Example Exam Question (an introduction, 6 paragraphs and a conclusion) - Explore the presentation of life’s journey in Whatever Happened and Triple Time.
In Philip Larkin’s ‘The Less Deceived’ (1955) poems about life being a journey are numerous. It can be argued that in poems such as ‘Whatever Happened’ and ‘Triple Time’, he wanted to explore how time is forever ongoing and how people react to the effects of this truth. In ‘Whatever Happened’, Larkin explores how, in an attempt to ignore the present, people latch onto the past. He also explores if these memories truly have any significance as they will be forgotten one day. In ‘Triple Time’, the speaker considers whether or not the present should be disregarded during the pursuit of a better future, as the future is never truly guaranteed. In both texts, Larkin presents life as being difficult as the mundane as the passing of time is inevitable and there are only more challenges to come.
Firstly, both texts display life being a journey due to the emotions it forces people to endure. In ‘Whatever Happened’, the speaker recalls the difficulty those emotions caused as they “toss for half the night, but find the next day / All’s kodak distant”. The undignified verb ‘toss’ connotes the discomfort the narrator may have experienced when they would remember their possibly traumatic memories. The verb has negative connotations as it creates the image of restlessness and anxiety. These emotions result in life being even more difficult as it creates an unwilling connection between the person and the memory that they wish to forget. Followed by this verb is the light imagery of ‘night’ and ‘day’, which displays the process of the memories fading as time passes, causing the person to become more detached from the situation, and even more detached from the aftermath. This is evident as the ‘day’ uses light image and has positive connotations as it symbolises new beginnings, which contrasts the imagery of the ‘night’ as that usually has negative connotations and may reflect the despair he may have experienced during the aftermath when the even was still fresh on the narrator's mind. This is relevant as Larkin had many relationships, many of that were considered to be scandalous, which may have triggered such apprehension. An example of one of his relationships is the one that he had with Patsy Strange, who, at the time, was married to Larkin’s friend and co-worker, Colin Strang. This affair resulted in Patsy becoming pregnant by Larkin, but later miscarrying. This may have influenced Larkin to make the poem focus on disregarding the past as it is impossible to change it, and remembering those memories would result in more harm than good. This is significant as it warns the audience to not hyper-fixate on the past, but rather focus on the present as it is controllable.
However, in ‘Triple Time’, Larkin presents life as being difficult due to it being disappointing. This is shown through the narrator admitting that “This is the future furthest childhood saw”, displaying how although he may have anticipated the future, he was not truly prepared as life is untrollable. The alliteration ‘future furthest’ emphasises the fact that society views the present as meaningless although it was once the hopes and dreams of the public, it now no longer matters as they now have new hopes and dreams. The value of the present decreases as society places the future on a pedestal; society has too much hope for the future and that hope could be worthless as the future is never guaranteed. Larkin aims to make the Everyman less deceived by revealing the true identity of hope being false and deceiving as it will only result in disappointment when the future does come, it is impossible to control it. Childhood usually symbolises potential and hope but that simply results in more disappointment as the reader realises they will never be able to fulfil that potential as they have too high expectations. This may cause them to be regretful for missing many opportunities during their endeavours to achieve success. During these pursuits for success, the present is often ignored due to the mind being distracted by thoughts of the future, resulting in what was once present becoming the past. This is relevant as Larkin himself had many missed opportunities, like his childhood, which he described as being ‘unspent’ in his poem ‘I Remember I Remember’. Another failed opportunity was his relationships, evident in the fact that he was never married. An alternative failed opportunity in his life which he would regret, would be his poetry, which he described as being a ‘kind of welfare sub-state poetry’ that causes him to worry about the legacy he would leave behind. This is relevant as he may have believed that he would have been able to achieve more if he did not worry about the future, and allowed him to live in regret. This is significant as Larkin wants society to be revealed to the truth, that the present should be prioritised, not the future as prioritising the future will simply cause disappointment.
Moving on, both texts present life as being a journey as it has many obstacles. In ‘Whatever Happened’, life is displayed as having many hindrances that may get in the way. This is shown through the narrator describing how “unavoidable it was: ‘Such coastal bedding always means mishap’ “. The nautical imagery of ‘coastal bedding’ suggests that life is similar to a journey on a ship. This implies that life will have many difficulties that will be ‘unavoidable’. The imagery suggests that it is impossible to ‘steer’ away from challenging situations. It also implies that memories are difficult to forget as they too can be a hindrance that must be overcome to forget them. Larkin may have done this to suggest that in life, perseverance is vital in order to get past these obstacles, even if they result in sacrifices being made. The use of nautical imagery is relevant as Larkin lived in port towns and cities for much of his life, which may have inspired him to write about the sea frequently in his poetry as he is familiar with the coastal environments. This is significant as he would have been able to create similarities between life on the sea and life on land as they both have many obstacles.
However, in ‘Triple Time’, Larkin presents life as a journey due to the mistakes that occur, which results in a lingering regret. This is shown through the narrator describing a “valley cropped by fat neglected chances / That we insensately forbore to fleece”. The natural imagery alludes to grains that were ignored and not harvested. The grains may be a metaphor for the opportunities that life presents to the Everyman, however, these opportunities were ignored in an attempt to receive better opportunities in the future, This is presented as foolish as the future is never guaranteed, and neither were the better opportunities that society hopes for, This causes life to be more difficult as these mistakes cannot be taken back, no matter how desperately society attempt to rectify them. This implies that society should take these opportunities for granted and should seize them. By ignoring them, society ignores the present and becomes more distracted by the future. Larkin may be suggesting that the solution to living with less regret and making life a less difficult journey is to ‘harvest’ these opportunities. This is relevant as Larkin wrote ‘The Less Deceived’ collection after the second world war, which resulted in a new outlook on life as it revealed how fragile it was and how easily it could be lost. This is significant as Larkin seems to suggest that in order to maximise these mistakes, society should be more spontaneous rather than hesitant when opportunities reveal themselves.
Furthermore, both texts display life as being a journey due to its hectic nature. In ‘Whatever Happened’, life is shown as being difficult due to the narrator’s wavering memory. This is displayed through the narrator's confusedly questioning about ‘Curses? The dark? Struggling? Where’s the source / Of these yarns now (...)?” The triplet of rhetorical questions creates an ambience of uncertainty and confusion. It suggests that although the narrator is thankful that he is beginning to forget past traumatic memories, he realises that he is now beginning to forget normal memories. The rhetorical questions imply that the narrator no longer remembers the origins of stories in his memories, no matter how much he tries to work them out. It implies that due to his lack of memory, the narrator is almost in a dazed state. This is significant as it shows life as being a journey as everything has a price; forgetting traumatic events reduces the value and significance of memories as a whole as there is no longer any reason to remember normal events as they too will be forgotten. The final stanza of the poem returns the reader to the motif of photography and memories, which is significant as he feared that he would lose the moment, revealing that Larkin believed that forgetting memories resulted in life being more difficult. This is relevant as it displays life as being too hectic, and though memories are now less significant, remembering them has more value than forgetting them.
However, in ‘Triple Time’, life is presented as being a journey due to it being an inevitable cycle. This is shown through the narrator ending the poem with how society will blame their missed opportunities on their “last / Threadbare perspectives, seasonal decrease”. Through the continuation of natural imagery, Larkin can display life as cyclical and how it will continue no matter what, even when society is hyper-focused on their mistakes, The imagery of ‘Threadbare perspectives’ has negative connotations as it suggests that something wears out with age, as ‘Threadbare’ means to thin with age and is usually about clothing. This devalues the pedestal people place themselves on by connoting that they, like inanimate objects, will lose value over time and will be replaced by society, the way a person replaces their ‘Threadbare’ clothes and furniture. This is difficult to accept as it causes life to become more difficult as people usually believe that they have more value than they usually do. It suggests that people will be replaced when their skills are no longer deemed useful by society, similar to the way clothes are replaced when fashion changes. This could result in the Everyman becoming more desperate as they age as they may still be longing for a better future even though that future had already come and now has become the past. Larkin may be warning the Everyman that time is running out and that death is inevitable. This is relevant as Larkin had a nihilistic outlook on life that he inherited from his father. This is significant as life is a journey due to its nature as an inevitable cycle, which will occur with younger generations. Larkin may want to warn these younger generations to not make the same mistake of waiting as the older generations did.
Despite both poems focusing on different themes, they are linked by the theme of time, as they show how difficult life becomes as it progresses. They both show life as being a journey for different reasons, but all those reasons are time-related. In ‘Whatever Happened’ life is presented as a journey as it becomes more difficult due to the destructive nature of memories. The poem also focuses on the significance of these memories they will one day be forgotten. In ‘Triple Time’, life is a journey due to the future distracting us from the present, causing life to become more difficult. Both poems focus on life having difficulties as we lose focus on the present.