Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Written in October, 1958, and published as the title poem in Larkin’s 1964 volume, the odelike poem “The Whitsun Weddings” bears formal and thematic resemblances to “Church Going” but shifts its focus away from the Larkin speaker and toward the collective social event that he witnesses, voyeuristically, while making “A slow and stopping curve southwards” from Hull to London. The poem is thus only partly “about” the speaker, whose presumed bachelorhood serves as foil for the “dozen” wedded couples who, at stop after stop, board the train to journey with him toward their separate and communal destinies. The details of the poem that focus on the speaker seem little more than a cumulative medium for framing what he sees: “I was late getting away;” “At first, I didn’t notice what a noise/ The weddings made/ Each station that we stopped at;” and, near the end, “I thought of London spread out in the sun,/ Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat.” Through much of the poem the speaker says “we,” including others on the train with himself and—incrementally—all the couples who join their microcosmic ride.
The poem seems provocative and mildly fatalistic in its conclusions about what the observed phenomena mean. The ironic sense that the couples are wrapped in their own excitement so as to be unaware of participating in any larger pattern governs the poet’s conclusion, where “none/ Thought of the others they...
(The entire section is 549 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings is his first collection of poems to fully embody his mature style. His early work, collected in The North Ship (1945, 1966), shows strongly the influence of Romanticism, especially that of William Butler Yeats and Dylan Thomas. In his second collection, The Less Deceived (1955), there is a move toward ironic, measured, occasionally bitter poetry. That shift in tone and in style reflects his involvement with the group of poets known as the Movement, whose practice generally adhered much more closely to Thomas Hardy than to Dylan Thomas. Indeed, much of the Movement’s program centered on a rejection of both the mytho-experimentalism of modernist poetry and the “sloppy excess” of late-phase Romanticism. Instead, these poets—Thom Gunn, Elizabeth Jennings, Donald Davie, John Wain, and Kingsley Amis—sought a more traditional versification and a more accessible message, and they exerted a tremendous influence over poetic practice in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and beyond. Their irony, skepticism, empiricism, and anti-modernism pushed British poetry in a radically different direction from the freewheeling American poetry of the same period. What the Movement poets shared was an experience of wartime and postwar privation and disappointment. Indeed, Larkin suggested that the severe limitations placed on wartime Oxford University, where he was an undergraduate, did much to shape both his worldview and his...
(The entire section is 1802 words.)