“Parliament Hill Fields” and “I Remember, I Remember” are poems involving memories of the poets. They approach nostalgia in different ways, however, therefore producing contrasting results within the poems. In “I Remember, I Remember” the situation he is in forces the poet into his memories, whereas, in “Parliament Hill Fields”, the poet is looking back of his own accord. This results in a difference between the moods of the poems, giving “I Remember, I Remember” a more resentful tone that comes from being forced into his memories by visiting his birthplace. This is ironic, as, the title suggests “I Remember”-a voluntary act, but the feeling given is that the poet does not want to remember these things. Also, the repetition in the title suggests a certain level of wistfulness that demonstrates yet more irony, as these are definitely not fond memories for the poet.
The tones of the two poems contrast one another for the duration of the poems. “I Remember, I Remember” is a bitter poem, depicting the poet’s unhappy memories of childhood or even his sour feelings towards his memories. These feelings were apparent at the start of the poem as Larkin travels “by a different line for once”. The use of “for once” was not a necessary phrase in his description of the journey but insinuates that his childhood was monotonous and dull.
There is another phrase, “come to that” that is also unnecessary to the meaning of the poem or sentence it is in. This gives the impression that it is said angrily as an aside. Larkin uses negatives to emphasise what he “did not” do and the experiences in life that he was “never” a part of. By concentrating on these negative memories, he gives a harsh tone to these few verses. The poet also qualifies all these memories. It seems as though he has dreamt about how he could have done things, for instance, he talks of the “blinding theologies” he “did not invent” and the “splendid family” that he “never” had. These adjectives show that the poet has thought a lot about his regrets and the things he missed out on, perhaps indicating that he has to live with his memories forever and cannot escape them.
In “Parliament Hill Fields”, the poet looks more fondly back upon his earlier life, showing that it was more enjoyable. Betjeman makes his surroundings seem grander than they really were. An example of this is when the train he is watching “puffed its sulphur to the sunset where that Land of Laundries stood”. By using the image of “puffed its sulphur to the sunset”, Betjeman uses a commonly known beautiful sight to hide the fact that the train is really emitting poisonous substances. By including the sulphur emissions in this line, Betjeman shows that he accepts that these things weren’t perfect but that he also appreciates them all the same. By attempting to glorify the image, it is almost as if he is unwilling to acknowledge the reality of it and would rather just remember the ideal.
His description of the “Land of Laundries” introduces a ‘fairy-tale’ quality and exalts a scene most would see as ‘common’ or a sign of the working class. The memories of the poet must have been fond as there must have been a reason for him to want to glorify them. Another way in which Betjeman tries to make the images seem grander is in his poetic diction. He alters the syntax on numerous occasions like “in Virginia creeper drown” and “train and tram alternate go”. This gives an archaic sound to the poem, which leads to grandness as it seems rich and has a more poetic feel than if the proper word order was used.
The issue of pity appears in both poems. With Betjeman, he pities the lives of others, but Larkin demonstrates self-pity in his poem. The pity in “Parliament Hill Fields” is shown in the lines “And my childish wave of pity, seeing children carrying down Sheaves of drooping dandelions to the courts of Kentish Town”. There is ambiguity in the real meaning of these lines. It is possible that he pities himself here, although, by following the statement about pity with references to the children, it isn’t that likely. It could be that it is a simple case of him pitying the children for how hard their lives are, or for how meagre their existence in comparison to his life “up the hill” and away from poverty.
He might pity the children for being so as to take “drooping dandelions” (worthless weeds) to their mothers, thinking they will be pleased at this. In connection with this, he could pity the children for holding their mothers in such high regard – worshipping them like royalty (“courts”). It may be that Betjeman pities the fact that they are children and he has escaped childhood, or he could be, on the other hand, pitying them for what is still to come in adulthood as Betjeman wishes he were enjoying his childhood again.
This last point reflects the theme of memories in the poem. It is interesting that he chooses to use the word “childish” rather than child-like, as this would suggest that he is being derogatory about his own emotions. It is unclear as to why Betjeman thinks his pity is “childish”. It could be due to the “wave”, as the use of the word “wave” suggests that these feelings didn’t last for very long.
The pity shown in “I Remember, I Remember” is self-pity. The poet emphasises the bad memories he has so as to show what a hard time he had, whereas Betjeman does not dwell on the negative things and, therefore, seems more cheerful. Larkin pities himself for the fact that his “doggerel was not set up in blunt ten-point”. The word “not” suggests self-pity as, once again, he concentrates only on the negatives and things that didn’t happen and this shows that he feels sorry for himself.
By referring to his poetry as “doggerel”, he is putting himself down and indicates that he is perhaps ‘fishing for compliments’. “Blunt ten-point” is referring to iambic pentameter, so the poet is saying here how he does not conform to the accepted poetry. This echoes how he did not conform in his childhood either and therefore did not fit in. By including this fact, he is also showing self-pity, as it is as though he wants the readers of the poem to feel sorry for him. The endings of the two poems are also contrasting. I found “Parliament Hill Fields” to have a reflective ending, leaving the reader feeling as though the poet is lost in his memories and his train of thought has just petered out naturally. This leaves the reader feeling contented. “I Remember, I Remember” seems to end quite flippantly with “Oh well, I suppose it’s not the place’s fault”. By saying “Oh well”, Larkin seems to be dismissive.
It seems odd to me that, after writing of how he resents his past, he can just forget it so quickly. It could be that he is being philosophical and does not want to dwell on the things that are in the past. The poet could also feel that as it is in the past, there is nothing that can be done about it now. This is contradictory to the meaning of the rest of the poem as it makes you wonder why he was thinking so much about his life if he can just dismiss it all in a single comment at the end.
By also saying that “it’s not the place’s fault”, Larkin lays the blame on himself for his childhood and fate. This also contradicts the rest of the poem, as he was previously blaming anyone but himself. In conclusion, I can say that Larkin presents his memories in a very bitter way, thus creating the feeling that he was unhappy as a child. Betjeman, however, presents his memories in a more nostalgic way and the way in which he wrote the poem makes every aspect of the memories seem grand. This indicates that he is happy with the memories he has.