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The Whitsun Weddings Philip Larkin Lecture 29.

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1 The Whitsun Weddings Philip Larkin Lecture 29

2 About the Poem The Whitsun Weddings was inspired by a train journey which the poet made from Hull to London in 1955 on Whitsun Saturday, a day which was popular for weddings at that time The poem was finally completed in October 1958, following repeated redrafting. The Whitsun Weddings is Larkin's longest poem, narrated in a slow, unhurried, leisurely fashion which re-enacts a sense of the long, easy train journey from Hull to London.

3 About the poem The poem's narrator describes the scenery and smells of the countryside and towns through which the largely empty train passes. The train's windows are open because of the heat, and he gradually becomes aware of bustle on the platforms at each station, eventually realizing that this is the noise and actions of wedding parties that are seeing off couples who are boarding the train.

4 About the Poem The poem reflected the marriage nowadays, and how they are and some of them end. The poetic form is quite regular with eight stanzas, each consisting of ten lines and rhyming a b a b c d e c d e which creates the rhythmic sound of a train as it gathers speed. The continuous rhyming pattern throughout the eight verses and the pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables in each iambic pentameter, re-enacts the rocking sensation of traveling on a train.

5 The Poem – Stanza 1 That Whitsun, I was late getting away: Not till about One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out, All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense Of being in a hurry gone. The opening is conversational yet rhythmically firm. Description of a train journey on a hot Saturday afternoon.

6 Stanza 1 We ran Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence The river's level drifting breadth began, Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet. Poet introduces the busy life of city dropping away with the train’s departure. Larkin creates an image of continuity between sky and city and water that the train itself mimics; it is the central image of the poem, the form of an unfolding movement that connects distinct locations and points of time.

7 Stanza 2 All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept For miles island, A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept. Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and Canals with floatings of industrial froth; An easy movement of lines. A description of pastoral landscape, its farms & hedges contrasted with ugliness of industrial waste.

8 Stanza 2 A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped And rose: and now and then a smell of grass Displace the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth Until the next town, new and nondescript, Approached with acres of dismantled cars. The smell of grass competes with the stale smell of the cloth seat inside the train carriage. Offers pungent realism. Nondescript: dull or insipid

9 Stanza 3 At first, I didn't notice what a noise The weddings made Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys The interest of what's happening in the shade, And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls The poet mistook the girls for men at first. Whoops: cries of joy and excitement Skirls: shrill sound

10 Stanza 3 I took for porters larking with the mails, And went on reading. Once we started, though, We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls In parodies of fashion, heels and veils, All posed irresolutely, watching us go, Larking: having fun Pomade: greasy substance to style hair, hair gel or spray

11 Stanza 4 As if out on the end of an event Waving goodbye To something that survived it. Struck, I leant More promptly out next time, more curiously, And saw it all again in different terms: Describing vividly what he is witnessing.

12 Stanza 4 The fathers with broad belts under their suits And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat; An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms, The nylon gloves and jewelry-substitutes, The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochers that Smut: obscenity Perms: hair style, a permanent wave. ocher: moderate orange yellow color.

13 Stanza 5 Marked off the girls unreally from the rest. Yes, from cafes And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days Were coming to an end. Describes how each wedding party is like all the other wedding parties gathering that day – as he witnesses them. Bunting: festive decorations made of fabric or plaster or paper, triangular flags.

14 Stanza 5 All down the line Fresh couples climbed abroad: the rest stood round; The last confetti and advice were thrown, And, as we moved, each face seemed to define Just what it saw departing: children frowned At something dull; fathers had never known Confetti: streamers of paper or metallic material

15 Stanza 6 Success so huge and wholly farcical; The women shared The secret like a happy funeral; While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared At a religious wounding. Farcical: absurd, ridiculous

16 Stanza 6 Free at last, And loaded with the sum of all they saw, We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam. Now fields were building-plots. and poplars cast Long shadows over major roads, and for Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

17 Stanza 7 Just long enough to settle hats and say I nearly died, A dozen marriages got under way. The description is a mild social satire but also displays their humanity which is shared with the poet: ‘they’ become ‘we’ in the collective hurrying act.

18 Stanza 7 They watched the landscape, sitting side by side -An Odeon went past, a cooling tower, And someone running up to bowl -and none Thought of the others they would never meet Odeon: one of a chain of British cinemas. This helps reinforce theme of detachment running through the poem – the speaker watches the couples, the landscape & the cinema built for watching.

19 Stanza 7 Or how their lives would all contain this hour. I thought of London spread out in the sun, Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat: Compare the opening of Auden’s “As I walked Out One Evening” As I walked out one evening, Walking down Bristol Street, The crowds upon the pavement Were fields of harvest wheat.

20 Stanza 8 There we were aimed. And as we raced across Bright knots of rail Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss. The train now ‘aimed’ at the London destination, and becomes an arrow – arrow of Cupid – idea connected to the last lines of the stanza.

21 Stanza 8 Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail Traveling coincidence; In Italian, a “coincidenza” is a transfer station in railroad travel. Like both “frail” and “traveling,” it may just be a way of naming the brief encounter that the poem stages, between the speaker and those he observes. Like the “coincidence,” the poem itself is “nearly done.”

22 Stanza 8 and what it held Stood ready to be loosed with all the power That being changed can give. We slowed again,

23 Stanza 8 And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain. Larkin takes the dead image of the arrow-shower and revives it by turning it into an image of real rain. So the idea of marriage turning into disappointment is balance with the image of life and fertility.

24 Analysis of the poem Larkin says:
"Whit Saturday is traditionally a good day for getting married in the Anglican tradition. So a lot of people got on the train to London for their honeymoons as not many people had cars. There were 6 stations between Hull and London and there was a sense of gathering emotional momentum. Every time you stopped fresh emotion climbed aboard. Between Peterborough and London the whole thing felt like a bullet, all this fresh open life and I've never forgotten it."

25 Analysis Traditionally Whit Saturday was regarded as an auspicious day for a wedding and it was a popular choice among the British working classes. Moreover, a wedding is an expression of a loving commitment, bringing with it the prospect of future happiness and the expectation of new life. Larkin appeals to the reader's sense of touch ('cushions hot'), smell ('the fish-dock'), and sight ('blinding windscreens').

26 Analysis There is a real paradox between the reality presented by the landscape and the ideals represented by the couples and the final image. Larkin longs for the abstracts of romance and perfect love, but he sees around him the oncoming city… The climax at the end seems to work against the surface cynicism of Larkin's tone as he experiences a tug for something more due to the mesmerizing occasion he witnesses.

27 Form of the poem That Whitsun, I was late getting away: Not till about One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out, All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense Of being in a hurry gone. We ran Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence The river's level drifting breadth began, Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet. rhyme-scheme : abab cde cde

28 the poem’s rhyming structure is a sort of shortened sonnet ( the quatrain is Shakespearean, the sestet is Petrarchan). Larkin employs technique used by Keats in his odes; there is same kind of imagery of abundance yet a sense of bitter reality. The sensual imagery and the musical phrasing create at the same time a real and surreal impression.

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