Detailed Interpretations

Detailed Interpretations

This poem describes watching the women who queue to be blessed by an American faith healer. The encounter each woman has with the healer is very brief - twenty seconds, in which he asks her to tell him 'what's wrong' and then asks God to cure the troubled part: 'this eye, that knee'. The women are deeply affected by this experience. Larkin wonders what motivates people to need faith healing. He concludes that within everyone is a sense of the life they could have lived if they had loved more, or, particularly, if they had been loved more. Nothing cures this ache, but the healing experience relieves by loosening suppressed emotions.

Time and voice: The poem is written in the present tense - giving it immediacy. Larkin is a detached, third person observer of the experience. We share his analytical view of the emotional event he witnesses. This gives authority to his general conclusions in the final stanza 'in everyone there sleeps / A sense of life lived according to love'.


The poem is divide into three stanzas of ten lines, with five stresses each, and a regular but complex rhyming pattern: ABCABDABCABD. This pattern mirrors the regular succession of women who file up to meet the faith healer. The three stanzas divide the poem's action: in the first the women file forward; in the second they disperse; in the third Larkin takes over with his exclamation 'What's wrong!' and analysis. Notice how the phrase 'then, exiled' causes an abrupt break at the end of the first stanza. This makes us feel the women's loneliness as they move away from the comfort of the faith healer's grasp. The lines are not end-stopped, but run on into each other - this helps to create a sense of movement and progression.

Language and Imagery: One important image is of rain/tears. Do you see the 'warm spring rain of loving care' in line 5? This is a metaphor: rain releases the fruitfulness of the soil that has been hardened by winter's frost; similarly, the healer's loving care releases the women's pent-up feelings. This links to the 'tears' and 'eyes squeezing grief' in stanza 2, and 'thawing, the rigid landscape weeps' in stanza 3. Another image is of being a child. The faith healer's repeated words 'now, dear child' are emphasised by italics, in stanzas 1 and 3. His silver hair and blessing make the healer himself seem like God, and emphasise his fatherly role. In stanza 2 Larkin imagines that 'a kind of dumb, idiot child' is reawakened in the women by their experience - they cry and lose control of speech like young children. Look at the phrase 'tongues blort' in line 19. A made-up word, near to 'blurt', its sound suggests their lack of rationality, an excited confusion echoed by 'jam', 'crowd' and 'rejoice'. Larkin uses the vocabulary of Christianity (which refers to worshippers as 'children' and 'sheep') to suggest that the women's need for religious blessing arises from a common craving for human, especially parental, love. The poem's title could therefore be a play on words - perhaps it is simply the act of trust in others, rather than religion, which heals us.

This poem describes a train journey on a hot Saturday afternoon. Newly wed couples board at each station. Larkin watches them, and their families left behind on the platform. He thinks about the transition that marriage represents, and the 'frail travelling coincidence' which the passengers share as they journey onward.

Time and voice: The poem is written in the past tense and the first person. It is based on an autobiographical experience, which Larkin had in 1955. Whitsun was originally a church festival where newly baptised people wore white. This makes it an appropriate holiday to associate with weddings, which are also festivals of change, where the bride wears white.

Structure: The poem has eight rhymed stanzas, of ten lines each. The rhyme scheme is ABABCDECDE. The lines in each stanza have five stresses except the second line, which has only two. The shorter line introduces a visual contrast and may suggest to you the alternating but regular rhythm of a train. This rhythm is also created by run-on lines which pause briefly in the middle of sentences: 'all sense / Of being in a hurry gone'; 'we ran / Behind the backs of houses'.

Language and imagery: The language of the first part of the poem appeals to our senses - the feel of the 'hot cushions', the sight of cars' 'blinding windscreens' reflecting the sun, the smell of the fish-dock, of grass and of the train's upholstery. A warm, sleepy atmosphere is created which draws the reader in. Larkin gives us quick snapshots of the passing landscape. As in the poem 'Here', we see industry as well as countryside. The canal's 'industrial froth' and the 'new and nondescript' towns with 'acres of dismantled cars' suggest that Larkin doesn't find modern scenery entirely sympathetic. When he finally notices the wedding parties he is ruthless in his description of their style - the women?s dresses are 'parodies of fashion', they are 'grinning' (a word often associated with stupidity) and 'pomaded' (covered in hair gel). The mothers are 'loud and fat', the uncles 'shout smut' the fathers are sweaty ('seamy foreheads'). You might consider whether Larkin's presentation of the wedding parties also reflects his view of their social class.

Gradually, Larkin and the reader become involved in the moment of transition when the newly married couples leave their families and join the train. This 'moving on' is both actual and symbolic. Women 'share the secret like a happy funeral': a conjunction of words, which at first seems contradictory. How can a funeral be happy, or a wedding resemble a funeral? Larkin uses the odd juxtaposition to suggest the conflicting emotions, which marriage inspires - it is both joyful, and represents a loss. Part of this loss can be a loss of sexual virginity, implied by the 'religious wounding', which awes the girls.

The vocabulary of Larkin's poems is typically familiar (look for everyday words like 'perm', 'nylon', 'Odeon') but in the last two stanzas the imagery becomes more metaphorical. London in the sun seems like a golden field, its postal districts 'packed like squares of wheat', the train with all its passengers is compared to 'an arrow-shower' shooting forward - a positive image of shared experience. Change brings energy and 'power'. Larkin stands halfway between involvement and detachment - observing marriage's rite of passage without directly participating in it.

The speaker indirectly recounts the kind of books he has read during three different phases of his life, and how they relate to his imaginative existence.

Time and Voice: The poem is written in the first person. It has a friendly, conversational feel, and a humorous tone - less formal than 'The Whitsun Weddings'. It can be read simply as an autobiographical description of Larkin's early experience of books. You might, however, choose to see the speaker as a persona (an adopted voice, which is near to Larkin's own, but not identical).

Structure: There are 3 stanzas of six lines each (sestets), with three uneven stresses per line. The rhyme scheme is ABCBAC. Each stanza marks a different period in the speaker's life up to the present.

Language and Imagery: Notice the colloquial language, which Larkin employs ('getting my nose in a book') right from the start of this poem. This casts a comic light on the poem's serious-sounding title. The first 3 lines of the sestet show us the physical reality of the speaker as a child, which is that he is weak-sighted, and 'ruining his eyes' by reading. The second 3 lines tell us about the fantasy life he is living through books. He is a hero, perhaps a gangster or cowboy, who can 'keep cool' while throwing punches at villains who are bigger than him. The slang expressions 'the old right hook' and 'dirty dogs', tell us about the adventure fiction he is reading - with exotic, macho vocabulary.

In stanza 2, the speaker's tastes have moved on to vampire novels. He wants to be an anti-hero. The teenager's fantasies now involve women - whom he 'clubs with sex'. The comic simile, 'I broke them up like meringues' suggests the fundamental harmlessness of his imaginings. The women are just like a sweet dish that you would demolish with a spoon. 'Ripping times' is a play on words: 'ripping' is old-fashioned slang for 'good fun', but here it has the double meaning of 'slashing'. This is typical of Larkin's familiar humour.

Stanza 3 brings us into the present. The speaker now sees himself as the shopkeeper in a romantic novel, who is cowardly and unsuccessful rather than heroic. Fantasy life is no longer effective in shutting out reality - so he discards books. The contraction The contraction '(I) don't read much now' and the direct retort to the reader 'Get stewed: / Books are a load of crap' are deliberately shocking. Coming from a writer, it is ironic and funny to hear books dismissed. It is part of the self-deprecating role that Larkin plays that he appears to deny the value of his own work. He is also forming a bond with the general reader who finds poetry difficult - his choice of non-literary language to express an anti-literary feeling are typical of Larkin's desire to write accessibly.