English Literature
Wild Oats

Wild Oats

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Deciphering Philip Larkin's 'Wild Oats': An Analysis of Love and Gender Dynamics

In 1962, renowned English poet and novelist Philip Larkin penned 'Wild Oats', a thought-provoking piece that delves into the complexities of navigating a relationship while harboring feelings for someone else. Using free verse and a conversational tone, Larkin tackles themes of love and unequal gender expectations. Let's take a closer look at this captivating poem.

Summary of 'Wild Oats'

The poem takes place two decades prior to its writing, when the narrator encounters two women at his workplace. One is a busty 'English rose', while the other, with her glasses, is more approachable to the narrator. Despite his initial attraction to the former, the narrator asks the latter out and they date for seven years. However, throughout their relationship, the narrator's infatuation with the 'beautiful' friend lingers. He mentions running into her twice, and feeling self-conscious and judged. Ultimately, their relationship crumbles due to the narrator's perceived flaws of being selfish, withdrawn, and easily bored. Strangely, he continues to carry two pictures of his ex-fiancé in his wallet, questioning if they serve as unlucky charms.

The Meaning of 'Wild Oats'

Many believe that 'Wild Oats' is a deeply personal poem for Larkin, with the two women representing real individuals in his life. Jane Exall is thought to be the 'English rose', while Ruth Bowman was once engaged to Larkin himself. Through this poem, Larkin opens up about his struggles in relationships, specifically the difficulties he faced in maintaining his engagement to Bowman. Despite their separation, Exall is mentioned consistently, hinting at the narrator's unresolved feelings for her. The title, borrowed from a phrase with sexual undertones, suggests that Larkin may have indulged in youthful flings while Bowman accused him of being self-absorbed, withdrawn, and easily bored. Moreover, the mention of keeping Exall's pictures highlights her lingering influence on the narrator's future relationships.

A Glimpse into Philip Larkin's Life

Born in 1922, Philip Larkin was a prolific English poet, novelist, and librarian, whose works include four major poetry collections and two novels. Larkin attended the University of Oxford and spent most of his life working as a librarian. He was known for his realistic and pessimistic writing style, often touching upon themes of love, death, and the mundane struggles of everyday existence. 'Wild Oats' is just one of the many remarkable pieces that established Larkin as one of the leading poets of the 20th century.


Through his use of a casual tone and free verse, Philip Larkin's 'Wild Oats' offers a captivating commentary on the complexities of relationships, while exploring themes of love and unequal gender expectations. By delving into his own struggles with love and relationships, Larkin presents a poignant and relatable piece of writing that continues to resonate with readers today.

The Significance of Gender in Larkin's 'Wild Oats'

Gender plays a critical role in Philip Larkin's poem, 'Wild Oats'. The male narrator's perspective on the two women in the poem is vastly different.The first woman, referred to as the 'English Rose', is objectified and reduced to just her physical appearance. The narrator's sole focus is on her beauty, with little regard for her personality. She is simply described as 'beautiful' in the second stanza. Similarly, the narrator's fiancé is also defined by her looks, with the only mention of her appearance being her glasses. The narrator compares her to her friend and makes a clear distinction between their levels of beauty. However, there is no mention of deep love or affection for his fiancé.Throughout 'Wild Oats', there is a recurring theme of women being judged solely based on their looks, highlighting an unequal gender dynamic. It is worth noting that these women are nameless and have no voice of their own.The interpretation of poetry is often open to personal analysis. Some may argue that the unequal gender dynamic in 'Wild Oats' reflects the societal norms and expectations of Larkin's time. However, others may see it as a commentary on gender inequality. Based on your analysis of the poem, which interpretation do you find more plausible?

Analysis of 'Wild Oats': Understanding Larkin's Message

Let's take a closer look at 'Wild Oats' to gain a better understanding of the poem.

Form and Meter

'Wild Oats' is written in free verse, lacking any specific pattern or rhyme scheme. This adds to the conversational tone of the poem, making it feel natural and relatable.The poem is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of eight lines, known as an octave. Each stanza represents a different stage in the narrator's romantic relationships.

Poetic Devices

Larkin effectively utilizes enjambment in 'Wild Oats'.Enjambment is a poetic technique where a line flows into the next without punctuation, also known as 'run-on lines'. In this poem, enjambment serves multiple purposes. It adds to the casual tone of 'Wild Oats', mirroring the way people speak in everyday conversations. Additionally, it creates a sense of urgency, making the reader want to read on and discover what happens next. An example of this can be seen in the line below:

Gave a ten-guinea ringI got back in the end, and met
At numerous cathedral cities (ll.

Metaphors and Imagery: Larkin's Craft in 'Wild Oats'

'Wild Oats' by Philip Larkin is a realistic poem that effectively utilizes straightforward language, while also making clever use of metaphors and imagery to convey its message.

Metaphor is a common literary device where something is described by linking it to something seemingly unrelated. For example, saying someone is feeling "blue" is a metaphor for feeling sad. In 'Wild Oats', Larkin uses the phrase "shooting-match" to describe flirting. This metaphor suggests that the narrator sees dating as a competitive game and does not value relationships, which may explain the failure of his engagement.

The use of imagery in 'Wild Oats' primarily revolves around the beautiful friend of the narrator's fiancé. Larkin portrays her as "a bosomy English rose", creating an idealistic and stereotypical image of her. The English rose symbolizes natural beauty and virtue, highlighting the narrator's adoration and desire for her. In contrast, there is no flattering imagery used for the narrator's fiancé, further reinforcing his fixation on the friend.

Philip Larkin, born in 1922, is renowned for his poetry's somber and pessimistic tone. His work often explores themes of love, sex, marriage, and death, reflecting his own thoughts and experiences. Larkin is highly regarded as a literary figure who captured the essence of post-war Britain. He passed away in 1985 due to cancer.

In conclusion, 'Wild Oats' is a poem that revolves around a cynical narrator struggling to maintain a relationship with his fiancé while being attracted to her friend. Larkin cleverly uses metaphors, such as "shooting-match", and imagery, specifically the image of the English rose, to convey the narrator's emotions and thoughts.

Exploring Philip Larkin's Iconic Poem 'Wild Oats'

In 1962, Philip Larkin penned 'Wild Oats', a heartfelt poem said to be inspired by two women who held his romantic interest: Jane Exall and Ruth Bowman. Through the narrator's inner turmoil, the poem delves into the complexities of love and the struggle for choosing between two potential partners.

Known for his contribution to literature, Larkin's repertoire also includes renowned works such as 'An Arundel Tomb' (1956), 'The Whitsun Weddings' (1964), and 'Wild Oats' (1962). He is remembered as a significant literary figure, capturing the essence of post-war Britain and its society.

  • What 'Wild Oats' Reveals
  • The poem's powerful message is conveyed through metaphors and imagery, highlighting the narrator's emotions and thoughts.
  • The English rose, a recurring symbol throughout the poem, plays a significant role in the overall meaning.
  • Larkin is known for his melancholic and somber tone, which is reflected in 'Wild Oats' and many of his other works.
  • Love, sex, and marriage are prominent themes in the poem, subjects that Larkin often explored in his writing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who are the women referenced in 'Wild Oats' by Philip Larkin?
  • The poem is believed to be about Larkin's romantic interests, Jane Exall and Ruth Bowman.
  • What is the meaning behind 'Wild Oats'?
  • 'Wild Oats' is a 1962 poem that delves into the struggle for choosing between two potential partners.
  • When was 'Wild Oats' first published?
  • The poem was published in 1962.
  • What is the central theme of 'Wild Oats'?
  • 'Wild Oats' tells the story of a man torn between his engagement and his attraction to his fiancé's friend.
  • Which of Philip Larkin's poems is considered his most famous?
  • While opinions may vary, some of Larkin's most recognized works include 'MCMXIV' (1960), 'The Whitsun Weddings' (1964), and 'Church Going' (1954).

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