As I was reading Philip Larkin’s "The Whitsun Weddings," I was initially struck by the difference between his use of language and the language used by many of the poets we read earlier in the course. The difference between the language of the two W.B. Yeats poems we wrote about previously and this poem by Larkin was particularly striking. Of course, the use of language changed slowly, with each poet we have read between Yeats and Larkin becoming less like the former and more like the latter. But, I suppose I noticed it more in this poem because I was paying more attention to detail in order to comment on the poem.
The speaker of this poem is on a train headed south to London for a long weekend, and begins his/her journey on a Saturday afternoon. It is a late spring or even early summer day, as it is seven weeks after Easter (fn. 1061). Initially, the content of the poem is rather simple, but the language and description are quite rich. Larkin appeals to four of the five senses and makes his reader feel as if they are on the train with the speaker. As I read the poem, I felt like I could hear the train pull out of the station and feel the heat of the cushions under my legs. Then I was seeing the "blinding windscreens" and smelling the "fish-dock". As the poem and the rich description continued, I was then looking at "[c]anals with floatings of industrial froth" and...
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...es ahead of them. On the other hand, the line "there swelled / A sense of falling" could be describing their lingering doubts that maybe their families were right and they are making a mistake.
Since the poem ends on that more somber note of "a sense of falling," we leave the poem feeling that the ending will not be happy for these newly married couples. We are full of the beauty of the land as described by the speaker, as well as the dreariness of the future as the people in the poem see it. What started out as a fairly upbeat and happy poem leaves you with a sense of despair and impending doom.
Urdang, Laurence, ed. The American Century Dictionary. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.
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