Sunny Prestatyn, Essential Beauty, and Love Songs in Age

Sunny Prestatyn, Essential Beauty, and Love Songs in Age

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With reference to three poems studied so far discuss how Larkin presents the theme of illusion and reality.


The poems Sunny Prestatyn, Essential Beauty and love Songs in Age, are all presented with the theme of illusion and reality. Illusion is a false impression or delusion, so when an illusion is used within a poem there is a deeper meaning or reality behind the words. Because of this reality, the reader can see what Larkin is really trying to convey in the poems is shown and we understand what was meant by the illusion

In the poem Sunny Prestatyn, Larkin uses harsh reality to show the depth of the illusion. In the poem we are presented with a sunny, picturesque and idealistic scene on a billboard, with a pretty girl asking you to ‘Come to Sunny Prestatyn’. This idealistic scene gives us the illusion that in Prestatyn the weather will always be sunny, when in fact, as Prestatyn is in Wales it will most likely be raining.
The girl shown in the advertisement is shown to be laughing and is also wearing white satin, ‘In taunted white satin’. This gives the idea of the girl being unspoilt, virginal and pure. This deludes the reader of the poster into thinking that this is what Prestatyn is actually like: unspoilt and pure. The poem goes on to describing the palm trees at Prestatyn and the coast. This is described as, ‘…a hunk of coast, a hotel with palms’. This ‘hunk of coast’ suggests manliness and the palm trees also suggest an erotic type of Eden. This gives the reader the illusion that Prestatyn will be the holiday of their dreams. We are then given the image of the girl offering her palms to the reader, ‘…and spread breast-lifting arms’; this line gives the reader delight or excitement at the end of the first stanza, deluding the reader even more. In this first stanza the illusion and image of the perfect place is built up.

In the second stanza of the poem Larkin begins to use harsh reality to break down the illusion and destroy the image that was built up. ‘She was slapped up one day in March.’ This harsh sentence shows the reality of the world and that vandalism was expected. ‘A couple of weeks and her face was snaggle-toothed’, this flippant remark also suggests casualness about the violence. The violence of the girl in the picture being disfigured also represents the illusion being destroyed.

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The readers know that the picture originally presented was the standard ideal and the vandalism shows what Prestatyn would be realistically. Larkin goes on to present the theme of reality more by using harsh, blunt and hard words to show realism, ‘snaggled-toothed, boss-eyed, tits’. Larkin emphasises the reality and harshness by using crude language, he writes ‘…a fissured crotch’. He also notes that this was ‘…well scored in’. This illustrates the maliciousness of the vandalism. This also represents the strong feelings of Larkin and the importance of reality. Larkin uses more harsh language, ‘…tuberous cock and balls’. This vulgar language spoils the illusion completely.

In the third stanza Larkin brings life and more reality to the poem by showing who the vandalism was done by, ‘Autographed Titch Thomas’. The poem writes that ‘someone had used a knife or something to stab right through the moustached lips of her smile’. This smile was a big part of the deception of the advertisement and this shows that the image had been killed. Larkin uses the idea that the girl ‘was too good for this life’; this is a cliché as she is too perfect for this life. This life isn’t as perfect as what was made out by the poster. The realism of the ‘Fight cancer’ poster is very life like and Larkin uses this pessimism to show the realism of life and how the advertisement of ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ had tried to deceive us.

In this poem the illusion presented by advertising is attacked in the same ways that advertising attacks us. The expectations that were produced by the illusions weren’t met and the reader is left with the harsh reality of the world. The tone of the poem is very harsh and produces savage reality.

The poem Essential Beauty also uses advertising to cover realism. In the first stanza Larkin describes the advertisements that disrupt our realistic life. ‘In frames as large as rooms that face all ways’, Larkin is describing the billboards that screen out reality.
The alliteration of ‘s’ gives clean, sharp sounds that persuade us to buy these goods, ‘screen graves, custard, salmon, shine, sharply’. Larkin shows the illusion of advertisement by writing ‘Of how life should be’. This is quite ironic as its not how life is or how it should be, but how life is presented to the buyers to delude them into thinking that by buying the product they will gain the perfect family, home and job. This illusion is emphasised, ‘Well balanced families, in fine midsummer weather’, this also shows the illusion of the perfect 2.4 children family. Larkin goes on to say that this happiness and pleasure is owed ‘to that small cube in each hand’. This small cube is perceived as an oxo cube. This once again shows that the illusion of advertisement cons people into buying the product to gain a good life. These images are all pastoral images and add to the illusion created. Larkin writes ‘slippers on warm mats, reflect none of the rained on streets and squares’. This tells us that the advertising illusions don’t reflect anything they promise or what is shown and that it is a different world. In the first stanza Larkin presents us with idealistic images to convince us of this illusion that’s sheltering us from the real world.

In the second stanza the images created in the illusion are totally destroyed. Larkin reinforces the reality that the billboards reflect nothing to do with real life, ‘That stare beyond this perfect world’. He also uses the repetition of ‘pure’ to emphasise he reality in the world and that advertising is dominating us. Larkin shows the impurities of this world by comparing it to the life and illusion of the perfect world of advertising. The purity of the advertising world ‘where nothings made as new or as washed clean’ compared to the dirt of the real world, ‘And the boy puking his heart out in the gents’. This emphasises the reality of the world and how we have been deceived by illusions.
Larkin also writes that the buyers realise the illusions of advertising too late, ‘smiling, and recognising and going dark.’ This gives the image of death. They know that they too have been taken in by the illusion of advertising and they realise it is too late before moving on to death. In this last line Larkin purposely slows it down for emphasis. He presents the theme of illusion in advertising and its allurement compared to the promises of real life.

The title essential beauty is used but what we’re told in advertisements isn’t always essential. The reality is brought out in the second stanza of the poem, the idealistic images shown by the advertisements were only illusions and the buyer realises the mistake when it’s too late.

The third poem, Love songs in Age, is not an illusion of advertisement but of love. Larkin presents the poem in a very reminiscent tone. In the first stanza Larkin describes the love songs. He says how they were well loved, showing how much they meant to her, ‘She kept her songs, they took so little space, the covers pleased her’ This shows how the love songs were part of her life and that at the time the words meant something to her. The songs had given her an illusion and expectation of love. Larkin goes on to mention that ‘She found them, looking for something else’. This shows how the songs have become unimportant to her in a way.
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