Whenever Larkin presents journeys or visits throughout The Whitsun Weddings, Larkin or the persona, although Larkin always seems to use his own voice in these poems, are shown to be more interested in the lives of the people he sees or shares the journey with than the scenery, as he continues the poems into fantasizing about their lives and emotions.
For example, in The Whitsun Weddings, he begins by just describing the unremarkable sight of a provincial train journey, “the river’s level drifting breadth”, but later begins to make inferences about the guests and their feelings, “the women shared the secret like a happy funeral”, showing his has unintentionally become attached. In contrast, from the beginning of his poems Abse is always shown to be attached, whereas Larkin presents a lonely ‘voyager’ who becomes swept along with others. Both Here and The Whitsun Weddings describe a lone train journey in which Larkin becomes intrigued about the people around him.
At the beginning of both poems, he presents a slight irony of a disenchanted and detached observer simply describing a journey. The difference comes at the introduction of people, as in Here Larkin remains the observer, describing the people in a tone which suggests a degree of separation between them and the persona; “a cut-price crowd”. However, in The Whitsun Weddings he becomes “more curious” and uses the line “we hurried towards London”, rather than the first person used earlier in the poem, “I was late getting away”, which suggests the extent to which he feels he has become the ‘accidental sharer’ in their ceremonies.
As previously mentioned, this is one of the few poems in which the persona is very close to Larkin, and also solitary poem in showing Larkin to include himself alongside others, as shown by the increasing use of “we” as the poem progress. From a Marxist point of view, it could be argued that Larkin’s feelings of involvement and sharing come from him seeing himself as one of them, rather than a class above as he often presents, which could suggest the way to save oneself from isolation is to find a sense of community through a classless view.
Contrastingly, Abse suggests he was previously entirely immersed within the lives of those around him in his poem “Return to Cardiff”. Interestingly, as Cardiff is Abse’s “hometown”, it could be argued that the journey to leave home separates you from both the place and the people, as when he returns he almost sounds like a visitor in a place he is no longer at ease, “a city of strangers”. This is especially clear in the last line, “hesitated, left double footstep, then walked on”, as he can’t bear to be a visitor in his home.
In contrast to Larkin, Abse’s experience of visits and journeys here show a deep involvement with the place and the people, as he recalls “the face of my grandfather” and “my first botched love affair” there, whereas Larkin is literally just passing through, suggesting visits are nothing more than passing experiences. It could be argued that Larkin and Abse’s differing views on journeys and visits come from the intentions behind them. Although Larkin is presented as detached and isolated from others on his journeys, neither the Whitsun Weddings nor Here hold a tone which suggests he is particularly unhappy.
However, on Abse’s returns to Wales, his poems have a semantic field of dread and sadness, as he is attached to the place and the people there. Whilst Larkin makes all of his journeys through choice, the undertone of Down the M4 suggests that Abse sees visits as an obligation, “dutiful son going back to South Wales”, which could explain Abse’s unusually low tone. In Down the M4 and Dockery and Son, both Larkin and Abse are returning to a place they spent a significant period of their life.
For Larkin, what begins as a visit to presumably his university a more metaphorical journey, as he realises his own isolation and lack of attachment to anywhere or anyone through comparisons with Dockery. However, it could be argued that Larkin was always aware of this, as even at the beginning he is gently mocking his lone “death suited” figure who attempts to reengage with the past, “I try the door of where I used to live” buts finds it “locked” and departs on the train “ignored”.
This suggests an awareness of the presentation in these poems of an unnoticed figure simply ‘passing through’, which could be argued to be representative of Larkin’s view on life and death, as expressed in Dockery and Sons “Life is first boredom then fear”. “Was he that withdrawn public schoolboy” again shows Larkin lack of attachment even to people in significant place, as he can barely remember those he spent years with. Following from this, it could be argued that both Larkin and Abse extent their poems on journeys, namely Dockery and Son and Down the M4, to address the issue of mortality and the wider journey of life.
In Dockery and Son, Larkin becomes fixated on the idea of Dockery’s son at college and the differing journeys the two of them took. This is reflected in the image of “joining and parting lines” of the railways, which shows the differences between the two men’s lives. In the third stanza, Larkin presents himself as comfortable within his lifestyle, “to have no so, no wife… seemed quite natural” but he later loses the slightly comic figure who “ate an awful pie at the station” is the tone becomes almost bitter, “For Dockery a son, for me nothing”.
Through this poem, Larkin could be argued suggest that visits and returns cause you to be confronted with unwanted realisations, such as he has over the idea of Dockery, which from a psychoanalytic point of view could suggest why he makes so few visits, especially home. It is clear from Abse’s poetry that he is also aware of the reality that journeys can bring, as in Down the M4 he is “afraid to hear my mother’s news”, as he knows it will be bad. However, unlike Larkin, Abse still makes these visits, which reinforces the idea that he feels obligated to as both poets recognise how unpleasant they can be.
In this poem, Abse discusses the journey of death in regards to someone close to him, his mother, and presents the difficulties of knowing someone “won’t keep” as you drive away. However, Larkin addresses the wider issue of the journey towards death, suggesting through the image of the “thick and close sand clouds” that it’s closing in. The last two lines of the poem could be interpreted as suggesting we have no control over the journeys we make in life, “what something hidden from us chose”, however this could merely be an attempt by Larkin to comfort himself.
When writing about journeys, Larkin leaves himself exposed by showing direct involvement without the protection of a persona. He presents different degrees of involvement with the lives of those he passes, as in Here he is merely supposing about the lives of “residents from raw estates” whereas in the Whitsun Weddings, he includes himself in his descriptions, pondering on the directions of their lives will take. It could be argued then that the Whitsun Weddings isn’t simply about his own train journey but about the journeys of the “fresh couples” in their lives.
In contrast, Abse is solely focused on his own journey and that of those close to him, suggesting that involvement with people or places can lead to narrow sightedness about the world around, as it simply passes by unnoticed. Finally, as could arguably be expected of Larkin, he leaves all three poems on a note of discomfort about the possibility of death and uncertainty at the end of the journey, suggesting our journeys are beyond our control.