‘Sunny Prestatyn’ by Philip Larkin was written in 1962 and published in the poet’s best-known collection, The Whitsun Weddings. It is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, or octaves. These lines do not follow a specific, unified pattern of rhyme. Instead, the rhyme scheme, or lack thereof, changes between the first stanza and the second and third.
The first stanza can hardly be said to have a pattern at all; lines three and seven certainly rhyme, as do lines one and four. A reader might also hear a half, or slant, rhyme between “palms” and “arms.” When one gets to the second and third stanzas, there is an actual rhyme scheme, following the pattern of ABCABDCD.
In regards to the meter, there is no pattern from one stanza to the next. The lines vary slightly in length, the shortest with four syllables and the longest with nine.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a poster advertising “Prestatyn,” a resort town in Wales. When the poster had only been up for a couple of weeks, those living in the area took it upon themselves to change it.
The woman’s body was drawn on, and the sexual innuendoes present in the ad were enhanced. There was more than one participant in the defacing of the ad, making the whole series of events a protest of sorts against the idea that a perfect, pure “sunny” life is possible.
You can read the full poem here.
It is clear in ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ that Larkin was again interested (as he was with a few other works in The Whitsun Weddings), in consumerism and advertising. There is something extra poignant about the larger metaphor presented in this text though. Rather than speaking simply on the greed of companies, or the susceptibility of human beings, Larkin chose to address a larger vision of life.
The damage that is done to the smiling, pristine, and pure seeming woman in the advertisement speaks to the public’s push back against this idealized image of life. Actions taken by those who defaced the image seem purposeful and larger than just a simple act of youth. The woman’s smiling mouth is cut up, her feminine features are disrupted and the “beauty” of the image is destroyed. Larkin was clearly interested in what these actions implied and said so in line five of the third stanza. She was “too good for this life.”
Analysis of Sunny Prestatyn
Come To Sunny PrestatynLaughed the girl on the poster,(…)Seemed to expand from her thighs andSpread breast-lifting arms.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by relaying the title of a poster. It says, “Come To Sunny Prestatyn.” Prestatyn is a seaside, resort town in Denbighshire, Wales. Someone working for the town was commissioned to make these posters and what happens to this specific one makes up the body of the poem.
In the second line of the poem, it is revealed that there is a woman on the poster. She is laughing and saying the phrase, “Come To Sunny Prestatyn.” The woman is meant to be alluring to any who sees her. Some should find her sexually attractive, others should want to be like her. Larkin goes into detail regarding how she is posed and what is in the poster with her.
The woman is “Kneeling up in the sand,” in what is obviously a submission position. She is wearing “taunted white satin.” It is tight on her body, and the white color is not without meaning. It is traditionally associated with purity and perfection. The white color suggests that this untouched woman, or one like her, will be waiting for visitors in town.
Larkin describes the coastline behind her. It is just a “hunk of coast,” cut into the image as if a last-minute detail. What’s most important is the woman and the way she is situated with the “Hotel with palms” between her thighs. The image could not be any more sexually explicit and still be allowed on an ad. The hotel acts as a phallus, spreading the woman’s legs, while at the same time, she spreads her “breast-lifting arms.”
She was slapped up one day in March.A couple of weeks, and her face(…)That set her fairly astrideA tuberous cock and balls
In the next lines, Larkin describes how the woman, not the poster, was “slapped up on day in March.” This speaks to the woman’s body and the way that she was used in the advertising campaign. The graffiti progresses quickly at this point. It only took a couple of weeks for the locals to take advantage of the already crude poster and alter it. A reader should also note that the language used by Larkin in these stanzas is mostly passive.
He writes that “her face / Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed” rather than saying that someone gave her a snaggle-tooth. It is as if she became this way without interference, or perhaps, her perfect, idealized beauty and the fake world it represents slowly faded away. It was replaced, part by part, by something more real.
The graffiti artists continue to alter the image. They add “Huge tits and a fissured crotch.” The pristine, socially acceptable femininity that she represented disappears and she is left more exposed than she was before. Then, furthering the sexual imagery, the artists add “A tuberous cock and balls” where the hotel was. This makes the allusion all the more explicit, taking away any of, what the designers probably thought, was clever subliminal messaging.
Autographed Titch Thomas, whileSomeone had used a knife(…)Left only a hand and some blue.Now Fight Cancer is there.
In the third stanza of ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ the speaker goes on to refer to “Titch Thomas” who is one of the authors of the major changes to the advertisement. He was not the only one though. There were others who had used “a knife / Or something to stab right through” the woman’s smile. This person enacted violence against the idea that the woman in the photo was idealistically happy as she seemed.
Larkin adds at this point, that “She was too good for this life.” This supports the theory that he was interested in the graffiti was a protest against the idea that anyone lives as happily and perfectly as the woman appears to. It brought anger out of those who saw it, signaling how passionate they felt about the misrepresentation of reality.
In the last lines, Larkin describes how the destruction of the poster came to an end when all that was left was “a hand and some blue” of the cloudless sky that had been behind the woman. Then, as if to show the absurdity of the whole culture of consumerism and advertising, Larkin adds that “Now Fight Cancer” is in the place of the woman.