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'MCMXIV'

Analysis of the poem 'MCMXIV' by Philip Larkin
by

Joanne Aylott

on 4 February 2013

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Transcript of 'MCMXIV'

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark; 'MCMXIV' by Philip Larkin And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines; Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again. Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park, He often employed the traditional tools of
poetry, rhyme, stanza and meter, to explore the often uncomfortable or terrifying experiences thrust upon common people in the modern age. Philip Larkin was born four years after the conclusion of the War. He composed poetry that reflected the dreariness of postwar provincial England. The "long uneven lines" are the men as they line up to enlist. The Oval and Villa Park are both sporting venues for cricket and football, and so it is ironic that the men are standing "patiently" as if they are simply waiting to get inside; this is symbolic of the overall attitude held by the men who wanted to enlist, because patriotic as they were, they were unaware of the realities of war. The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark; One of the possible interpretations of the word "archaic" is that these faces belong to the men of the older generation, who are also unaware of the harsh and brutal realities that the younger men will have to face. However another interpretation is that this part of the stanza still revolves around the men who are wanting to enlist, and that though they are "grinning", they will soon miss and long for days in which they could take pleasure from, such as the ones during an "August Bank Holiday". And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play Everyone believed that the War would be over by Christmas, and so the poet's choice of the word "lark" conveys this attitude. "MCMXIV" - Roman numerals for "1914".
Many Great War memorials were etched
with "MCMXIV", and so this poem could
be seen as acting as a literary war
memorial. Philip Larkin (1922 - 1985) This stanza very much explores aspects of the Homefront. It could be argued that the shops are shut perhaps due to the shortage of food, as many people stashed food for later on - many stores ran out of food at the start of August 1914. The "children at play" gives the reader the image of a very innocent aspect of childhood and youth. However, the dark clothes provides a stark contrast, giving a sense of foreboding. The children could be seen as being symbolic of the young men who were killed. Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day; The remainder of this stanza explores more aspects of the Homefront. The "tin advertisements" represent the propaganda that encouraged young men to enlist. And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines; The countryside is described as "not caring" - this could be seen as a reference to the countryside having no real involvement in the War. The "place-names" is a reference to the names that certain areas and regions were given when William the Conqueror had the Domesday Book written. The pubs being "wide open all day" are a result of it being a Bank Holiday. However this is significant because it conveys a sense of jubilation and happiness, which was the general feeling held by people due to the fact that they believed the War would be over by Christmas and that the young men would be 'doing their bit' for their country. Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again. This stanza explores the loss of innocence experienced by the men as a result of the War. The innocence and happiness that is portrayed at the beginning of the poem could be seen as having been taken away by the "shadowing Domesday" referenced to in the third stanza (the War being seen as 'Domesday'). The men were leaving their tidy "gardens", houses and homes to go to the 'untidiness' of War, unaware that they would become 'tainted'. The "thousands of marriages" represents the marriages that would soon end as a result of the men who failed to return home. The poet's choice of the phrase "Never such innocence again" gives the reader the impression that Larkin is implying that such a horrific and brutal event could never possibly happen again. But because 'MCMXIV' was published in 1964, after World War Two (1939-1945), the line could be seen as being ironic. The "differently-dressed servants" could be seen as being a reference to the men who fought in the War, implying that all of the men, regardless of their previous class and background, was a 'servant' to his country. This is supported by the phrase "differently-dressed". Main themes of the poem Realities of war
The Homefront
Loss of innocence
Class and background Each stanza consists of eight lines, yet only the fourth and eighth line in each stanza rhyme. Therefore it could be argued that the poem's structure is not very 'rigid', due to the abundance of lines that do not rhyme. The poet may have chosen to do this perhaps because he may have wanted to have more freedom in his writing - without this 'restriction', it could be argued that the poem is not 'forced' - it is instead a very 'raw' and 'real' exploration of certain elements of the War.
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