The poems that I have chosen to comment on from the collection The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin are Here, Nothing to be said and Faith Healing. I have chosen to write about these three because they are all very different in terms of theme, language, verse form and Larkin’s message and purpose. Here is the opening poem of The Whitsun Weddings. It locates the reader in Larkin’s England and centres around a journey the protagonist is making from London to Northumberland via Larkin’s hometown of Hull.
Larkin uses a range of language and writing devices to express his feelings and at times his prejudices through his poetry and he does this especially well in Here. The first stanza begins with “swerving east”. The word “swerving” suggests a dangerous movement and a lack of control from the person or thing that is swerving. When someone swerves it is usually to avoid something so by using the word “swerving” Larkin is immediately presenting the reader with a sense of avoidance and lack of control.
Larkin then goes on to say that the fields are “too thin and thistled to be called meadows”. This shows that he is passing through an area of land, which cannot quite be classed as countryside but is not quite urban. This could possibly be a representation of how Larkin is feeling at the time about life because even the countryside is not genuine; therefore Larkin may be commenting on the falsity of life because of its in-between state.
The words “Thin” and “thistled” are harsh sounding words that make up alliteration. This alliteration may have been used to mimic the gentle hissing sound of the train or can moving along the track or road. The harsh sounding words are probably applied as a vent for Larkin’s disdain on a philosophical level for the falsity and lack of true meaning in life and on a smaller level for the land he is passing through that is not quite beautiful enough to be countryside.
A technique that interests me is used in the line “harsh-named halt”. This phrase uses a repetition of the /h/ sound, which is quite a hard sound to pronounce and therefore actually halts the reader’s rhythm. This includes alliteration of the /h/ sound but also a kind of onomatopoeia because the word “halt” is actually a word that sounds like a stoppage or halt and actively brings the reader to a momentary pause. The word “harsh” is actually a harsh word, which adds more emphasis to the phrase.
This technique is very effective because it immerses the reader in the journey of the protagonist as it actually halts their flow when the protagonist’s train comes to a halt. Larkin uses a lot of alliteration in Here, an example of this occurs in the first stanza when alliteration occurs four times in the space of two lines: “Swerving to solitude of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants”. There is a repetition of the word “swerving” which reiterates the lack of control of the protagonist.
It also shows the part of the journey that is taking him through the countryside and he is “swerving” east away from the towns and towards the countryside. The repetition of the /s/ hissing sound gives a sense of speed and also replicates the sound of the train or car moving. The /s/ sound runs throughout two lines which links them together and helps demonstrate the onward movement of the protagonist and the passage of time. The actual shape of the letter /s/ is flowing and therefore mimics the journey flowing onward.
In the last line of the first stanza Larkin describes the entrance to a town by saying “the shining gull-marked mud gathers to the surprise of a large town”. “Gull-marked mud” can be used as a comparison to “harsh-named halt” a few lines previously and demonstrates the difference between town and country. The comparison between “harsh-named halt” and “gull-marked mud” can also be drawn through the hyphen between the first two words (which could be used to show the onward motion of the journey) and the alliteration used of the /h/ and /m/ sounds.