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The Sunday Poet: Philip Larkin  Jay gets ready for the Spring Bank Holiday with a poetry reading

The Sunday Poet: Philip Larkin

Jay gets ready for the Spring Bank Holiday with a poetry reading

by Jay Lewis, Reviews Editor
first published: May, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

"... detached, melancholic and ever so slightly cynical and aloof"

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The Sunday Morning Poet is our new weekly poetry ghetto designed depending on your sensibility to smooth or jar your way into your Sunday. Today Jay Lewis selects one of his personal favourites...

It's the Spring Bank Holiday, it's the one that used to be called Whitsun. I'm not nostalgic, I'm not religious and I really don't care what you call it, I will accept the Bank Holiday, any Bank Holiday, even those with Royal connotations, thank you. 

What I would admit to though is that every Spring Bank Holiday I find my copy of Philip Larkin's 'The Whitsun Weddings' and read the title poem. I may read it aloud, I may read it to myself, just as long as I read it. It's become a thing that I do. Not quite a tradition, just a thing.  

If you're not familiar with it, 'The Whitsun Weddings' it's familiar Larkin territory: He's alone, watching others, detached, ruminating on his solitary existence, melancholic and ever so slightly cynical and aloof. Admittedly, there's less of a fixation with death in this one than in some of his bleaker observations.   

Again, and this is another Larkin trait, the mood of 'The Whitsun Weddings' shifts in the final stanza (see the remorseless 'Life is first boredom than fear...' conclusion of 'Dockery and Son' as an example), his summations can often be bleak. For five stanzas of this poem he's been mocking about the newlyweds boarding the train that he is on (most of his scorn is aimed at the families waving them off), but his tone changes as the train journey moves towards its destination.

The jibes fade as he notes that the 'frail travelling coincidence' was coming to an end, and with it, the realization that he has actually been part of something, however emotionally distant he may have pretended to be, he is no longer acting like the sardonic bachelor. 

And that final line? It's one that I've reflected on, considered and reconsidered so many times. In fact, I think about it mostly when a train that I am on reaches the end of its line. It's something that I quote throughout the year, not just during the late Spring Bank Holiday. 

Jay Lewis
Reviews Editor

Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based poet. He's also a music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.


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