English / Language Resources / Uncategorized

National Poetry Day, in the UK

And that rhymed. Of course, poetry does not have to rhyme but you probably remember your childhood attempts, at school or otherwise, at writing a ryming poem.  Having recently been made aware of the fact that today is National Poetry Day in Britain, I decided to revisit one of my favourite poems by one of my favourite poets, namely, Philip Larkin and his “The Whitsun Weddings.”  It was a pleasure to read, and not just because I got married just over a month ago, but because it evoked childhood memories of a time when British Rail trains (they have been privatised, franchised and rebranded since then) had plushly uphostered, buttoned seats through which you could feel the springs, while the carrriages always had the whiff of tobacco. Then came memories of studying the poem at university.

It was also a pleasure because I discovered an excellent site and organisation: the Poetry Foundation, which you can discover here.  What I found particularly enriching was the Poem Guide, by Joshua Weiner, that accompanied the poem, full of insights which open up the poem further, for example:

“Larkin manages the easy naturalness of his voice so flawlessly that one hardly notices the poem’s rhyming stanza structure (ABABCDECDE), a kind of shortened sonnet (the quatrain is Shakespearean, the sestet Petrarchan). Keats invented this stanza for his summer odes, and Larkin’s formal allusion evokes the summer season, its redolent promise and pastoral sweetness.”  (Joshua Weiner, Poetry Foundation).

Here is poem, and the link to Weiner’s illuminating guide.  I hope you will enjoy them.

The Whitsun Weddings

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
    Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.
All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
    For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.
At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
    The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,
As if out on the end of an event
    Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that
Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
    Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known
Success so huge and wholly farcical;
    The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem
Just long enough to settle hats and say
    I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl—and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:
There we were aimed. And as we raced across
    Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.
Philip Larkin, “The Whitsun Weddings ” from Whitsun Weddings. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.  Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.

 

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