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Philip Larkin and Dannie Abse; Death and Mortality.

In: English and Literature

Submitted By klutz5637
Words 2029
Pages 9
Compare how Larkin and Abse write about unhappiness in their poetry.

Both Larkin and Abse have written poetry which involves certain degrees of unhappiness, however, it’s clear that they have different views on what causes the emotion. Charles Hall said that it was “preferable” in Larkin’s view, “for everyone to resign themselves to their destinies and accept the implacable emptiness of their lives.” Larkin seems to have the perspective that unhappiness is generally and essential aspect of the human condition. Whereas Abse is generally optimistic, usually his unhappiness in his poetry is subjective, caused by rare moments in the family, or awareness of mortality.

Larkin generally believes that unhappiness lies in the expectations of life and reality. One of his most common beliefs is that marriage and family can be the cause of unhappiness through the routine and repetition of life. This is seen in his poem “Afternoons”, a study of a conventional working class family life, where Larkin acts as the “knowing outside” according to Andrew Motion. It starts immediately with the imagery of “Summer is fading”, he gives the impression that the life of the people he’s observing is digressing from their youth to middle age. He focuses on the youth of the parents being replaced by their children “but the lovers are all in school”. There seems to be this idea that history is repeating itself from parent to child, almost as though their children simply act as a reminder to the aging adult that their life is passing. Larkin concentrates on his belief of marriage being unfulfilling, “hollows” of “afternoons” where Afternoons represents the decent into middle age, and how Larkin’s confidence in the unfulfilling and unhappy life which comes with marriage and having a family. He reassures the idea of routine and order being at the base of unhappiness in this poem as he uses lexical sets like “bordering”, “assemble”, “at intervals” to suggest the constraint in the lives of the families he is observing and a constant reference to the mundane activities which have to maintained “An estateful of washing” Larkin suggests that this is in order to keep the children and family together and happy, and in doing so, puts aside their own happiness. Larkin seems to focus on the idea that once married, whatever feelings were present, would slowly disappear. “Our Wedding, lying Near the television:” The television in this case seems to be vying for precedence as their marriage goes on, becoming a stronger part of their relationship than how it once began. In this poem, Larkin views the cause of unhappiness as perhaps not necessarily the act of marriage and love, however, he certainly see’s children and family as an origin. It appears that Larkin see’s having children as a defective moment in the lives of these families as it causes them to put themselves second in their own lives and fall into a routine which slowly seems to force them into a stupor until death.

Abse also writes about unhappiness due to family, only, the difference is that Abse talks about his own personal experience of an argument between him and his wife. A good example of this is in his poem, “A scene from married life.” Generally the title suggests an unremarkable and common place event, reluctant to give any information of the overall content of the poem. Much like Larkin, Abse comments of the routine of his day, saying that “nothing” was happening “until it happened,” the uneventful day therefore acts as a surprise for the argument that follows. However, Abse writes about routine as a comfort, something he can rely on. It seems that he prefers the routine over the uneventful occurrences. Although, Abse also has similar views to Larkin when he mentions “stuffy office block” he seems to resent the idea of work and describes the commuters as “trapped”, almost as though they are imprisoned by their job and the routine which prevents the freedom of occasional spontaneous events. He uses the transferred epithet of “brooding” the represent his own unhappiness as he thinks about the argument and the “dank confusion” of the grey clouds indicative of his troubled marriage. He describes a marriage between the sea and the sky as a “resentful wedlock”, possibly signifying the dominant verses the submissive in their relationship much like the metaphor in the previous stanza where the “early worm” eats the “dead bird.” Abse’s method of rearranging a well known saying allows the reader to take that Abse, who considered himself the dominant one of the pair, was in fact subjugated by his wife during this argument, embarrassing him. Abse, in this poem, uses the method of self mockery in order to create an almost amusing scene of an actually very serious moment. He describes his moment of despair similar to a “B movie,” which was a poor quality movie known for its clichéd scenes and bad acting. He pictures his “great climatic scene,” of him killing himself in a very melodramatic way. With the humour in the last stanzas, you can almost look past his obviously despondent moment as he contemplates suicide, saved by his wife “dressed in blue” representing the colour coming back into his world. However, as Abse comment on the “children’s cries” in the last stanza, he says it with warmth and affection for his family, something that Larkin had never written about. It appears that Abse, although at points can’t find family the cause of his unhappiness, it can also be the cure.

In the poem “Love Songs in Age”, Philip Larkin explored unhappiness in the reminiscing of an older woman as she looks back on her life and what had become of it. Generally, the tone of the poem is “sombre” and “the vision dark” Charles Hall commented, “uncertain at best, despairing at worst.” It is generally a poem of disappointment and defeat and it perfectly captures the quotidian as a normal woman stumbles upon a collection of music which can make her relive and revaluate her life. “She kept her songs,” is the opening of the first stanza, immediately bringing about the idea that these were songs of her youth, and possibly something she had had for a very long time, they weren’t very well looked after “bleached,” and “marked”, a random event where she stumbled across these defective records caused her to look back on her life in almost despair. The persona seems to come to the conclusion that Larkin makes in a lot of his poetry, that love never actually solves their problems. The persona mentions the “glare” and how much the “much-mentioned brilliance” can blind you when people talk of “love.” She discusses the fact that everyone seems to talk about and yearn for love as though it’s a solution to everything, “promising” to “satisfy” and solve the issues in her life. As the poem comes to a close, the persona sneers at her naivety. “It had not done so then, and could not now.” She accepts and finally realises that love is not going to solve her problems. This poem is the perfect example of Larkin’s exploration in the unhappiness of one’s lived life. The persona is looking back on her mistaken beliefs, and only accepts them when it’s too late to change. She looks back and see’s the mundanity of her life and regrets that love obscured all of the choices she could have made.

Abse seems to revaluate his view of routine and the repetition of existence in his poem “At the Concert,” taking a negative view of habit as explored the onset of old age. The first stanza opens with a familiar scene throughout his works in the “Welsh Retrospective” of Ogmore, only he focuses on the sheep which inhabit the cliffs. He uses repetition of the word “over” to represent the boredom which relates to the recurrence of existence. He appears to write about the monotonous life of the animals which scatter his view describing them as a “statue” and “still” He constantly changes his focus through the poem, disorientating the reader at first glance, but I believe he’s doing this too keep the reader interested in the poem, rather than have his poem reflect the boredom that he felt in life. In the exploration of tediousness of life, Abse seems to come to the conclusion that he is simply waiting “numb” for something to happen. It appears that Abse feels he is bored, and will remain so as he waits for the inevitability of mortality. He realises he had a lack of interest as he “pretends” to listen to the music he vaguely mentions, and claims that everyone feels this way. He’s attempting to convey the feeling that we simply exist in our lives, rather than live it and the only way we manage is with routine to get us to the end. However, in the last stanza, Abse seems to have an “epiphany” where he realises that he wants to be in, or around nature once again for a sense of relief and meaning. He mentions a pear tree “blossoming” and a “masquerade” of snow, using words with celebratory value to convey the beauty and wonderment of nature in his eyes, and how he hopes for it to excite his life once more. Abse, although reflecting on the melancholy that seems to follow routine and repetition, he again manages to end his poem with a positive outlook. His realisation and awe of nature seems to take him to a more optimistic train of though, allowing him to realise that there could just be a cure to unhappiness and routine in the superiority of nature.

Larkin’s poem “Mr Bleaney” explores the recent death or Mr Bleaney and an unnamed man as he literally and metaphorically assumes the place of him. The critic Ian McClary supposed that Larkin appears to write a persona with “lowered sights” and “patiently diminished expectations.” The first five stanzas of the poem are marked by short, clipped sentences where the persona is looking out at Mr Bleaney’s world. The last two which follow comprise of one long sentence in which the narrator wallow in his own plight followed by a self-doubting line “I don’t know,” which seems to spread back dismally throughout the poem and hence through the life of the unhappy persona who uttered it. In the poem, the narrative of the persona replacing Mr Bleaney’s existence by moving in to his old room; “I lie where Mr Bleaney lay.” Immediately we are presented with the idea that Mr Bleaney has already been replaced and forgotten. However, the narrator is not disparaging when he talks about Bleaney, “I know his habits” he simple seems to take note of the departed man’s predictable life. It is only when he takes Mr Bleaney’s place, lying on his bed and looking out of his window that he starts to realise that Mr Bleaney represents his future. “That how we live measures our own nature” There is a sense of regret at the persona realises that it is our own power which determines out life and that we are in control of our own life. There is no irony or satire in this poem, and very little poem as I believe that Larkin wanted to have a poem which was stripped of complications, depicting a life which has been stripped bare.

In conclusion, I believe that Larkin and Abse both have a similar view that routine and the repetition of existence can be the cause of unhappiness in the lives of the common person. The only difference is that Larkin has the view that unhappiness is at the root of the human condition and that people should accept their inevitable fate of mortality before it’s too late. Whereas, Abse see routine as some kind of comfort at times, however can become quickly frustrated with the repetition. Abse finds that this unhappiness can be cured by the love and warmth of his family or by turning to the superiority of nature. It appears that Larkin see’s unhappiness as an inevitable, whereas Abse perceives it as a curable illness.

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