Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about love

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28 February 2016

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Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about Love, in your response you should write about at least two of Larkin’s poems Larkin’s general view on love and marriage is that both are a liability. This is seen throughout many poems including ‘Self’s the man’ where Larkin talks about a man being held back and worked to death by his wife. Abse’s views are somewhat contrary to Larkin’s. He has a much softer approach when talking about love and feels that it connects himself with his family, as seen in his poems ‘Postcard to his wife’ and ‘The Malham Bird’ where he expresses his love for his wife. Love as a theme is present in many of Larkin’s poems and ‘Self’s the man’ illustrates his stereotypical outlook on marriage and love. In the first stanza Larkin directly compares himself to his made up character of Arnold, who represents all the lower class men in a marriage. The first two lines ‘Oh, no one can deny/ That Arnold is less selfish than I’ have a humorous tone in with the use of a rhyming couplet, Larkin is patronising the reader. In the next line he writes how Arnold married a woman to ‘stop her getting away’. In comparison, the poem ‘The Malham Bird’ Abse writes of love in a different way ‘in love, you a Gentile’. His soft tone creates a slower pace to the poem which shows his love for his late wife.

On the other hand Larkin doesn’t use the word love and he uses a faster matter-of-fact tone. Larkin is often viewed as sexist but here he could be seen as saying that women don’t get a chance to live their lives how they want to because men marry them ‘Now she’s there all day’. In the second stanza Larkin continues to paint women in a poor light ‘And the money he gets for wasting his life on work/ She takes as her perk’. The first line uses enjambment which makes the poem sound like a list of moans. She appears to be greedy by taking his money. Larkin displays an air of snobbery about the lower classes hard labour jobs. He describes the woman as interfering and domineering. Larkin then uses colloquial language to make fun of the lower classes and how they speak ‘To pay for the kiddies’ clobber and the drier/ and the electric fire’. He does not rate family life very highly. Larkin states that the roles have reversed in the third stanza. Arnold told his wife to marry him and she did and now she is telling him to work, to do the chores etc… ‘Planning to have a read at the evening paper/ It’s Put a screw in this wall-‘. The fourth stanza uses colloquial language again and the fifth and uses a sarcastic and patronising tone.

Larkin does not look upon marriage favourably. Moving into the sixth stanza, the poet claims that Arnold, too, was just “out for his own ends” and “if it was such a mistake / He still did it for his own sake / Playing his own game.” He concludes that “he and I are the same” and both are selfish, but he is better “At knowing what I can stand / Without them sending a van”. The “van” is a mental institute’s mode of transportation, suggesting that Arnold is going mad in his situation. Much of this poem is unsympathetic towards Arnold’s situation. However at the end Larkin reveals an uncertainty. Suddenly the poet is faced with the reality of his own situation ‘But wait, not do fast/ Is there such a contrast?’ Has he realised the loneliness in his own life because he was too selfish to share. Another poem which presents love as a theme is ‘Talking in Bed’. In this poem Larkin describes a couple in a failing relationship because they are isolated and find it difficult to communicate. Themarital bed is used as a symbol for marriage; a haven for spouses to come together. The bed should be the place where a couple feel united, but in this poem, the bed makes the couple’s detachment from one another glaringly obvious.

The word “lying” has an ambiguous meaning in this poem; on one hand it means that the couple in assuming a horizontal position together, and on the other hand, it appears there is some fabrication between them. “Goes back so far” also presents some ambiguity: first, the couple have been “lying together” in their bed for years which is an indication of a lengthy marriage; and second, they have been living a lie for many years. The couple are clearly unhappy with their marriage. This was a time when separation and divorce was frowned upon but couples stayed together unhappily because it was the right thing to do. There was a sense of accountability within the marriage contract and it was difficult for women in particular to walk away from their husbands. The second stanza describes the turmoil of their marriage metaphorically by using nature. The awful silence is deafening and an indication of the tense, nervous atmosphere between the two, worsening as they continue to remain silent. The “outside” is a reflection of the couple inside; the tension heightens between them, and is never relieved. The wind is turbulent, scattering the clouds across the sky. “Builds and disperses” could be a metaphor for an argument; the environment is fraught and situations cannot be resolved. “Clouds” have both a dark and threatening aspect, and can be difficult to
see through.

Metaphorically speaking, a clear sky would represent a marriage at peace, but in this case the clouds suggest a marriage at war with itself; these wars could potentially harm the marriage, so the clouds hide them, if you can’t see something then it doesn’t exist. “Dark towns” can be used to describe a number of different things: faults, disagreements, difficulties, isolation and pain. The contrast of their marriage to the tumultuous winds are a stark reminder of what their future holds. They have to try and work things out to arrive at an amicable solution. It is not understood why their marriage has failed; why at “this unique distance” (lying side-by-side) that they feel so isolated from each other. The husband cannot understand why communication between him and his wife have broken down. Words are not forthcoming and he is at a loss as to how the marriage appears to be irretrievable. Was he ever really in love with his wife? Did he ever feel a softness towards her? ‘It becomes more difficult to find/ Words at once true and kind’. He wonders if their marriage was based on a lie or was it inevitably going to fail. Dannie Abse’s approach to love is different in comparison to Larkin; Abse sees love as something to be treasured between him and his family. Where Larkin views love with a touch of cynicism, Abse’s poems demonstrate a purity and an equality.

In The Malham Bird it did not matter that the couple are from different backgrounds ‘you a Gentile and I a Jew!’ Their relationship may have been unacceptable for the times but their love was all that mattered. The poem is littered with fond memories of when the couple first met ‘Dear wife, remember our first illicit/holiday, the rented room, the hidden beach’. Theirs was a romantic love. Abse’s couple are happy in contrast to the couples portrayed by Larkin in the above poems. Their shared history is full of warmth and mutual admiration. Where Larkin’s poems view love as a hindrance and something a man can do without, Abse firmly believes you need love above all else. In Postcard to his Wife, Abse’s portrayal is of a husband (himself) desperately missing his wife in her absence. He longs for them to spend the day together. He wishes she would ‘Make excuses’ so that she would be home with him. He loves her and enjoys her presence the opposite of Larkin’s idea of relationships. Abse feels there is a void in his life when his wife is not around and cannot bear the heartache. The contrast between Larkin and Abse’s views on love and relationships are polar opposites.

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"Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about love" StudyScroll, 28 February 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about love [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 30 September, 2023]

"Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about love" StudyScroll, Feb 28, 2016. Accessed Sep 30, 2023.

"Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about love" StudyScroll, Feb 28, 2016.

"Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about love" StudyScroll, 28-Feb-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 30-Sep-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Compare the ways in which Larkin and Abse write about love. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 30-Sep-2023]

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