Philip Larkin Love and Marraige

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Love and Marriage with Philip Larkin and Eavan Boland
Ashley Couch
Houghton College

It is strange how time changes relationships. When I first started dating the man who is now my fiancée, one of my biggest fears was of walking down the aisle on our wedding day, feeling unsure that I was making the right decision by marrying him. Now what I most often fear for our relationship is falling out of love, as so many couples do. This is something I brood on, discuss, and develop intricate strategies against. It sounds obsessive, writing it out like that, yet I doubt I am alone, or even in the minority, in this way. All engaged couples want their relationships to last. Probably this is part of the reason the poems of Philip Larkin and Eavan Boland arrest me as they do. This, and the beautiful clarity of their word choices. Both Larkin and Boland have a good deal to say on the topic of love and marriage, and to a certain extent, they both affirm my fears. They both agree that as time passes, love changes. However, while Larkin’s poems all seem to see time’s effect on love as destructive, Boland’s honest poetry still portrays hope for love as it is tested and proven true by time. Two poems by each poet, “Who Called Love Conquering” and “Talking in Bed” by Philip Larkin, and “Thanked Be Fortune” and “Marriage for the Millenium” by Eavan Boland, show that, though the two poets agree that love changes over time, they disagree about the end result of those changes. Larkin’s poem “Who Called Love Conquering” has received little attention from critics, most likely on account of its straightforward metaphor and somewhat overused theme. Roger Bowen, professor of twentieth century British poetry and fiction at the University of Arizona, writes that the poem “indulges itself in romantic melancholy, pursuing no new interpretation of experience” (97). While I will not attempt to argue for the originality of the poem, I see in it several places where Larkin uses images, meter or word choice skillfully to impress upon readers

and listeners his ideas about love’s impotence. More importantly, I see also what I believe to be a quintessentially Larkinian perspective on love (and, by extension, marriage). “Who Called Love Conquering” begins with this titular line, comprised of two spondees at its beginning, so that the effect of the line is that of an angry or bitterly felt question: “Who called love conquering?” (emphasis added). Although the general meter of the poem is very noncommittal, throughout the poem Larkin makes use of spondees connected with trochaic or iambic feet to emphasize certain phrases, such as “its sweet flower” in the second line and “The white bride drowns in her bed” in line 7 (emphasis added). This latter image of the white bride who drowns in her bed is a powerful one, particularly because of the pun on the word “bed” which the extended flower metaphor highlights. The “bed” which drowns the “white bride” is both a marriage bed and a flower bed. Just as the flower bed allows “flowerless demonstrative weeds” to grow up and choke the flower (represented by the “white bride”), so the marriage bed can be fertile ground, so to speak, for “tiny curled greeds” to grow up in between lovers (5, 8). Thus, marriage is the demise of the “white bride” and of the love associated with a bride in white on her wedding day. Larkin connects the words “weeds” and “greeds” not only through the association which rhyming creates, but also through imagery. “Weeds” he describes using the adjectives “flowerless” and “demonstrative” – both adjectives which would be more apt preceding the word greed (5, 8). “Flowerless” probably refers to the lack of the “sweet flower” of love in any sort of greed, while “demonstrative” may refer to the conspicuous vulgarity of greed. Larkin describes the “greeds” in line 8 with the words “tiny” and “curled,” evoking the image of weed tendrils grasping at other plants. Whether or not Larkin intended it, the...
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