Philip Larkin

Reasons For Attendance by Philip Larkin

‘Reasons For Attendance’ by Philip Larkin is a poem about happiness. It explores the difference between the poet’s happiness and that dancers.

This is a four stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lives. The first line is a quatrain, meaning it contains four lines. The second, third, and fourth lines have five lines, making them quintains. Larkin did not give ‘Reasons For Attendance’ a perfect rhyme scheme, instead, each stanza follows a pattern that makes use of half and full rhymes. Loosely, the quatrain rhymes ABAB, and the quintains rhyme (with different endings) ABABB. 

The first and third lines of the first stanza are half-rhymes, this means that only part of the words, in this case, the ending consonants, connect. The same can be said for lines two, four, and five of the second stanza. The first two rhyme fully, but the last is only a half rhyme, also due to consonance, or the consonant sound. 

Continuing into the poem, the third stanza is a great example of how half-rhyme can work to the poet’s advantage. Rather than forcing lines to fit together exactly, Larkin was able to choose words that have similar-sounding parts, like “sound” and “concerned.” Both of these end with the “d” sound, connecting them must enough to influence the overall rhyme scheme. 

Reasons For Attendance by Philip Larkin



Reasons For Attendance’ by Philip Larkin describes differing states of happiness and how the poet judges his own verses that of young dancers. 

In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker describes looking into a brightly lit room at young dancers. They seem to be happy, but the activity does not appeal to him. They are likely much younger than he is, and his happiness does not hinge on sex as theirs does.

The next stanzas describe the different ways that happiness exists between people. They also contain the speaker’s assertion that art and individuality make him happy. By the end of the poem, the speaker is questioning the veracity of claim to happiness, including his own. He knows it’s possible for people to lie to themselves about how happy they are, and that he could be doing the same.

You can read the full poem here.


Poetic Techniques 

Larkin also briefly makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This occurs in the final stanza with the use and reuse of “Believing” at the beginning of lines three and four. By using the technique here he is better able to emphasize the difference between two types of people.

There is a great example of enjambment between the second and third stanzas of ‘Reasons for Attendance.” The speaker’s own opinion on sexual happiness is split up between two lines and one has to travel to the next stanza in order to find out what he feels. 


Analysis of Reasons For Attendance 

Stanza One

The trumpet’s voice, loud and authoritative,
Solemnly on the beat of happiness.

In the first lines of this piece, the speaker begins by describing the voice of a trumpet. This is a call that brings him to the front of some “lighted glass.” He is on one side, and on the other are “the dancers.” They are young people, all of whom are “under twenty-five.” There is an interesting use of dashes in this line. Larkin was able to physically separate the phrase “all under twenty-five” from the rest of the poem. This helps to emphasize the differences between the dancers and the speaker. 

It is also interesting to consider the light coming from inside the building. It represents the allure of a different life. More elements of this other way of living are added in the second stanza. But, the speaker is not drawn in. He is determined to stay where he is and be the person that makes him the happiest.

The dancers are moving “on the beat of happiness.” But at the same time, they are being watched by someone who is “solemn.” He is not so influenced by them that his mood is improved. If anything, they make him more mellow and contemplative. 


Stanza Two

– Or so I fancy, sensing the smoke and sweat,
Of happiness is found by couples – sheer

The second stanza of ‘Reasons or Attendance,’ and all those which follow, contain five lines. The speaker admits in the first line that he does not know that the people inside are happy. He is only able to make an assumption based on what he was seeing. When he looks at the girls, his senses activate and make him feel that they are “wonderful.” The women are amongst the “smoke and sweat” of moving bodies. 

In the next lines, the speaker poses some questions that the reader might have themselves. He wonders why he should be outside, but at the same time, why he should go inside. One of the possible “reasons for” attending the dance are outlined in the next lines. 

He states that “Sex” is a reason to go in. But, he knows the truth, that it does not automatically bring happiness. Just because one is in a “couple” does not mean that happiness follows. The belief that it does, is said to be a “sheer  / Inaccuracy.” This phrase is split in half between the two stanzas, a great example of enjambment. 


Stanza Three

Inaccuracy, as far as I’m concerned.
It speaks; I hear; others may hear as well,

The speaker continues on to say that “as far as” he is “concerned,” sex and happiness are not connected. The only thing that calls him in his life is a feeling of individuality. It is the sound of a bell that reminds him that he too is “individual.” The word is used twice in two lines, a clue from Larkin that it is important to the overall themes of ‘Reasons for Attendance.’  

Through this slightly confusing syntax, the speaker explains that his individuality is connected to “Art,” (as stated in line three). He speaks of “Art” loosely, as if the word only stands in for a larger, more ephemeral idea of emotion. The stanza ends with the speaker stating that the sound of the bell is heard by many, he thinks. “It speaks,” and he hears it. 


Stanza Four

But not for me, nor I for them; and so
If no one has misjudged himself. Or lied.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker reiterates the differences which exist between himself and the dancers. They are not the same. What makes them happy is not part of him and vice versa. It is due to this difference that he stays outside maintaining his beliefs. 

Those inside the building will continue to “maul to and fro” while thinking that they are satisfied. The speaker clearly sees these states of happiness as subjective. They only exist for the person experiencing them. At the same time, he is able to doubt himself and the dangers. He knows that one’s own perceptions are not always accurate and that people are apt to lie to themselves. There is a chance, he thinks, that the dancers inside are not as happy as they appear. The same can be said about the speaker himself.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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