Higher English: Afternoons by Philip Larkin, need urgent help!!Watch
The lives of the young mothers in the poem seem sad and unfulfilled. They
are ruled by their demanding children (who 'expect' to be taken home) and
pushed 'to the side of their own lives' (which suggests that they now live for others not themselves). The mothers' lives seem regimented - they
'assemble' (a word with a much more formal connotation than 'meet') at swing and sandpit, and the landmarks of their lives, 'at intervals' behind them,appear predestined.
Their children are the ones with the energy - they are the ones who must be set free, who play at the vigorously-alliterating 'swing and sandpit', who seize the unripe acorns (a symbol of their impatience to seize the world, perhaps).The mothers' courting-places- symbols of their own youth - are still courting places,'but the lovers are all in school', signs that a new generation is supplanting them. Indeed, Larkin drains the young mothers' lives of the romance they must once have had - their wedding albums lie abandoned by the television (which presumably receives more attention than they do), and there is perhaps a bitter pun on the word 'lying'. For them, there is only 'an estateful of washing', a metaphor for their domestic drudgery, and a beauty that is thickening (coarsening, a sign of the end to their youthful good looks).
The title 'Afternoons' symbolizes the point in their lives that these women have reached: not yet the evening of old age, but no longer the morning of childhood, either. Their 'summer is fading', as Larkin puts it, a second
symbolic use of time in the poem. Notice the number of images of fading or
ending: the end of the day, the end of summer, the falling leaves, the
memories of their wedding, the fading of their courting-places, their beauty,control over their own lives.
But Larkin contrasts this with images of the new: the newness of the
recreation ground (and, by implication, the new estate), the newness of the women as mothers, the newness of the lovers taking over the old courtingplaces,the unripeness of the acorns. Newness is an unattractive idea in thepoem, a poignant contrast with the lives the women find slipping fromthem. The afternoons for them are 'hollows' - an ambiguous word suggestingboth welcome shelter (from what? the domestic chores behind them? or the approaching evening ahead?) and hollowness, emptiness. The poem is full of verbs ending in '-ing', suggesting the gradualness with which this change is creeping over them; indeed, in the final two lines of the poem Larkin is no more specific than to write 'something' is pushing them. For them, as for all ofus, it is happening without anyone really noticing.