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‘Larkin often seems to criticise society’. In the light of this statement, what connections have you found between the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about the society in which they live? In your response include at least two of Larkin’s poems. Larkin criticises society in many of his poems and also does it from a superior place in an attempt to distance him from the society which he criticises and this can be seen in Nothing To Be Said.
On the other hand, Abse writes about society and community whilst he participates in it and is a part of it. Larkin tries to stunt and remove the parts of society he criticises whilst it is clear Abse attempts to preserve many of the positives in society, for example in The Story of Lazarus, a story that surrounds the optimistic tale of someone surviving something so horrific. Abse is also very proud of the society from which he grew for example he is proud of being Welsh.
Larkin labels and stereotypes the working class with a superior view in Nothing To Be Said, for example in the first stanza he describes the working class as ‘small-statured cross-faced tribes’, giving the impression that he views the working class as poorly developed, and a sense of savagery and it is possible to assume that Larkin viewed them as not very intelligent also. In addition to this, the use of the word ‘tribes’ is particularly powerful and evokes this idea of animals and removes their traits as a human being.
Larkin’s use of ‘slow dying’ also helps to emphasise his views that these people aren’t contributing to society, just slowly dying as they trudge on in their day to day lives, however it could also be Larkin’s view that for him these type of people aren’t going fast enough either. It may be true of Larkin’s opinion that the only thing he shares in common with these people is death and it is possible that Larkin resents this and doesn’t believe he should share anything at all with them.
Larkin uses enjambment in the first verse to emphasise the steady rhythm at which everybody cruises towards death. In comparison, Abse likes to preserve people in time and focuses on the positives in society. Not only does Abse focus on positives but he presents them in a more favourable way unlike Larkin, in addition to this Abse takes people from history and gives them life again in his poetry for example ‘The Story of Lazarus’.
This poem aims to continue the legacy of Lazarus, a survivor of the holocaust, ‘he showed us the number on his arm’. Abse’s views on society here suggest that he is upset that people are becoming less interested in preserving the tale, ‘soon they merely nodded’. In comparison, Larkin doesn’t want to preserve the tale of the people he mentions in ‘Nothing To Be Said’, it’s as though the repetition of ‘Slow dying’ is emphasising that for Larkin, it wasn’t slow enough.
Abse also hints at the biblical tale of Lazarus, suggesting that this tale should be savoured and of its significance. On the other hand, in ‘Nothing To Be Said’, the title and final line diminishes any significance of the society and can be interpreted that there is nothing more to say on the subject. In the ‘Whitsun Weddings’, an observational poem, Larkin takes superior views upon the wedding party, as he does in ‘Nothing To Be Said’, and he makes bold and unkind judgments such as ‘mother’s loud and fat’.
Unlike Abse, Larkin distances himself from society, for example in Whitsun Weddings, ‘I leant More promptly out next time’ – he tries to be involved in society but never feels like he fits, and the train in the poem separates Larkin from community. In the Whitsun Weddings Larkin shows a slightly more sympathetic side as he discusses the train journey from Hull to London and how much it has changed and perhaps shows a sentimental side regarding how time has changed the things he knew.
In addition to this, the train journey could be a metaphor for Larkin’s inability to adapt to ever changing society and the fast pace that it moves. To conclude, Abse celebrates people within society and relishes the opportunity to be a part of it, where as Larkin tries distinctly hard to distance him from the ever modernising world, in attempt to disguise his insecurities and promote his sense of superiority.
This superiority removes any doubt in Larkin’s mind that he could be wrong and therefore missed out on so many things in life. Abse on the other hand is proud of the society from which he came, especially emphasises his Welsh nationality and in addition to this his Jewish faith. To conclude, Larkin’s poems reflect on all that is missing in society, while Abse is in the middle of it and making the most of everything positive society has to offer.