|ChemistryMathematicsEnglish LiteratureEnglish LanguageHome|
This poem is a description of a Marks and Spencers shop in Larkin’s time. Since then, they have moved further upmarket, but in the 1950s, M&S was a shop much like the Primark of today – selling cheap, though slightly dated, fashionable clothes.
As we get in ‘The Whitsun Weddings’, there is a sense of class within this poem, and one interpretation of Larkin looking down on the lower class. “The large cool store”, for example, is ambiguous, with “cool” either meaning something along the lines of trendy, or more negative, that the shop is literally cold. “Cheap” for those purchasing the goods would be a positive thing, but the idea of “cheap” comes in twain with “cheap and nasty” and other such idioms. “Set out in simple sizes plainly” also has the same ambiguity – to be so functional is a good thing on the surface, but perhaps it also suggests the simple nature of the shoppers. In addition, the colours Larkin describes, the “browns and greys, maroon and navy” are all suggest bleak and horrible clothes.
From this initial description, Larkin moves to imagine the lives of these shoppers, “Who leave at dawn low terraced houses”… and in the triadic list, “factory, yard and site,” there is a sense of restraint – perhaps less of looking down on the working class, but more empathising.
Yet, despite “the heap of shirts and trousers” in the bleak colours, there are separate “stands for Modes of Night”. Here, as in ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ there is a reeling off of fashionable colours: “Lemon, sapphire, moss-green, rose”, which the “Bri-nylon Baby-dolls and Shorties” (a fashionable, though course, material) are available in. It’s only imitation, however, made quite clear in the line, “Machine-embroidered, thin as blouses.” Still, there is an attempt at fashion, quite unlike the “heaps of shirts” for the men.
When the girls wear these clothes, they think “they share that world” of fashion and class, that something in “their” existence (the pronoun making them very separate from the poem’s voice) matches the class above them – that something being “love”. In its “separate and unearthly nature” love somehow brings together the classes.
If the poem were to end there, perhaps it would… Yet Larkin cannot quite leave it there. Perhaps, it’s just women’s nature and the frail conviction that they’re the same, or just the younger generation fantasising. They have no choice but to live in these fantasies, for it’s the best they can have. The reality is that love is being reduced, turned into something “synthetic, new, / And natureless in ecstacies” – a cold ending.