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The Whitsun Weddings

Philip Larkin

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this is life
Added by: anna
i love this poem. its the best thing i have ever read in my life! anyone that disagrees is silly!
Added by: Josh
Larkin is a genius and just because you do not understand this poem does not mean it is boring.
Philip Larkin
Added by: Waring
Kim, are you out of your mind? Whistun Weddings is a beautiful poem on the move, sweeping from a book reading train passenger into sunlight and provincial, familial celebration and finally to the relenting of all that has been seen and felt into a metaphor that does what a metaphor should - produce a feeling in the heart perfectly indescribably in any other way.
Added by: anonymous
This poem describes a train journey on a hot Saturday afternoon. Newly wed couples board at each station. Larkin watches them, and their families left behind on the platform. He thinks about the transition that marriage represents, and the ‘frail travelling coincidence’ which the passengers share as they journey onward.

Time and voice: The poem is written in the past tense and the first person. It is based on an autobiographical experience, which Larkin had in 1955. Whitsun was originally a church festival where newly baptised people wore white. This makes it an appropriate holiday to associate with weddings, which are also festivals of change, where the bride wears white.

Structure: The poem has eight rhymed stanzas, of ten lines each. The rhyme scheme is ABABCDECDE. The lines in each stanza have five stresses except the second line, which has only two. The shorter line introduces a visual contrast and may suggest to you the alternating but regular rhythm of a train. This rhythm is also created by run-on lines which pause briefly in the middle of sentences: ‘all sense / Of being in a hurry gone’; ‘ we ran / Behind the backs of houses’.

Language and imagery: The language of the first part of the poem appeals to our senses - the feel of the ‘hot cushions’, the sight of cars’ ‘blinding windscreens’ reflecting the sun, the smell of the fish-dock, of grass and of the train’s upholstery. A warm, sleepy atmosphere is created which draws the reader in. Larkin gives us quick snapshots of the passing landscape. As in the poem ‘Here’, we see industry as well as countryside. The canal’s ‘industrial froth’ and the ‘new and nondescript’ towns with ‘acres of dismantled cars’ suggest that Larkin doesn’t find modern scenery entirely sympathetic. When he finally notices the wedding parties he is ruthless in his description of their style – the women’s dresses are ‘parodies of fashion’, they are ‘grinning’ (a word often associated with stupidity) and ‘pomaded’ (covered in hair gel). The mothers are ‘loud and fat’, the uncles ‘shout smut’ the fathers are sweaty (‘seamy foreheads’). You might consider whether Larkin’s presentation of the wedding parties also reflects his view of their social class.

Gradually, Larkin and the reader become involved in the moment of transition when the newly married couples leave their families and join the train. This ‘moving on’ is both actual and symbolic. Women ‘share the secret like a happy funeral’: a conjunction of words, which at first seems contradictory. How can a funeral be happy, or a wedding resemble a funeral? Larkin uses the odd juxtaposition to suggest the conflicting emotions, which marriage inspires – it is both joyful, and represents a loss. Part of this loss can be a loss of sexual virginity, implied by the ‘religious wounding’, which awes the girls.

The vocabulary of Larkin’s poems is typically familiar (look for everyday words like ‘perm’, ‘nylon’, ‘Odeon’) but in the last two stanzas the imagery becomes more metaphorical. London in the sun seems like a golden field, its postal districts ‘packed like squares of wheat’, the train with all its passengers is compared to ‘an arrow-shower’ shooting forward – a positive image of shared experience. Change brings energy and ‘power’. Larkin stands halfway between involvement and detachment – observing marriage’s rite of passage without directly participating in it.
Added by: Ian
I just popped in to see the comments and sure everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it seems a shame that this last comment has stood for a while. Neither boring nor weird, this poem is a thing of genius. Just read it.
Added by: Abel
How can you say that? Have you never marvelled at how you share a space in time with someone or in this case a group of people, who you will never meet and yet will always remember. How many people get married and think of their day as so special despite the fact that many marriages are the same: 'Fathers with broad belts under their suits'. Are you not inspired by how amazingly Larkin describs the view from his train window. It is so accurately England, it makes me want to say, 'I've seen that, that's how I feel.' I don't know how this thought provolking and uncharacteristically uplifting poem (I believe that ultimatly many of his poems, contrary to common belief are optimistic though not necessarily uplifting) can fail to move any reader.
Added by: holly
we are doing a project for english on the 3 weddings and a prize, based on the whitsun weddings by phillip larkin. i found this a very interesting poem. x

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