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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Philip Larkin: Administration


Adult male Jumping Spider (Phidippus mystaceus), feeding on a Chrysopid, Oklahoma: photo by Thomas Shahan, October 2010

Day by day your estimation clocks up
Who deserves a smile and who a frown,
And girls you have to tell to pull their socks up
Are those whose pants you'd most like to pull down.

Philip Larkin (1922-1985): Administration, 3 March 1965, from Collected Poems, 1988


File:Actinidia chinensis - Austins Ferry.jpg

Kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis) on a branch, Austin's Ferry, Tasmania: photo by JJ Harrison, 2 June 2012

I worked at the [Hull] University Library from 1963-1966 as a Library Assistant and made many friends there, with most of whom I still keep in touch. One day in 1965 one of those friends, a particularly attractive girl, was caught by Philip in the stacks being rather too friendly with her then boyfriend, now husband. She is almost certain, because of the date of the poem, that 'Administration' was written after a telling-off she was given by Philip over this incident.

Amber Allcroft, from The Philip Larkin Society, October 2008 

Actually I shall probably chicken out on 'Administration'. I don't think I could meet the eyes of my staff if it were printed, much less the Vice-Chancellor...

Philip Larkin to Kingsley Amis, 18 June 1976, in Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940-1965, ed. Anthony Thwaite, 1992




Great photos to go with this poem (what a poem!), whose 'back story' (Amber to the Larkin Society, Larkin to Kingsley Amis) really makes it snap.


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, white half moon through branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

two lines of figures moving,
expected interruption

overhead, situation becomes
framed in door, space

grey white clouds against top of ridge,
lines of waves breaking across channel

Unknown said...

tom, as always, your generosity shines though! im so impressed by your tenacity and consistency. so many well meaning poets are obsessed with their own work, but your scholarship is refreshing without being pedantic or sycophantic.
i love seeing this back and forth with stephen- btw i really enjoyed his performance at mills with the thingamajigs performance group and my dear friend edward schocker.
gotta love the larkin!

TC said...

Thanks very much, friends.

Larkin's "relations with women", always so famously fraught.

In the same week he wrote this poem, he replied to an aspiring female poet of his acquaintance (she had worked as his assistant in an earlier epoch at the library in Leicester, sharing a tiny office with him, and had since married), who had written seeking his help with editing and publishing her work, and suggesting she might be dropping in on him at Hull (that otherwise unlikeliest of destinations):

"I'd forgotten about the desert island -- what was the idea, getting away from it all? I used to think you looked very American! Marriage, well, I think of it as a mervellous thing for other people, like going to the stake."

Wooden Boy said...

That's a great choice for a title.

That jewel-eyed administrator's a beauty, isn't he?

Marie W said...

But Administrator,
I worked my socks off!
Three pair for the price
of Two
and Kiwis don't even wear Crock's
Vestigial wings and flat breastbones
You knocked my socks off.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

In a scant four lines, Larkin cranks us up
With nary a thought of letting us down.

TC said...

That's the way of it with those Jewel-Eyed Adult Male Jumping Administrators, then -- the habitual phantasmal cranking-up before the frustrating realistic letting-down, the chronic working-off of OTHER people's all too dearly-purchased socks.

empty said...

About thirty-five years ago my housemate and I, two hard-working graduate students possessed with love of mathematics but maybe a bit starved for human contact, kept a jumping spider for many months. I found her one day walking on a heap of clothes fresh from the dryer. She was beautiful. I put her in a jar, and identified her kind, more or less, from a field guide. We named her Frieda; I don't know why we assumed she was female. We fed her daily with cockroaches from our kitchen floor, and she grew to a prodigious size.

TC said...


Lovely to hear from you. Yes, those jumping spiders do grow very large and hairy. They're fairly common in the US Southwest esp. Oklahoma/Texas. I can almost but not quite understand how the needs of someone starved for human contact might be assuaged by bonding with Phidippus mystaceus. Of course, as you suggest, the bonding might be a bit less anxious were the big beauteous jumping spider to be contained in a jar, and the bonding thus conducted from a safe distance. Wouldn't want one of those hopping about in the bedclothes!

The females do not grow to quite the epic size of the males. Still, they do get big enough to fully capture one's attention. And they are pretty too!

Phidippus mystaceus, adult female