‘Triple Time’ by Philip Larkin is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of five lines, or quintains. These quintains follow a specific and consistent rhyme scheme. It conforms to the pattern of ABCAC, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit.
In regards to the meter, there is no one single pattern that unites the text. There are parts of the structure that do form a pattern of sorts though. The first three lines and the fifth line of the stanzas are consistently longer than the fourth. These longer lines contain around 10 or 11 syllables each while the shorter ones are either 6 or 9.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that the present is like an empty street and the sky as something that has been “scoured” to “blandness.” There is nothing here for one to grasp. There is no joy or pleasure.
In the next lines, he explains that the drab present is intimately connected to the hopeful and beautiful past. This was a time when one dreamed of what adulthood would bring, it is the lack of engagement with this dream over the years which led to the current present.
The final stanza deals with the future and contain’s Larkin’s belief that this is not going to end anytime soon. Human beings are going to continue to ignore chances to gain progress in their lives and the cycle will go on and on forever.
You can read the full poem here.
One of the most prominent techniques that Larkin makes use of is anaphora. This is a kind of repetition that focuses on the first word of a line, or a starting phrase. For example, in ‘Triple Time’ Larkin uses “This” to begin the first two lines of the poem, then “A time” to begin the fourth and fifth.
While less prominent than in some of his other works, enjambment occurs on a small scale in this text. The best example is in the last stanza between lines four and five as Larkin reveals how humanity seeks to blame anything, other than itself, for its mistakes. A reader has to move quickly from one line to the next in order to read the tail end of the phrase.
There are also a couple of moments in which alliteration is used. It can be found in all three stanzas, but one good example is in the third line of the third stanza with the phrase, “forbore to fleece.” The double “f” sound here is quite impactful and adds to the overall rhythm of the poem.
Analysis of Triple Time
This empty street, this sky to blandness scoured,
A time unrecommended by event.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by describing the present. It is a time that is like an “empty street.” Everything has been purged from it, there is no trace of civilization, people, or life itself. The scene is expanded with the description of the sky as having been “scoured” or scrubbed harshly, to “blandness.” It is not an inherently scary present the speaker is depicting, just one that is without detail or joy.
He goes on to say that the air is like a “reflection.” It isn’t anything in and of itself. These elements are what the speaker sets as “the present.” He has strong beliefs about what the present is and is not.
The last two shorter lines of the stanza present this point in the spectrum of time as being “traditionally soured” and “unrecommended by event.” It is always “soured” or spoiled by something undefined. It is also “unrecommended by event.” These two lines are separate but seem to be connected. It is due to the lack of “event” that the present is sour. This will connect in more detail to the past and the future in the next two stanzas.
But equally they make up something else:
An air lambent with adult enterprise,
The speaker continues on to state that these two parts of time are a part of “something else.” This something else is the vision one creates in their mind of what the future will be. Larkin uses a child as an example. When one is young they look to the “furthest future” and imagine what’s going to happen. That imagining is part of the present’s story and therefore part of the future.
In lines 3-5 of the second stanza the speaker sets out parts of a child’s life as they dream of what “adult enterprise” will mean, and bring, to their lives. They look up “Between long houses, under traveling skies” and dream of what is to come. The hope that should be inherent in this stanza is rendered meaningless when one remembers the first stanza and the surety that when the future becomes the present nothing will be as expected.
And on another day will be the past,
Threadbare perspectives, seasonal decrease.
In the final stanza, the speaker explains how everything turned out badly from the perspective of the past. In this moment the future has become present and now “will be past.” Larkin uses a metaphor to describe the future as a “valley cropped by fat neglected chances.” Everything that grows in the past is a missed opportunity. It is there that all of one’s hopes and dreams died.
He explains how humans are more likely than not to forbear to “fleece” the opportunities when they are presented. Rather than taking responsibility for our lack of motivation or inability to successfully form the future, “we blame our last / Threadbare perspectives.” Humanity will come up with any excuse to keep from being the root of the problem. It is easier to blame an external force one can’t control than to realize it’s all in one’s power to control the future.
The last two words of this piece, “seasonal decrease” suggest that Larkin saw the progression of timeless like a forward march and more like a cycle. Humanity looks to the future, misses out on opportunities to create it, and then finds something else to blame. This happens over and over again as the seasons.