“The Whitsun Weddings” is Larkin’s longest poem and describes the protagonists long, leisurely train journey from Hull to London. Larkin wanted the poem “to construct a verbal device that would preserve an experience indefinitely by reproducing it in whoever read the poem.1” He uses a certain poetic form to share the experience of his journey with the reader, so through the structure and the narrative, they can relive the emotions and sensations he felt.
Larkin creates an almost “plodding” rhythm through the rhyme scheme and his use of iambic pentameter. The poetic form is quite regular with eights 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. The run of pentameters is interrupted in each stanza by a second line of two stressed syllables.
This sudden break represents the hesitant movement of the train. Larkin uses enjambment and run-on verses to create a sense of purposeful, onward movement, showing that the train does not stop until it reaches its destination.Larkin uses the rhythm in the poem to capture the speed of the train. The poem opens with precise details delivered in short, exact words which are often only one syllable long and involving a “t” sound.
“One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday did my three- quarters empty train pull out.” The repetition of the “t” sound forces the reader to recite the opening slowly. As Larkin escapes from the town his words become longer and the description more elaborate, “Wide farms went by/short shadowed cattle, and/Canals with floatings of industrial froth.”Larkin observes man’s pollution of the environment and his description of the decaying, unattractive landscape will contrast with the immaculate wedding parties and the beautiful, unspoiled landscape he has previously described.
As the train decelerates at the end of the poem, the pace of the poem also slows “there swelled /A sense of falling, like an arrow shower/Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.”Larkin uses punctuation and onomatopoeia to bring the train to a halt and this makes the reader pause and dwell on his final mysterious closing image as he expresses uncertainty about the future of the marriage’s he has seen. It is debatable whether the ending of the poem is pessimistic or hopeful. The bright “sunlit.
…Whitsun’ of the opening verse has become “rain” by the end of the poem.
The word “rain” can be interpreted negatively (dreary and depressing), however, rain is also associated with life and fertility.The poem opens with a tone of frustration at the delay, “I was late getting away/ Not till about One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday” The assonance of the ‘ay’ sound in “late” “away” and “Saturday” captures Larkin’s annoyance and he uses reverse assonance in “Whitsun” and “sunlit” to portray the warmth of the day. He personifies the heat of the humid afternoon, “All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept/For miles inland/ A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.” Larkin manages to make the rhyme in the poem unobtrusive to the reader by using small, unimportant words, for example “slept” and “kept.
” The internal rhyme scheme of “all” and “tall” suggests a feeling of humidity and sluggishness and the alliteration of the “s” sound adds to the sleepy atmosphere.In the first two stanzas Larkin sets the scene of a lazy summer’s day. The poem is narrated in an unhurried, relaxed style and his colloquial tone gives the poem a content, peaceful atmosphere as he describes the surrounding countryside, “All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense/Of being in a hurry gone” This evocative phrase creates a feeling of a peaceful, content country and the reader can visualise the narrator settling himself down to tell a story.Throughout the poem Larkin engages the reader by appealing to all their senses, “of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish dock.
” Larkin uses incredibly visual imagery and each stanza contains elaborate and tightly packed detail, “The river’s level drifting breadth began/Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.” His subtle combination of short “i” and “e” sounds re-enact the peaceful, lazy movement of water which adds to the tranquil tone of the piece.In the second movement of the poem, the tone changes as the narrator becomes a detached, middle- class observer, who describes the families of the newly-weds in highly- unflattering terms. The narrator’s attitude changes from being content and relaxed, to one of mocking and contempt, as he makes condescending observations, “mothers loud and fat; an uncle shouting smut; and then the perms/ the nylon gloves and jewellery substitutes.
“However, although there is an element of distaste and cynicism in his tone and observations, the language he uses is gentle, animated and excited. Perhaps Larkin was fascinated by the fact that two completely dissimilar lives could be joined for a brief moment, by something as simple as a train ride. Although the poem might appear at a first glance to be a condemnation of marriage, we can sense a feeling of longing as perhaps Larkin is trying to convince himself he does not want to marry, and the phrases “fresh couples” and “sitting side by side” emphasise his feeling of isolation. It is clear to the reader that the weddings had a profound effect on him.
He becomes enthused and inspired by the wedding parties he witnesses, which is shown in the animated language, “Struck, I leant/ More promptly out next time, more curiously…” His isolation of the word “struck” shows that his attention has been captured and he becomes in awe of the tiny detail of the wedding parties.
Larkin’s isolation is also symbolised by the solitary train journey, on which he can see others in the outside world through an impermeable window. His role as narrator is interesting; he is part of the scenes he describes, yet also aside from them. By presenting the reader with images such as “the reek of buttoned carriage cloth” and “bright knots of rail” he manages to intertwine a participatory perception with the observation of a detached onlooker.The poem can be interpreted as a metaphor for a personal journey.
Larkin begins his account with visual observations which lead him to make social criticisms and finish with philosophical contemplation. When Larkin realises that it is Whitsun, a traditional occasion for weddings, it leads him into a series of meditations on the many courses life can take. There is a significant shift from description to reflection in the final stanza “and none/Thought of the others they would never meet/Or how their lives all contain this hour.”The mood becomes sombre as the isolated narrator ponders the significance of what he has observed.
The happy couples will never meet again as they leave the train and go their separate ways. They offer a strong contrast to the narrator as they appear too merry and excited (or perhaps, according to Larkin, too working class) to be reflective, unlike the philosophical poet.In conclusion, Larkin’s use of poetic form and his handling of the narrative have many different purposes and are very effective. He uses them to bring alive the remarkable sights one encounters on a train journey, and recall the emotions and sensations of a personal and significant moment in his life to share with the reader.