Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"We Should Be Careful Of Each Other, We Should Be Kind While There Is Still Time"

The subject of hedgehogs brings to mind a lovely -- if sad -- poem by Philip Larkin.  (Of course, "lovely -- if sad" perhaps describes the lion's share of his poems.)  It is one of the few poems written by Larkin between the publication of High Windows in 1974 and his death in 1985.

                    John Nash, "Walled Pond, Little Bredy, Dorset" (1923)

                      The Mower

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.

Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1988).

In a May 20, 1979, letter to his friend Judy Egerton, Larkin wrote:  "At Easter I found a hedgehog cruising about my garden, clearly just woken up: it accepted milk, but went back to sleep I fancy, for I haven't seen it since." Anthony Thwaite (editor), Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940-1985 (Faber and Faber 1992).  On June 10 of the same year, Larkin wrote to Egerton:  "This has been rather a depressing day:  killed a hedgehog when mowing the lawn, by accident of course.  It's upset me rather."  Ibid. Larkin wrote "The Mower" on June 12.

Betty Mackereth, who worked with Larkin at the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull, wrote the following comment about the poem:

"I remember too well Philip telling me of the death of the hedgehog:  it was in his office the following morning with tears streaming down his face. The resultant poem ends with a message for everyone."

The Philip Larkin Society Website (May 2002).

                                 John Nash, "Rocks and Water" (c. 1950)

10 comments:

William A. Sigler said...

Thank you for posting this (unknown to me) poem - it has all that dark Larkin humor but a somewhat uncharacteristic note of tenderness. I'm also quite taken with the way he invests his syncopated cadence into a form somewhere between free verse and blank verse. In his hands it conveys a simplicity and elegance that his clever rhyming sometimes lacks. I figure it's a case of getting older not so much caring what people think, looking at all forms like pleasantries at parties.

Clarissa Aykroyd said...

I'm not generally a huge fan of Larkin, but this is a lovely poem - I love hedgehogs, and the phrase you have chosen for your title is great, and true.

Merisi said...

So true.

acornmoon said...

Reading this has made me feel sad too but then I scrolled down and saw Ronin Tanner who I adore, so life is not so bad after all.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for dropping by, Mr. Sigler. Yes, the poem is a bit more relaxed in form than most of Larkin's work, isn't it? Perhaps this is related to the fact that the poetry had mostly dried up for him at that point in his life -- he was willing to take what came to him. Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Ms Aykroyd: thank you for visiting again, and for your thoughts. I hope that I can make you into more of a Larkin fan!

Stephen Pentz said...

Merisi: thank you for visiting again. I agree with you: what Larkin says is true (but sometimes easy to forget and hard to live up to).

Stephen Pentz said...

acornmoon: thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts. Yes, it is a sad poem, but Larkin is usually able to perform alchemy with sadness, as he does in this case.

I'm pleased to hear that you like Robin Tanner. I agree: seeing his work helps to balance out the sadness of the poem.

Thank you again.

Danish dog said...

This poem certainly chimes with the title of your blog.

Stephen Pentz said...

Danish dog: I hadn't thought of that -- thank you for making the connection. And thank you very much for visiting.