another key theme in this poem, time and how it can ‘transfigure’ the truth. As time erodes their identity leaving only an ‘attitude’, time also preserves this ‘untruth’ in ‘effigy’. Perhaps Larkin is trying to portray also that we should not take all things at face value. Another obviously evident theme in this poem expressed even in the title, is the inevitability of death, and how passage of time leads to death. Tomb’ connotes death and throughout the stanzas there is a semantic field of words relating to death, repeating ‘lie’ and also the use of ‘rigidly’. As well as this ‘Bone-riddled ground’ has connotations of death or some sort of a graveyard, this also adds emphasis to death and how it is inescapable. The hands are described with the adverb, ‘empty’, this connotes the opposite of love, loneliness. It also implies to the reader that although this symbol of their love remains, they are both dead at the end of the day so can actually feel no emotion, no love, just nothing.
The word ‘hollow’ in the sixth stanza also implies this. The enjambment between stanzas four and five emphasises how they ‘persisted’ even after their deaths, their legacy although untrue still lives on. The first three stanzas show observation more than anything, with a slight indication of the realisation of the ‘untruth’, with the phrase ‘habits vaguely shown’. This suggests that little of the lives of this couple can be remembered merely by their tomb. The lesser and more insignificant things of them, the little things which they did every day that collectively made them who they were have been forgotten.
Larkin’s observation is shown more clearly in stanza four, ‘To look, not read’. This describes the hordes of people come to view this effigy, they look and do not literally read the ‘Latin’ inscriptions, this also emphasises the passing of time as this is an ancient language no longer common in our society. However they also do not ‘read’ into the characters of the Earl and Countess and are ignorant to the imperative point that it was not them that chose this posture to be cast in to express their undying love for one another, but it was in fact the ‘sculptor’s’.
Larkin is showing the ignorance of the ‘endless altered people’ that viewed the sculpture, none seeing the truth of it, but creating an ‘untruth’ and thus destroying any real identity this Earl and Countess ever had and forming a mere ‘attitude’ and romantic idea which s unrealistic. With each person who has assumed the love of this couple and forgotten the other aspects of their lives, a part of their true identity has been forever lost. Perhaps Larkin is trying to also portray that once we are deceased it is our memories and our affect on the people around us that allows us to live on, our legacy.
However many things are forgotten over time and the truth is hard to judge. Each person has their own ‘scrap of history’; however in this case time has left ‘only an attitude’. Is Larkin showing here that all history is manipulated, and in a sense untrue as it is taken out of context on the most part? The poetic intention of the poem is made blatantly clear using sarcasm in the final three lines of the poem. That the love has died with them and the ‘attitude’ that remains is an ‘untruth’. The rhyme scheme also mirrors this, ‘prove’ rhymes with ‘love’, showing poetic irony as the love has been disproved.
The final three lines of the poem show Larkin’s affective use of sarcasm and wit; the quantifier ‘almost’ is repeated, suggesting in subtle tones to the reader this is in fact sarcasm. The poem ends with no enjambment but a full stop adding the bluntness of the last line, ‘What will survive of us is love. ’ This also emphasises that as the poem has ended as has the love between this Earl and Countess. This poem is observational and though provoking and leaves questions in the readers mind on the subject of love and namely time and the changes that occur over time.
I conclude that this is yet another nihilistic Larkin poem, which finishes on the question, “does love endure? ” his answer, is a plain no! Therefore overall we can say that Abse holds far more positive and uplifting views on relationships shown by the poem “Sons” where he describes his offspring’s teenage behaviour, then admitting “I was like that” as if to appease him and always showing the bond between father and Son. Such a bond is absent in Larkin’s life and this transfers into his poetry accordingly.