Philip Larkin 'the Whitsun Weddings' Commentaries

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  • Topic: Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings, University of Hull
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  • Published : May 16, 2013
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Larkin Poem Commentaries
Here
My feelings for ‘Here’ have much to do with the recent video prepared for the Larkin25 anniversary, which should be seen in conjunction with what I have to say here. Sir Tom Courtenay’s reading together with the images of Hull and its surrounding areas, leave me with the sense that while this is not just a hymn to Hull, although it is certainly that – and written when Larkin had first come the city – it is a place which is constantly surprising the poet by the interplay of the factual and the numinous. The countryside ‘gives way’ to a large town, Larkin does not call it a city. Hull seems to emerge from the river from a limited pastoral with ‘harsh-sounding’ halts and ‘piled gold clouds’. Courtenay’s diction and intonation seem to call into question the domes and statues and spires and cranes and even the inhabitants and their simple needs and desires. The video images of the football/ rugby crowd and the view into the shopping mall from the elevator make the people involved appear both down to earth and beyond the ordinary. The lists of articles that the ‘cut-price’ crowd might want seem to be more like our own needs in straightened times, simple but necessary; as well as ‘out of reach’, ‘Unfenced existence’ brings to mind Ian Almond’s characterisation of Larkin as a mystic without a mystery — the sense of the mundane is enough to keep him wondering about the everyday without anything further intruding. Silence then prevails after the peopled city is left behind and the elements like ‘heat’, ‘thickening leaves’ and ‘neglected waters’ are allowed to be themselves. Joseph Bailey

Afternoons
'Afternoons' in some ways is a time capsule since in the poem Larkin observes such things as mothers "setting free" their children at swing and sandpit, a scene that is now perhaps dying out since in today's world young mothers tend to go into the workplace rather than spend time with their children. [The] poem reminds me about a cinema in my town's centre that closed down about a year ago and hasn't been touched, though when you look inside it's like looking into the past, seeing all the films from a year ago and all the fashion photos. Jonathan Winn

This poem was written when Philip Larkin lived in his top flat in Pearson Park in Hull. He loved living in a high room, where he could observe the comings and goings of other people. As he walked through the park he used to pass a children's playground, and what he saw there inspired this bleak poem. I often thought of it when I myself was a young mother in the late 50's and 60's, and knew exactly what he meant by "the hollows of afternoons". But how did Philip know? This poem is an example of his acute observation and imaginative ability to get inside the skin of his subjects. It is a poem that will never date as long as there are young mothers and children and play-grounds. Winifred Dawson [2001]

An Arundel Tomb
One of the lasting bequests left perhaps unwittingly by Philip Larkin can be described as a 'paper chase.' Not the usual kind: but scattered all over the country are places where Larkin trod, objects which moved him and people whose lives he enriched. The Larkin reader can go to these places and experience for himself what inspired the poet. Some seven years ago I was intrigued by 'An Arundel Tomb.' I had, alongside the poem, the Longman Critical Essays in which John Saunders takes a look at beauty and truth in three poems from The Whitsun Weddings. There was a footnote referring the reader to an Otter Memorial Paper entitled 'An Arundel Tomb', by Dr. Paul Foster of West Sussex Institute of Higher Education. Thus began an interesting (for me) correspondence with Dr. Foster. I asked whether the final line of the poem, 'What will survive of us is love', was quite so straightforward as it seemed. I questioned the other meaning of the word 'love', i.e. (in games) no score: nothing; nil. Could it be, I asked, that Larkin might have meant: 'What will...
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