Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings

Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings (© 1964, Faber & Faber 1977)

This slim volume was published seven years before Philip Larkin’s most famous poem, ‘This Be the Verse‘, and a couple of years before I studied Eng Lit at university. It’s possible we read some of Philip Larkin’s poems in our eminently forgettable third year elective on Post War English Poetry. But in effect I’ve just met what Wikipedia says is one of Britain’s most popular poets for the first time.

According to Wikipedia again, Larkin said that deprivation was for him what daffodils were for Wordsworth. I found that comment illuminating – most of the poems here are performing a kind of wretched isolation, sometimes mocking people who are in relationships, at other times wistfully celebrating the possibilities, or the might-have-beens, of love. The quality of performance stops them from being just plain dispiriting. A paraphrase of ‘This Be the Verse’ would go something like, ‘Parents ruin their children’s lives so we might as well let the human race die out,’ but each time I read the poem it has a weirdly cheering effect, which I think is because its meticulous formality and obvious pleasure in language are so not gloomy. That poem isn’t in this book, but there are others just as gloomy and just as cheering, ‘Mr Bleaney’, say, or ‘Nothing to Be Said’, or … most of them.

Anyhow, I don’t have much to say, except that I enjoyed these poems a lot and expect to enjoy them many times – the sheer formal pleasure of them, but also the complex musings they embody.

The student who left her marks here (and I know it was she because her name, Allison XXXXX,  is on the fly leaf) was more attuned to the poetry than he who annotated my copy of Immigrant Chronicles. (Click the image for a bigger version.)

Mind you, her notes on ‘Afternoons’ seem almost completely wrongheaded: I don’t see why the recreation ground prompts the comment ‘consumerism’, where the idea comes from that the mothers who set their children free are ‘still trapped’, or why it is ‘bleak’ that the women have husbands behind them. But Allison’s pencil seems to grasp ‘An Arundel Tomb’ well enough. At least, I found the poem completely lovely, and felt quite companionable toward her as I read it: ‘Yes, Allison, it is nice the way the word link occurs at the start of the fifth stanza after that big enjambement,’ ‘But is the tomb undated, Allison, or just the snow?’

The final lines of the poem remind me of one of my favourite movie moments, the declaration of love at the end of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage. I can’t find the Bergman line, but here’s the Larkin:

0000000The stone fidelity
they hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

2 responses to “Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings

  1. I had the good fortune to read all of this book in Eng Lit at Sydney, and the lines ‘to prove/Our almost-instinct almost true:/What will survive of us is love’ run through my pondering mind at least once every few months.


  2. shawjonathan

    No wonder you have such a beautiful mind!


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