Reasons for Attendance

by Philip Larkin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In this poem, the speaker presents two different ways of living—being coupled with another person versus preferring to remain alone and relatively isolated—and weighs them against one another. This is similar to the two competing sounds offered by the trumpet and the bell: the trumpet is "loud and authoritative" and draws the speaker toward the dancers who have embraced the former lifestyle choice, while the

rough-tongued bell
(Art, if you like) whose individual sound
Insists I too am individual.
It speaks; I hear; others may hear as well,
But not for me, nor I for them; and so
With happiness.

The speaker has chosen the second way of living: that of the solitary, isolated person. He feels himself to be more individual as a result of his choice; he hears for himself, just as others hear for themselves, and this brings him happiness. He does not simply follow the trumpet's call to pair up with another person and dance, so to speak.

The speaker ponders the purpose of coupling up, as society would have us do, and he questions the significance and meaning of sex, a perceived benefit of choosing to couple with another person. In considering the way a partnered life is encouraged by society, the speaker says,

Surely to think the lion's share
Of happiness is found by couples—sheer
Inaccuracy, as far as I'm concerned.

He cannot capitulate to the idea that a person is so very much happier—or any happier, really—as a part of a couple. To him, it seems completely inaccurate to suggest that couples experience more happiness than single people.

Ultimately, then, he says,

I stay outside,
Believing this, and they maul to and fro,
Believing that; and both are satisfied,
If no one has misjudged himself. Or lied.

He chooses to maintain his life of individuality and not join the dancers on the dance floor. The dancers go on believing that they are the most happy, while the individuals, like the speaker, go on believing that they are—and everyone feels pleased with their choices. However, the speaker concedes that it is possible that someone has misjudged their happiness or has even, perhaps, lied.

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