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Philip Larkin 6th Year Poetry Revision


Title: There is an ironic comparison to Roman culture in the title. Roman culture focused heavily on war and the valour in battle. No one in such a culture could have showed ‘such innocence’ towards was as the Englishmen in ‘MCMXIV’. 1st Stanza: In the opening stanza, Larkin’s tone strikes of disbelief with simple, offbeat comparisons made between actual events and apparent events. Larkin seems bemused that anyone could treat war as if it were such a ‘lark’ or that someone could await their potential doom in such jovial fashion as they would a game at ‘the Oval or Villa Park’. 2nd Stanza: Throughout the second stanza, Larkin begins to illuminate the naivety of jolly old England in the face of the most brutal war the world had ever seen. He depicts England amidst its picturesque slumber: ‘Established names on the sunblinds... Dark-clothed children... Pubs wide open all day’; an idyllic place to live but an equally foolish one too, completely unaware of its own mortality. This unawareness is noted in the almost cynical fashion in which Larkin lists the scenes. 3rd Stanza: Larkin begins to highlight the significance of the contrast of social classes in the penultimate stanza: ‘The differently dressed servants with tiny rooms in huge houses... The dust behind limousines.’ The social structures outlined in these stanzas will never be the same again following World War One. Also, Larkin makes a subtle reference to the ‘Domesday lines’. Although having origins in 1086, this could also refer to the trench lines of the war that doomed so many men. 4th Stanza: Larkin returns to discussing the social structures and indeed all human thinking of the ‘archaic’ time in the final stanza. People will have to develop rapidly to accommodate all walks of life during the war. Never again will ‘such innocence’ of the inequalities shown in pre-war times be seen again. The ‘marriages lasting a little while longer’ show the extent the war will have on everyone equally.


This poem symbolises the inevitability of death and the common fear that it is always just around the corner for us all.

In stanza 1, Larkin mentions how the ambulance can come to rest at any kerb. This conveys the randomness of the ambulance and thus the randomness of death.

Larkin conveys how once death appears around someone's life there is a morbid fascination with it because it seems so strange.

Ambulances are a metaphor for the inevitable fate of death that meets us all, further emphasized by the line "they come to rest at any kerb".

The horrific descriptions of "wild white face" against the "red" blankets, portray the contrasting colours of red and white- skin, bones and blood, emphasizing the horrors of death and decaying flesh.

The poem has an ABCBCA rhyming scheme and it features several half-rhymes such as ‘absorb’ and ‘kerb’.

The poet uses a simile in the first line where he compares ambulances to confessional boxes. Line 12 makes use of soft ‘s’ sounds to convey the sense of life slipping away.

An Arundel Tomb  Within this poem Larkin reflects upon a noble couple whose purpose has been forgotten with time. The Earl and Countess of Arundel now stand ‘side by side, their faces blurred’.  The death and brevity of life is a theme that reoccurs in Larkin’s poetry frequently. In ‘An Arundel Tomb’ Larkin writes about life after death, the statue was built to represent the ability of love. Larkin believes that the sculpture’s message is false and misleading, he argues that death is not only the end of love but the end of everything, that is in fact after our death we are met with nothing except internal oblivion. Larkin portrays that everyone will fall victim to the faith of the couple. After our deaths all that will be left of us are “blurred” memories.  “An Arundel Tomb” strangely represents how humanity will always move on, and after each of us inevitabily pass away, all that will remain, are opinions of the people we know, “only an attitude remains”. Within this poem Larkin shows his frank sense of realism that makes him so popular among people from all walks of life. The couple’s wish to prolong their identities has failed them just as it will us.

 A motif employed in this poem is love, and its ability to defy time. ‘Only an attitude remains’. Many would appear touched by the couple’s actions within the statute. ‘Holding her hand’. It suggests that they were true to each other but Larkin is sceptical of their possible idealised view of themselves. ‘They would not have thought to lie so long’. The reader of this poem can view this poem in a negative or positive way and so the overall theme of love is adapted to many situations. Larkin may have done this to show that our perception of love can alternate through time.  The structure in which Larkin composed this poem mirrors the rigid structure of the statues. This use of content mirroring context is used with skill and precision by Larkin. The 7 sextains stanzas show this technique. ‘’Stiffened pleat’, ‘clasped empty’.  In the poem ‘An Arundel Tomb” Larkin implements the effective use of a paradox. What is paraoxical is Larkin’s depiction of the light thronging the grass each summer. This statement appears contradictory as the verb ‘throng’ is usually not associated with material things. In normal context a crowd of people may throng a stadium or a flock of birds might throng the branches of a tree. Larkin effectively uses the paradoxical language to bring attention to his contradictory statement, this in turn emphasises the power and energy of the light. He exhibits the light as almost solid matter, like liquid gold flowing through the grounds of the cathedral.

At Grass -Larkin reflects on how the horses have been overworked in life and now they long to rest 'the eye can hardly pick them out'.

-Pathetic fallacy is illustrated in the poem when Larkin discusses the imagery of the deserted racecourse, 'dusk brims the shadows' there is a sense that the summer months are long gone.

- There is an enthusiastic atmosphere in the poem when Larkin discusses how there was nobody to be found in cars 'squadrons of empty cars and heat'. This informs readers that the races were a popular pastime.

- It appears that 'the grooms' are viewed as the lower class in society when we read about their role.' With bridles in the evening come. This informs us that the grooms are not appreciated in the modern day society.

-The wind is being used to show the distresses of the life in ‘At Grass’. The horses themselves care nothing for fame and glory they strive just to live their day to day lifes.

-These horses are at peace and are happy to move about their business chewing grass. Their lifes are now of simple pleasure.

-The world Larkin describes is only really enjoyed by the spectators, the jockeys and those who won the horses. The horses running in these races convey the cruelty of life for animals. Putting their lives at risk, jumping over the hurdles.

The Trees

Stanza 1 

The softness of the leaves and buds spreading out after the harsh winter is strongly emphasized here. Larkin thinking them so soft that they are “like something almost being said”.

When Larkin describes how the “recent buds relax and spread” we see Spring as a time of recovery after Winter since the buds are relaxing. The rebirth Larkin describes being a massive sigh o relief from nature after the harshness of Winter.

Larkin describes the greenness of the new leaves as “kind of grief”. Perhaps the grief being an acknowledgement of the dearth during winter. Since rebirth can only occur after death.

Stanza 2 

Larkin ponders the regeneration of the trees each spring. He seems to question some omnipotent force, “is it that they are born again and we grow old?” The tone of this line seems to indicate some aspect of jealously on Larkin’s part. Obviously being unhappy that he must grow old while the trees live on.

Further on however Larkin comes to a rather succinct conclusion, “no, they die to”. He now realises that the trees also age like him. The rebirth he is witnessing being only a cover.

Larkin seems to end the second stanza seeing the trees as tricksters of some kind. “Their yearly trick of looking new” finally exposed to him, as he realises their age is actually taking a toll on the trees. Their entire lives “written down in rings of grain”.

Stanza 3 

In the final stanza Larkin reflects on the trees as a whole. Acknowledging the continuing cycle that occurs each year, “the unresting castles thresh in fullgrown thickness every May”.

The comparison of the trees to “castles” seems to be an acknowledgement to their fortitude and lingering presence against the tests of time. In both cases we see these structures standing strong in fields or towns, centuries or more after they had been planted.

Larkin ends the poem with an interesting example of repetition, “afresh, afresh, afresh”. It seems to mirror the cyclical nature of the tree’s rebirth. Each year dying in Winter and returning to life in Spring.

Ambulances  ‘Ambulances’ conveys the literal and metaphoric symbol of death.  The poem itself gives a shivering insight/common fear of death and its inevitability to all of us.  The poem makes us stop for a second and reflect upon a loved one or perhaps our own death.  “All streets in time are visited” inevitability of death and how it will eventually capture all of us.  Creates an uneasy tension between the reader and the poem.  “Then children strewn on steps or road, or woman coming from the shops” realistic atmosphere throughout the poem, sense of mortality.  “A wild white face that overtops red stretcher-blankets momently as carried in and stowed” Contrasting colours (red and white) symbolises (blood and bones) The horrific image of decaying flesh after death.  Pause of shock when seeing the body, the body will never return to this place.  Death/sickness can take place at any time of the day (society). No control of faith or the future.  “Pour Soul” symbolises selfish retreat and self pity.  “Sudden shut of loss” lose everything in a split second.  “Brings closer what is left to come” Death. Everything but death is erased and blank.  When people are being hauled into the ambulance the poem strikes the people with a sense of their mortality

 “poor souls” carefully chosen irony from Larkin as he shows us that we will all die  It shows that our lives “all we are” seem nothing more than a journey towards death, this is what Larkin’s poetry is emphasises.  Ambulances are enclosed private places from the outside world  “Confessional boxes” that we are unexposed to until we die  When we witness an ambulance we are filled with bleak thoughts and an immediate reference to death is made. Larkin is successful in doing so  Each person’s life is “unique” and filled with a random blend. While this exists in life at the end we are all destined for the same fate  Death destroys everything by “solving emptiness” beneath our lives, ready to dissolve all that we are  The process of dying cuts us off from the immediate world, as a “sudden shout of loss”

The Trees  Phillip Larkin makes exceptional use of the rhyming scheme to reveal the main message in this poem. ABBA reflects the lives of the trees and how their lives consist of progressive cycles. They are not immortal despite what their appearances may lead us to believe, but they grow weak during the winter and come back into bloom in spring. The rhyming scheme complements this idea of life cycles.

 The Trees is a poem Larkin uses to portray the inevitability of death. He shows us how death is ever-present in our world and how no one in nature can escape it. It is a fundamental part of nature that no “trick” can overcome.  Larkin uses repetition at the end of his poem to express feelings of joy. It ends on a positive note, indicating that death is not necessarily an end, but allows new life to come about. To begin “afresh, afresh, afresh” for some is a new addition to the world and indicates rebirth as well as death.

Church Going

Church going strongly expresses Philip Larkin’s mixed view on the aspect of religion. It portrays Larkin as a realist but also a pessimist. We see how Larkin contains a lack of interest for churches as upon entering the church he describes it as just ‘another church’. The language by which Larkin utilizes to describe the church appears very uninterested lacking enthusiasm as he takes a quick glance at ‘some brass and stuff’. We notice Larkin’s extreme lack of enthusiasm throughout this poem as he writes how he thinks ‘brewed god knows how long’, his language is lacking complexity and excitement upon entering ‘another church’.

In stanza two we recognise how Larkin has an extremely bleak view on the aspect of religion as he expresses a lack of respect toward religion. Larkin bluntly describes the church as somewhere ‘not worth stopping for’. Some might see this as an extreme insult toward Christianity but on the other hand it simply show how Larkin was a true realist and describes everything as how he seen it and how he truly though about it. Larkin feels a sense of insecurity upon entering the church, he feels as though he is being mocked by beliefs as ‘the echoes snigger briefly’.

Stanza three presents us with Larkin’s lack of faith and hope toward churches as he describes each of his visits to ‘end much at a loss like this’. Larkin expresses his certainty that ‘churches will fall completely out of use’. This expresses a narrow minded aspect of Larkin as he is unable to see any use of these churches. He’s a strong believer that society will change leaving the ruins of these old building behind as a location solely for ‘rain and sheep’. Larkin questions faith and society as he contemplates about what will become of the churches ‘shall we avoid them as unlucky places?’

In stanza four Larkin continues to express his lack of interest and understanding toward the church as he refers to the sacred stone of the church as just ‘a particular stone’. Larkin continues to portray how he strongly believes churches ‘will fall completely out of use’ as he expresses how ‘superstition, like belief, must die’. Larkin appears angered by the fact that the past is forgotten over time as he describes ‘when disbelief has gone’ all that remains is ‘grass, weedy pavement, brambles ,buttress, sky shape less recognisable each week’.

Philip Karkin Revision  

A short revision booklet created by sixth years at Newbridge College.

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