The Role of Women in Philip Larkin's Poetry

Topics: Philip Larkin, Woman, Poetry Pages: 2 (1150 words) Published: September 8, 2014
How does Philip Larkin explore the role of women in at least two poems you have studied?

Philip Larkin’s relationships with women are often scrutinized in the media. He was often accused of misogyny and never married, though had several prominent relationships. Having once said, “Sex means nothing – just the moment of ecstasy, that flares and dies in minutes”, one could infer that Larkin had a dismissive attitude towards sexual relationships. Two poems from the Whitsun Weddings collection, Wild Oats (a recount of a man’s encounters with two women) and Sunny Prestatyn, (the description of the defacement of a poster) explore different attitudes towards women, and I will be drawing also from A Study of Reading Habits. Common themes in these poems include memory, sexual violence, and the nature of beauty.

The title of Wild Oats itself implies fertility and sexual promiscuity, which is not particularly accurate of the poem itself. This is similar to Sunny Prestatyn, which has a jovial sounding name; ironic given the violent theme. In Wild Oats, the Larkin persona describes the two different women he meets as “a bosomy English rose” and “her friend in specs”. The women are being described based on their appearance, the former being presented as an ephemeral beauty and the latter given no metaphor, simply a plain label; the colloquial “specs” conveys this. The idolization of the English rose contrasts to the initial idolization, but ultimate objectification of the girl on the Sunny Prestatyn poster, who is “set… astride a tuberous cock and balls” by the men vandalizing the poster. The Larkin persona in Wild Oats describes how he “wrote over four hundred letters, gave a ten guinea ring” to the friend in specs, whom he takes out.

This theme of adoration/marriage produces a lexis that contrasts that of Sunny Prestatyn, which has violent language dotted throughout – “knife”, “slapped up” and “stab”. The rhyming of “knife” and “life” indicate threat and menace....
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