Reasons for Attendance

by Philip Larkin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Speaker

Drawn to a window where young dancers enjoy some sensuous time together, the speaker begins to question his own passions. The trumpet summons him in a "loud and authoritative" voice, signifying that this is an important calling and consideration for him. As he watches them, he is forced to consider what truly brings happiness. Is it ultimately all about sex and connection?

As he considers this, his point of view shifts to being inside the dance. He can smell the smoke and sweat. He can feel the girls pressing against him. Perhaps this steady "beat of happiness" found in a sensuous night of dancing, with its undertones of expected sexual encounters, is the path to happiness.

The speaker then confronts a common belief that most of these couples are on the path to happiness. The enjambment between the third and fourth stanzas leaves the reader in anticipation of his analysis of this belief. He thinks that it is "sheer // inaccuracy," from his evaluations. The beat toward sex found in such settings does not call to him as it does to these young dancers. Instead, the speaker follows his own passions, found in beauty, art, and individuality. He reserves any sort of lasting judgment on this scene. After all, the dancers believe they have found their own happiness. So the speaker decides to simply remain outside their world and let them enjoy the happiness they have found. Likewise, he indicates that he will take pleasure in the things which bring him joy, like art. He believes that happiness can be found in many places, and individuals should be left to explore what brings them personal joy.

He underpins this all with a final statement. This only works if people are true to themselves. The speaker says that if people attempt to follow others's paths toward happiness and lie about those things which bring them joy, the entire path crumbles.

The Dancers

The dancers come to represent the values of any younger generation when examined from the perspective of generations who have come before. This particular group finds happiness in a sexual dance, which could represent any of the values commonly deemed as inappropriate by older generations. In their sweaty and smoke-filled dance, the group finds happiness, it seems. And that is an important consideration in this poem. The key to happiness is to individually examine the source of joy. If young people lie to themselves about the things that fuel their passions, they are on the wrong path and will find ultimate discontent.

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