Larkin’s poetry often deals with the dissatisfaction of modern living and the reality of life today. With reference to at least two poems show how true this is. To answer this I will be looking at poems taken from Philip Larkin’s collection ‘The Whitsun Weddings. ‘ The two poems I have chosen to focus on in more depth are ‘MCMXIV’ and ‘A Study of Reading Habits’ ‘MCMXIV’ has often been read as a nostalgic poem as it reflects the speakers desire to return to some earlier time in their life, but is also a poem tinged with sadness as it deals with the period before and immediately after World War One.
It reflects the vanishing way of traditional English life and how the speaker is saddened by the changing world. As the title ‘MCMXIV’ suggests it is a poem, which looks at the past and in contrast to the reality of the world today. The detailed descriptions seem to suggest the speaker is looking at old photographs. Stanza one for example may show that the speaker is looking at on old photograph that shows, ‘Long uneven lines standing as patiently as if they were stretched outside the oval… ‘
These long lines maybe the queues of conscripts waiting to sign up to join the army. This shows how in the past people were very willing and eager to fight and even risk their own lives, and also how close the community was in 1914. The spirit at this time is described as, ‘A August Bank Holiday Lark’ which suggests a sense of fun and community spirit at this potentially very upsetting time. In stanza two, on closer examination the photographs prove to be evocations of a collective imaginative image of that period.
Stanza two suggests that the photograph is of the town as it describes the shut shops. The blinds are described as ‘Bleached’ and the children ‘called after kings and queens’. The fact that the children are named after kings and queens is important because it shows respect. Again this does not happen much now, but provides us with a contrast between the past and present. Stanza three provides us with yet another contrast. This time it is between the town and the countryside.
The countryside is described as ‘not caring’ and the place names are ‘all hazed over’. This suggests the much more laid back attitude to life in the countryside where the community is close and there is no need to display their house names, as they know each other well. The countryside was much less effected by the war and as a result the people living there adopted a much more tranquil way of living and there is a sense of being secure. I think this as it says ‘under wheat’s restless silence’ which suggests the tranquillity of living in the countryside.
The speaker also recalls the ‘differently dressed servants’ which again is an image of the past as there are fewer servants in today’s world. Stanza four brings all the thoughts of the speaker together. It says, ‘Never such innocence, never before or since… ‘ This suggests that all the images and happy memories have gone now. Never again will there be such happiness. The speaker is now mourning over the past, which will never be seen again, and is expressing their dissatisfaction of the modern world today. The whole poem is one sentence, and there is no main verb.
Due to the lack of full stops the poem is freer and gives a sense of tranquillity and unhurried flow. I feel that the war was a catalyst for change. It was such a huge incident that it could not help but change the country and indeed the world. The towns became a place where people feared they might be targeted by bombs and even the countryside changed. Young children were evacuated from large towns like London and moved into the countryside where they were safer. Men were called up for war so there were fewer people to grow and harvest crops.
After the war, the country never did return to normality as it caused so much corruption and it took many years to rebuilt towns and cities. After world war one things had to change and people could only remember what was. This poet does it by looking at photographs and successfully recalls what the past was like and how he is dissatisfied with the reality of the world today. The next poem I will look at is called ‘A Study of Reading Habits’ and again Larkin looks at how he is dissatisfied with the reality of modern living.