Critical Analysis of “MCMXIV” by Philip Larkin

Critical Analysis of “MCMXIV” by Philip Larkin

Title of the poem is self-explanatory. Philip Larkin wanted to leave influence on the minds of readers, therefore, he has written title in Arabian numerals. He talked about title of the poem in following words:-

“I printed it that way because I wanted to remind the reader of the date on a monument, and because I felt the emotional impact of nineteen-fourteen in Arabic numerals was too great for anything I could possible write myself.”

The poem is entirely about the effects of war on the minds of people. When they think of war, they become fearful. Soldiers on the other hand, become enthusiastic. England has suffered a lot in First World War. Philip Larkin was the witness of World War-II but he is well aware about the effects of war. He knows the pains and agonies of his fellow people. He also knows that England has lost its glory in World War-I. Thus, he has written this poem in order to express his feelings for his nation.

Philip Larkin is famous for creating vivid imagery and juxtaposing different things. This poem also follows the conventional style of Philip Larkin. In first two stanzas, the poet has shown the rural life, whereas the remaining stanzas are about the countryside. The poem represents the prewar condition of people. In starting lines of the poem, Philip Larkin creates realistic images. First image is of soldiers, who are standing in an “uneven” line. He clears their situation while referring Villa Park. Sun is shining and the people have worn hats. They are happy. They are going for war but still there is happiness on their faces. They are enthusiastic to serve their country; they are happy to face their enemies. Mustached faces symbolizes that hitherto they have no fear. They are excited to wipe out their enemies. They know that they may die in war yet they are ready to fight for their children. They are ready to sacrifice everything for their country. Thus, neither their properties nor their wives are their priorities but their country.

In next stanza, the poet demonstrates the situation of common people and their properties. Shops are closed; names of shops have been carved on the boards but they have been faded. So far as children are concerned, they are wearing dark clothes. Their clothes symbolize threat to peace, whereas their names suggest the glory of England as the children are named on the names of kings and queens. The poet adds more objects in the scene. He puts in advertising boards of tobacco, slice of lemon and cocoa. In short, this stanza is the realistic imagery of every object of rural life. Children are playing but the shops are closed. No hustle and bustle can be seen on the roads. Except children everything is still. A picture, just before storm, has been painted by the poet. The stillness indicates fear, whereas the children indicate that life does not stop.

On the other hand, countryside is different than the rural area. The poet creates a beautiful scene yet there is smell of fear. Countryside although is indifferent to the war yet people are afraid of it. The line “And the countryside not caring” is entirely opposite to the word “doomsday”. We can see impact of war in countryside too. “doomsday” is the symbol of death, however, the beauty of countryside lies in wheat crops and green fields. War effects more on rural areas and less on countryside, therefore, there is more restlessness in rural areas as compared countryside. .

“Never such innocence

Never before or since

As changed itself to past..”


Stress has been given to these lines. Prewar condition of people can be imagined in them. People are going to lose their near and dear ones. Soon their innocence is going to become past. Last stanza of the poem clears the difference between war and peace. “The thousands of marriage” will not last longer because war is going to destroy everything. The poet again ends the poem with same line “Never such innocence again”. Indeed, this innocence will never be seen again.

A critic has said that the poem is written in reverse order. Firstly, men, ready to fight are shown and at the end the marriage, wives and their departure have been illustrated. The people, who are standing in uneven lines, are ready to forfeit their marriages. They want to sacrifices themselves for their country. Their courage has been presented in the poem. Philip Larkin has not seen the prewar era of First World War but he is well aware about the Second World War. He, keeping in view the prewar era of Second World War has composed this poem. Definitely, there is similarity between both these eras. He knows the condition of people, therefore, he has shown it from every angle. He has presented the life of children, women, servants and men. He has also demonstrated the shops. He mourns on the loss while saying never such innocence would be seen again. War has destroyed everything and converted everything to memories.

In short, the poem is beautiful picture of prewar situation of people. Every nation has suffered due to world wars. Peoples, properties, rural areas, countryside areas, forests, fields in fact everything was destroyed. Philip Larkin wants to freshen the memories of people/readers. He wants that people should feel the difference between war and peace. A critic summarizes the whole poem in following words:-

“‘the men leaving the gardens tidy’ is an insight into what’s to come, the men are going off to fight in the war, and whilst they’re gone there is no-one to take care of the gardens. The ‘long uneven lines  standing patently’ shows the soldiers in the calm before the storm, they are waiting to die, and it is in this time that their marriages are lasting longer, until death do them part, this poem is almost written in reverse, starting with the men in the trenches and going back in time to when they left to go to war.”

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