Analyzing "Wild Oats" by Philip Larkin

Essay by stillstanding17College, UndergraduateA+, February 2009

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Philip Larkin - “Wild Oats”The poem “Wild Oats” was written by a famous poet named Philip Larkin. The poem consists of three, eight line stanzas with each stanza describing a distinct period in his life. Philip Larkin used little sound effects and a minimal amount of rhyming to construct his poem. Rhyme, when it appears, is at the end of alternate lines such as, “doubt” and “out,” or “snaps” and “perhaps.” There is also no sign of alliteration, simile or use of a steady meter.

The title “Wild Oats” was taken from the expression ‘To sow your wild oats’. Back when this was written, it was culturally acceptable for men to be allowed to get involved in many sexual relationships with many different women prior to getting married (Shankar). The logic behind this was that if a man was not able to “sow his wild oats,” it was thought that he will become very anxious during his married years and eventually begin to cheat on his wife.

This poem seems to look back at his younger years when he was in his 20’s. The poem describes one of his relationships in which he failed miserably. Ironically, years after this event, he still has photos from this period in his life, but not of the girl that he dated. Instead he kept photos of the friend whom he fantasized about.

In the beginning of the poem on line three, the more attractive friend is immediately described as “A bosomy English rose”( Larkin 112). This hints at how exceedingly stunning she is and how Larkin considers her to be the most beautiful thing that he has ever came across. When people think about roses, they typically picture the roses’ gorgeous petals and often forget about the thorny stem. What Larkin had on his mind was a little bit different. He really doesn’t show much interest in love or relationships but rather shows an interest in sex. When Larkin talked about roses, he was referencing an old poem called “Roman de la rose”. The poem refers to the females as roses in terms of their sexual qualitaties (Roman). Once this poem is understood, one cannot help but to think of sex whenever seeing a rose. This clearly shows that from the start, all Larkin had on his mind was sex and not love.

In this poem the women’s beautiful face and body seduces Larkin into wanting to have sex with her. At the end of verse one Larkin says, “But it was the friend I took out”(Larkin 112). It is clear that even though he was much more attracted to the beautiful one, he chose the less attractive friend to go out with. Perhaps he was intimidated by the beautiful one and her looks. In verse four when Larkin says, “her friend… I could talk to,” he meant that her friend was someone he found much easier to relate to (Larking 112). This evidence implies that he felt much more confident and at ease around her than he did around the other. The less attractive girl, later known to be his girlfriend, is described as “her friend in specs.” What Larkin meant by “specs” is that she wears spectacles, otherwise known as glasses. This implies that she is probably very nerdy. He perceives her as “…secondary to beautiful”(Larking 112). Compared to her beautiful friend, Larkin seems to not speak very highly of her .

In the second stanza Larkin says he “wrote over four hundred letters” during the relationship with his girlfriend of seven years and that he even bought her a “ten-guinea ring” for engagement. Larkin’s statement of these lines can tell us a bit more about his relationship with his girlfriend. For one, you can tell that the relationship had lasted for some time but you can also tell that this was a serious relationship because he asked her to marry him. Even though he seemed so faithful and committed, we find out in the end that the relationship still was not successful. Larkin believes that the failure of the relationship was due to his lack of commitment. He says he is “easily bored to love” which tells us that, in reality, he did not love his girlfriend but simply liked her, and that his mind was always thinking about ‘beautiful’(Larkin 112).

Larkin tells us that he was uncertain of whether or not he should have committed to the long the relationship. This implication gives the reader a feeling that this poem might be Larkin’s confession of his weaknesses when it comes to loyalty. Larkin tends to be very critical of himself and openly reveals three problems with his personality that both he and his girlfriend agreed on. Larkin admits that he “…was too selfish, withdrawn, And easily bored to love.” Closer towards the end, it is clearly seen that the poem is not entirely about the relationship itself, but rather his confession of what he believes is wrong with his personality (Larkin 112). Larkin’s honesty throughout the poem creates sympathy as he acknowledges his weaknesses. On the other hand, Larkin accepts that he is shallow and superficial. This is clearly seen in the poem when he bases his love for another woman solely on his physical attraction towards her.

The final stanza deals with the bitter break up he encounters with his second choice for a girlfriend. The phrase, “Five rehearsals” is his way of describing the much anticipated end to this doomed relationship. He admits his shortcomings and pushes, what must have been, a major portion of his life’s experience to one side with a single poignant line, “Well, useful to get that learnt.” This line makes it clear to the reader that he really hasn’t learned anything significant from his experiences. It emphasizes his bitterness towards the complete uselessness of the relationship. Larkin’s sarcasm also shows the reader how he wishes he had gone with the woman he had fantasized about rather than wasting his time chasing something he didn’t believe in; his perception of love. Towards the end of the stanza Larkin again refers to the woman with a sexual undertone when he writes “…bosomy rose with fur gloves on”. When one is said to have fur on his or her palms this meant that he or she has been masturbating to much. This reiterates the fact that, even after his long and serious relationship, he still holds a sexual mind set towards women. The last line, “Unlucky charms, perhaps” is a frank, nonchalant admission that longing for what he knew he could never acquire has been the reason for his failure in love (Larkin 112).

BibliographyLarkin, Philip. Philip Larkin Collected Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

"Roman de la Rose." Wikipedia. 26 October 2008. Wikipedia. 18 Nov 2008 .

Shankar, Sri. "Idiom: Sow your wild oats." Using English. 2002. 18 Nov 2008 .