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Monday, 24 May 2010

Philip Larkin: The Mower


File:Hedgehog cyprus hg.jpg

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

File:Hedgehog2 cyprus hg.jpg

Philip Larkin: The Mower, from Humberside (Hull Literary Club magazine), in Collected Poems, 1988
European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaueus), Cyprus: photos by Hannes Grobe/AWI, 2009


Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you.

TC said...

Larkin wrote to Judy Egerton on 10 June 1979:

"This has been rather a depressing day: killed a hedgehog when mowing the lawn, by accident of course. It's upset me rather."

Larkin spent his working life as a librarian in Hull. The reference here in the title is to Andrew Marvell's "Mower" poems. (See the post above this, an excerpt from Marvell's "Damon the Mower".) Marvell came from Hull and spent his later years as its representative in Parliament. Replying to John Betjeman's request for a list of poets from Hull -- evidently for an anthology or radio broadcast -- Larkin concluded the short list: "And of course over all looms the enormous shadow of Marvell."

aditya said...

The utter nonchalance with which distress runs through the poem in very intriguing Tom. Lines -

Next morning I got up and it did not.

we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

seem effortless in time. Writing down about a sorrow with such sheer imitation of reluctance or neglect is a manner much amusing to me.

Another good thing about the
Freshness of your sorrow
Is that it is
Round. Like an orange. And
Orange is a sad fruit. Back
Then when they had to name it
No body really tried.

~otto~ said...

Ouch, this makes me feel like I need to run out and apologize to almost everyone I know and I didn't even kill them with a mower. And I love hedgehogs.

bill sherman said...

interesting, isn't it, that Larkin, whose most famous poem is perhaps "This Be The Verse" is voted year after year "Britain's most beloved poet" despite his (because of?)Thatcherite political views. and of course his "exquisite sadness" as someone had said. well, kudos for his refusing the laureateship in his final years even though he didn't like, and knew it would go to, "The Hulk" as he called Ted Hughes.

TC said...


Ditto like crazy on everything.


Yes, you've put it very nicely, the refusal to emote that in the end feels more emotional for its apparent reticence. A calculated neglect of strong feeling, a carefully cultivated nonchalance about distress. All very British of course, yet also something else at work here I think, something unique and particular to Larkin.


Well, I get what you mean. Have never been tempted to think of Larkin as in any way "likeable". Yet in the work there is a toughness that resists embrace. He sees life as he sees it and not as one is "supposed to" see it. Whether the way he sees it and the way it actually is are the same, who can say; I suppose it's different for everybody. He is in any case no more nor less generous than his view of things allows. I have a lot of respect for that. And in fact this poem seems to me an entirely compassionate piece of work, in its way.

(Oh, and by the way -- one of those Hull-native poets on PL's short list: Stevie Smith.)

Rachel Loden said...

Stevie Smith was in Hull too? That makes so much sense.

TC said...

Hello, Rachel.

Yes, Stevie (née Florence Margaret, known as a child as Peggy) was brought by her mother from Hull to London at age three.

The move was triggered by the departure from the family of her father, who had abandoned wife and two children for a life at sea.

("It was what's called an unsuitable marriage," Stevie later said.)

Unknown said...

Next morning I got up and it did not, first day after a death, a new absence-strong words. Know the feeling!