Critical Analysis of “MCMXIV” | Poem by Philip Larkin

Critical Analysis of "MCMXIV" | Poem by Philip Larkin

The most important point in the critical analysis of “MCMXIV” (1914) is that it is entirely about the effects of wars. Philip Larkin shows that people become fearful when they think about war. However, soldiers become enthusiastic. England has suffered a lot in First World War. Philip Larkin has witnessed only World War-II but he is well aware about the effects of Word War-I too. He knows the pains and agonies of people. He also knows that England lose its glory in World War-I.

Critical Analysis of “MCMXIV” (1914)

Poem “MCMXIV” (1914) is a deeper analysis of critical circumstances before world war. In addition, it is an expression of feelings of poet for his nation. Philip Larkin is famous for creating vivid imagery and juxtaposing different things. This poem also follows his conventional style of writing. Main theme of the poem is “dispirit”.

Critical Analysis of “MCMXIV” | Poem by Philip Larkin

Critical Analysis of Title of “MCMXIV” (1914):

Title of the poem needs explanation because it is in Arabian numerals. Philip Larkin wanted to remind people about world war. He explained 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.”

Philip Larkin

Click here to read “MCMXIV” (1914) instead of its critical analysis.

Stanza-I Analysis:

First two stanzas of “MCMXIV” (1914) are analysis of critical urban lifestyle. Remaining two are about countryside. The Poet shows prewar circumstances. People has not seen war yet they know its consequences. In starting lines of the poem, the poet creates some realistic images. First image is of soldiers, who are standing in an “uneven” line. Second is of Villa Park. Poet further describes whole scenery in clear words. Sun is shining. People have worn hats. They are going for war but still there is happiness on their faces. They are enthusiastic to serve their country. They are ready to face their enemies. Mustached faces symbolize 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. Their country is their first priority.

Stanza-II Analysis:

Common people on the other hand are afraid. Poet sheds light on them. 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, whereas their names suggest the glory of England as the children are named on the names of kings and queens.

Advertising boards of tobacco, slice of lemon and cocoa reveal gloomy atmosphere. In short, this stanza is realistic imagery of every object of urban life. Children are playing but 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. Stillness symbolizes fear. Children on the opposite indicate that life never stops.

Stanza-III Analysis:

Poet diverts his attention towards countryside. It is different from urban area. As compared to urban area, countryside has less fear of war. Line “And the countryside not caring” is highly ironic. We can see impact of war in countryside too. “Domesday” represents many years old strong England’s history. Poet first describes wheat crops and green fields in countryside and then makes us feel that war is going to destroy everything. Theme of destruction can be witnessed in this stanza. War impacts more on rural areas and less on countryside, therefore, there is more restlessness in urban areas as compared countryside.

Stanza-IV Analysis:

“Never such innocence
Never before or since
As changed itself to 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. People are going to loose their near and dear ones. The poet ends the poem with same line “Never such innocence again”. Indeed, this innocence will never be seen again.

Deeper Critical Analysis of “MCMXIV” (1914):

A critic is of the view hat the poem is written in reverse order. Men, ready to fight are shown at start of the poem. At the end marriage, wives and their departure have been illustrated. People, who are standing in uneven lines, are ready to forfeit their marriages. They want to sacrifice 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 knows consequences of Second World War. He, keeping in view the prewar era of Second World War has composed this poem. There is similarity between both these eras. He knows condition of people, therefore, he shows it from every angle. He presents life of children, women, servants and men. He mourns that innocence would never be seen again. War would destroy everything. Only memories would remain intact.

In short, the poem sketches prewar picture 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 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.”

Related Question:

  • Write Critical Analysis of “MCMXIV” (1914).