“The Whitsun Weddings” poem, published in 1964 is a best and most popular work by British poet Philip Larkin. This is the longest poem by Larkin, it has written in eight stanzas, consisting ten lines each. The poem describes the journey through a train by the poet. The rhyme scheme is ABABCDECDE.
The poet’s journey takes place in 1955 in ‘Whitsun’ Saturday, which is actual a train journey by the poet himself from Paragon station to London. Whitsun Saturday which is popular for wedding season, this season is supposed to be the wedding season so, he has a chance to witness a number of men and women including father, uncle, children, and unmarried male and female on the way who have recently participated in marriage parties and are on different platforms altogether to see off the newly wed couples.
The poet’s point of view about marriages is apparently a cynical (distrustful of human integrity) one, because according to the poet the participation of the rituals are comic figures which begins with the bride and the grinning (treat) and pomaded (denoting hair dressed with pomade- a hair styling product for girls) girls and the equally ludicrous (unreasonable) older generation.
For the poet, it is all quiet, ‘farcical’ because the more experienced women sharing their secret like a happy funeral and marriage being little more than a green signal for a religious wedding. However, the main thrust of the poem is not on the absurdity of the entire situation.
The concluding note is what matters the most to the poet, that on one particular day an assorted number of different characters (class) involved in different situations come together briefly to share some moments of their lives with each other. The poet says that maybe they never going to meet again, and even on that particular day, they may not have met but for the ‘frail’ (delicacy) which is a travelling coincidence according to Larkin. They are strangers from everyday life that Larkin muses on. This is a thought that does not strike the young couples who are too engrossed in the present to heed their future.
The poet here, not associated with any marriage ceremony himself that he has described in this poem but he is simply a casual onlooker, a casual passenger in train who is looking through window and observing detachedly. Hence, he has also described the scenery, the smell of the countryside that is coming from window as window is opened because of the heat on the way while train passes.
This is Larkin’s perspective that we see in most of his poems he is usually a commentator, an observer and not an actor in the scene. Whether he writes about a “Love Songs in Age” or of a night storm in “Wedding- wind”.
Therefore, The Whitsun Wedding’ s subject is specifically based on marriage rituals and the significance of it in human life.