Reasons for Attendance

by Philip Larkin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The very title of "Reasons for Attendance" makes the reader question how the speaker of Larkin's poem has come to find himself on the outside of this scene he describes. On a journey, he feels himself pulled toward the "lighted glass" in an effort to watch some dancers through a window after hearing the summons of a trumpet. In the last line of the first stanza, he says that these young dancers, all under twenty-five, move "solemnly on the beat of happiness." The speaker juxtaposes the idea of a solemn happiness here to establish the idea of purpose: Why are these young people here together?

In the second stanza, the perspective of the speaker suddenly shifts to being inside the dance. The atmosphere has so much to offer: smoke, sweat, and girls. A wonderfully tempting scene. So why not be in there with them? Why remain outside?

Then the perspective switches again. Why join them? What does this physical, sweaty dance have to offer? The speaker questions whether the ultimate goal is sex. The next thought follows an enjambment into the third stanza, explaining that there is a perception that most people find happiness as part of a couple (and, further, by means of sex), which the speaker considers a "sheer // inaccuracy."

The speaker explains that he is instead called to passionately pursue the "rough-tongued bell" of art. He insists that others hear the pursuing call of art speaking to them as well. The speaker then notes that individuals are called to different passions in life; some crave connection and sex, while others crave individualism and the call of art.

The speaker concludes—or seems at first to conclude—that these two kinds of individuals may explore whatever they believe is true; we must reserve judgment, assuming that "both are satisfied." But according to the speaker, this works only so long as no one—himself, the dancers, humans in general—has "misjudged himself. Or lied." An individual's pursuit of happiness is greatly dependent on the honest evaluation of what speaks to their soul. By the last line's conditionals and undercuttings, Larkin's speaker implies that many do not actually tell the truth about themselves and cannot achieve true happiness as a result.

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