Misinterpretations |2| Wedding Wind by Philip Larkin

An early poem by one of England’s most-loved fascists – ahem, excuse me, poets –  can be read here (dunno why you would bother, though)

THE KNOWN INTERPRETATION

Everyone, from your average Leaving Certificate student to those poor souls who were brainwashed to believe that Larkin’s work is an example of “real” contemporary poetry, will argue that Wedding Wind is a poem full of the joys of marriage and love, narrated by a newlywed woman in high spirits.

THE MISINTEREPTATION

If you ask me there are much subtler, darker forces at work throughout the course of this poem. In the first stanza, the narrator sets a grim scene with the opening lines: “The wind blew all my wedding-day”. We feel bad for her. Even just walking to the shops to get milk, when the wind is blowing about like nobody’s business and having a go at your hair, is annoying.

Apply that to a wedding, where typically the bride is decked out in an expensive dress, long, flowing veils, and hair in delicate curls with those little diamanté studs in them, and you’d expect her to be in a pretty shit mood.

To make matters worse, her “wedding night was the night of the high wind”. She reflects on her new fragmented identity, and is unsure of herself in her new role as a wife as she strains to see her face in the “twisted candlestick”. So she’s feeling kind of low, and not really looking forward to the expectations of a wedding night.

On the “supposed” most romantic night of her life – it’s lashing, the doors and horses are making an awful racket outside, and then her new husband fecks off and leaves her in bed, alone! Poor thing. Suppose you can’t really blame her for being a bit snarky and sarcastic in the final lines of the stanza; “I was sad that any man or beast that night should lack the happiness I had”. I feel you, hun.

The second stanza is a post-nuptials reflection. To the narrator’s utmost dismay, the wind is still fierce, and her husband has, once again, disappeared. What a man, right? She’s left to look after the useless chickens while the wind preys on her, destroying the image of her new duty as a wife (“thrashing my apron”). She takes the opportunity to reflect on the disaster of her honeymoon the night before, and asks herself: Can I endure keeping up the hard illusion of happiness that I go against?         

The play on words in the lines “Shall I be let to sleep now this perpetual morning shares my bed?” is very clever. Larkin uses this well-disguised metaphor to have the narrator ask herself, “Can I die, now I know a great disappointment sleeps next to me ‘til death do us part?” The final question is obviously the bride asking herself if she can get away from the marriage, she knows she should be enjoying, through death. It seems that she feels her marriage was cursed by the terrible weather the day she got married, and now she is forever doomed to put up with her lumbering, unreliable, sexually inept hubby.

From this, we can conclude that the protagonist is a pissed off, asexual woman, who so desperately despised her wedding night that the thought of continuing on in a life of (presumably unfulfilling) sexual intimacy makes her thoroughly miserable. She would literally rather die than endure an eternity of unhappiness, full of bad weather and chicken shit and ripped aprons on a smelly farm with a dude who would rather run into the rain than have a civilised conversation with her.

I would tell her not to bother dying; instead, I would suggest a speedy divorce. Move into an apartment in a sunny area, with a little cat that would stay in bed with her when it rains. Set up an Etsy account to sell her own line of cute, durable aprons, and buy lots of mirrors that she could see her own awesome face clearly in – no more candles. I’m sure that’s what Larkin had in mind for her, anyway.

1 Comment
  1. William Clark says

    I disagree totally with this analysis. The poem is about how marriage has equipped her to cope with the shortcomings of the material world; they are still there but she is now part of something that overcomes them. Cranmer and the Christian reformers of the 16th century redefined marriage as a manifestation of God’s grace, which effectively undoes the fall of man, as is described very carefully in the introduction to the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer. Sexual relations between married people are a manifestation of grace, a gift from God, whereas previously the medieval church had condemned married relations as evil, necessary but evil. The Reformers totally rejected this; in fact the celebration of marriage and the sexual relations between married people are among the fundamental foundations of the Reformation, marriage effectively supplanting Priesthood in importance. Protestantism introduces the Universal Priesthood of all Believers, effectively relegating ordained ministers to the level of the rest of us, people called to be not above us, but as it were ‘on duty’ on behalf of their fellow men and women, engaged to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments, (Baptism and Holy Communion) but not to be superior beings or to claim to participate in delivering salvation through the Mass (only Christ does that) and of course to be able to be married! Larkin entirely supports that positive, non-condemnatory, aspirational conception of marriage. It may not have been for him, but this is a very affirming description of what he hopes marriage is capable of. This hopefulness amid very clear descriptions of existential frailty, difficulty and failure is similar to the movement of mood and feeling in the poem “Church Going”, which begins sarcastically and mockingly but in which the narrator concludes by questioning his own cynicism by conceding of the church in which he finds himself that “someone will forever be surprising A hunger in himself to be more serious, And gravitating with it to this ground”. If T S Eliot can gloomily declare that “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land”, in “The Trees” Larkin is able to be far more hopeful about nature. His trees “are coming into leaf like something almost being said”, as if the annual self-renewal of trees is not a divine punishment, but an overcoming of the limitations, constraints and failures of being in a material world, and he concludes that the value of existence is reaffirmed when trees “begin afresh afresh afresh”. This is not to deny that poems such as “The Old Fools” appear to be without any comforting concluding balance, although I do not find that particular poem to be as thoroughly pessimistic as Matthew Arnold had been in the devastating “Growing Old” a century earlier. Wedding Wind is however a poem of elation, so great that the wife asks three consecutive rhetorical questions to emphasise this joy, demonstrating that for her it transcends all threats and external imperfections. The implied expression of gratitude is expressed in almost biblical terms in the final question: “Can even death dry up These new delighted lakes, conclude Our kneeling as cattle by all-generous waters? Here again is the allusion to the married state un-doing of the Fall of Man and restoring the coupe to pre-lapsarian bliss, in that marriage places them beyond harm. It is a staggeringly beautiful and profound poem; perhaps his greatest and one of the greatest I have ever read.

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