Comparison of ways in which Larkin and Abse present love in their poetry

Larkin often writes about the social and cultural aspects of love and marriage in his poetry and it’s usually based around the pessimistic themes of unhappiness and death. However Abse discusses love in a way that emphasises the beauty and uniqueness of it. An Arundel Tomb by Larkin is a key poem that conveys the theme of love.  In the poem the lies that love can tell is emphasised by a hand gesture, it is uncertain whether the hand gesture is the undying, everlasting declaration of love between the two or a forced imitation of the presentation of love by the sculptor, ‘A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace’, this is said in a sarcastic and ironic tone to demonstrate the fact that a gesture of love doesn’t really mean anything. The poem shows that while a gesture of love is eternal, the intent of it is always doubted, so we’re unsure if the couple were even faithful to each other to begin with, this is highlighted in ‘They would not think to lie so long/ Such faithfulness in effigy’, this sounds sardonic, as if while their statues are faithful, it may not have reflected the reality of their lives.

In the last line of the poem, ‘what will survive of us is love’, can be interpreted into two ways. Firstly it again emphasises that the gesture of love is universally and eternally understood. This is supported when Larkin spoke of the poem, ‘a rather romantic poem…I don’t like it much’, and so he wrote it like that despite that not being his intentions. Secondly it could be perceived in a humorous, ironic way, so whereas love is eternal, reason and truth amongst others aren’t. It presents love, but more specifically everlasting love, as a lie, it is merely a ‘Sculptor’s grace’ and a distortion of time. Love is a presentation but it possibly may not be true.

In Love Songs in Age, Larkin presents love in a disappointing way through a woman who looks back to the time during her marriage and realises that that love never really satisfied her, ‘Still promising to solve and satisfy…It had not done so then, and could not now’. It is implied by Larkin that love is a self-protective illusion, ‘She found them looking for something else’, so she looked back on her memories and is disillusioned by what she sees and that it was her own obliviousness and naivety that made her ignore it in her marriage.

Love is presented as something you can forget through personification, ‘relearn how each frank submissive chord/had ushered in’, this idea is contradicted in Postcard to his Wife because Abse doesn’t forget his love for her, he describes love as something undying. When ‘love’ is contradicted in rhyme with ‘sailing above’, it is presented as something that’s unreachable and uncontrollable, it is something that is beyond our level of comprehension and experience, and, according to Larkin, should be left alone if you see it in a naive perspective.

Love is overrated and idealised by society, ‘promising to solve and satisfy’, is a quote that specifically targets that. It is supposed to fulfil us but in fact it’s just an empty promise that’ll leave you unsatisfied. This verse is also contradictory to another line, ‘solving emptiness’, this line itself tells us that that there was nothing for love to solve in the first place.

Love is presented as music in the poem, ‘She kept her songs, they took so little space’. She thinks back to it and realises that she doesn’t like any of it, she felt differently about it when she was younger. The verse ‘they kept so little space’ suggests that she has forgotten about most of the memories, which points out that love never really did play a big role in her life as she had initially thought.

Abse presents love as triumphant when faced with certain aspects of life such as death, whereas Larkin presents love as something that’s fragile and naive. Despite Broadcast being one of his most romantic poems, it is presented in a typically pessimistic way and the type of language used is unromantic, and he expresses these through verbs like ‘coughing’, ‘whispering’, ‘slithering’, and ‘withering’. Essentially the poem is about a woman called Maeve. When Maeve went to a concert one time, Larkin didn’t attend so he listened to the wireless in his home. Then again it could be a duo-meaning and interpreted in a way that Larkin meant that she was broadcasted into his mind and unable to forget her.

Larkin expresses a strong desire for her but she is unreachable. ‘Leaving me desperate to pick out/your hands’, this presents love as romantic but suggests that it is also unattainable. This idea is also presented in An Arundel Tomb, so whereas the romantic gesture is shown, we’re left unsure whether the couple actually loved each other or if it was just an artist’s illusion. Larkin projects a mundane view on love, ‘One of your gloves unnoticed on the floor’, he recognises Maeve’s habits. Also this could be suggesting the lack of fidelity and trust because symbolically, the glove signifies faith and loyalty, and in this quote it’s been mistreated and uncared for.

There are a few religious connotations used in this poem, this portrays love as something that’s heavily connected with religion and religion has strong influences on love. This comes from a personal point of view of Larkin’s as he was agnostic and Maeve was a strong Catholic. Religion may have been a factor on why Larkin felt she was unattainable and it was ‘Leaving him desperate’ to pick out her hands. Generally, Broadcast conveys love as tender, but he doesn’t overdo it.

Similarly to Love Songs in Age, Abse presents love in retrospect but with different perspectives. Postcard to his Wife presents love through Abse’s personal experience of loss, grief and denial of his wife’s death, ‘So come home/Uxorious’. This quote highlights the naivety of love, and that death isn’t enough to destroy love. This suggests that Abse may have been in a state of denial when this poem was written or that Abse wrote it to evoke sadness from the audience, we know that as he is speaking to someone that is already dead, she can’t possibly ‘come home’.

Abse presents love as an adventure he can somehow sort out or fix, ‘Make excuses/Hint we are agents in an obscure drama’, it’s as if he is talking to a real person and death is merely an obstacle that’s conquerable. Love is presented as bittersweet through the use of oxymoron, ‘dulcamara’, this is a bittersweet plant and may have wanted to convey the idea that love brings happiness as well as pain. Love is also presented in this poem through poetic features , ‘Venus de Milo is only stone’, and he enforces that the Goddess of Love and Beauty is stone, meaning that while she may not be alive, the idea of her is, and continues to have her effect on people beyond the grave.

Love is presented as undying and irrevocable in the last stanza through contradictions, ‘absence can’t make Abse’s heart grow fonder’, this means that Abse can’t possibly love her any more than he does now and death will never get in the way of his love of her. This idea is disputed in An Arundel Tomb because, according to the poem, time distorts love, and in some cases, destroys it completely.

Larkin’s poems reflect a generally pessimistic outlook on life and weak when faced with realistic issues such as death and infidelity. Also Larkin writes about how love is unsatisfactory and is pointless to think otherwise, this is implied in Love Songs in Age. These themes are specifically highlighted in An Arundel Tomb and Broadcast. Abse holds more uplifting views on love and he presents it as romantic and adventurous. His idea that love is something that will even exist post-death is presented through messages, or ‘postcards’, to his wife, in this particular poem which again accentuates the naivety of love.