‘MCMXIV’ is based, to a greater extent, on the contrast between the social and cultural picture of English society in pre-war and post-war conditions. The very title of the poem suggests a mythological sense.
Philip Larkin, about the title, says that ‘I printed it that way because I wanted to remind the reader of the date on a monument, and because I felt the emotional impact of nineteen-fourteen in Arabic numerals was too great for anything I could possibly write myself’. The poem records post-World War I impression. Larkin tries to look at the past as a gone-by time. The words and phrases like ‘archaic faces’ and ‘never such innocence’ confirm this view. It seems that Larkin tries to mourn the social, political and economic loss and estrangement of post-war England. Perhaps he is of the view that England has lost most of its glory and power in World War I. and he tries to express his grief at this loss in an ironic way. It cannot be called, wholly, a war poem. However it would be better to view it as a poem indicating the close of Victorian ear—the end of the traditions. Larkin, being born in 1922, witnessed the devastation of the post World War I and the destruction caused by World Ward II. In this way it is natural for him to feel the pain of loss and destruction done by both the events. The outburst of that pain and suffering has resulted in the creation of this poem and some other poems, too, like this one.
The poem is a sad reflection based on the imagined recollections of the times just before the World War I. It shows a sad picture of society during the time of World War I. Larkin has, quite strangely opted Roman numerals for the title of this poem. That makes the title of the poem instantly capture our attention and makes us ready to read something unusual. Another impact perhaps in store of this title is to show it something relating to olden times. At the same time the title of the poem also suggests a mythological sense. Philip Larkin says about the title, ‘I printed it that way because I wanted to remind the reader of the date on a monument, and because I felt the emotional impact of nineteen-fourteen in Arabic numerals was too great for anything I could possibly write myself’.
There has been shown, in this poem, a contrast between the urban and rural life. First two stanzas depict the life in urban areas while the rest of the two stanzas reflect the life in countryside. There is an overall sad atmosphere going along the poem. There is no mirth at all in the poem. Rather there are words and phrases suggesting ironic tone of the poet.
The poem is divided into four stanzas. The language of the poem is simple but the style is little bit of ambiguous perhaps suggesting that the poet is lost in imagination visualising the hazy glimpses or scenes of past. “Standing as patiently/ As if they were stretched outside/ The Oval or Villa park” and “moustached archaic faces” indicate, in a sense, the indifference of people towards the war. “shut shops, bleached names, dark-clothed children”, too, present a picture of routined life. The point to note is that there is a marked tinge of sadness in the presentation of this picture. The description of urban and rural life can be termed as a symbolic and metaphorical description and the objective behind this description is none but gloom and despair.
The most stressed phrases in the poem are ‘Never such innocence’ and ‘The thousands of marriages/ Lasting a little while longer”. Larkin, perhaps, means to say that such innocence (of nature and people living in that nature) can never be found again (after war). This innocence was quickly becoming a part of past. The men were leaving their neat gardens. Thousands of marriages were being held which could last only for a short period (as war was approaching to destroy all relations). People and nature would never have such innocence again.