16 January 2017

Homage

I have blogged about the English poet Philip Larkin before. See here.

He was born in Coventry in 1922 and died in Hull in 1985, having been the head librarian at The University of Hull for thirty years.  His poetry was of the modern age, perceptive and often melancholic. There is humour there if you care to peel away the layers but he is often thought of as glum and depressive. He once said that deprivation was to him what daffodils were to Wordsworth. It was perhaps the aching ordinariness of life beneath all the pretence that inspired him. He was always seeking truth, like a knight of old seeking the holy grail but his private life was suburban and rather dull.

On Saturday morning, before watching my beloved Hull City beat Bournemouth 3-1, I took a special detour to the cemetery in Cottingham in order to see Philip Larkin's grave. It is unremarkable -  a little white gravestone in a regimented row. There's a simple inscription - 
Philip Larkin
1922 - 1985
Writer
I wondered who chose that single word - "Writer". Perhaps Larkin himself. I speculated why the word wasn't "Librarian" or "Poet" or even "Man".

It was a sunny day but tall trees and hedging to the south of the cemetery stubbornly prevented sunbeams from illuminating the face of the gravestone as I pointed my camera at it. Later, I found myself inspired to write a poem for Larkin. 

He died at the very age that I have now reached. I have known his poetry since I was fifteen and in the 1980's teaching A level English Literature, I had to cover his collection "Whitsun Weddings". My students found it quite intriguing. He really spoke to them. But then he went away where the rest of us must follow.

24 comments:

  1. Knowing and understanding the life helps us to understand the poetry

    ReplyDelete
  2. I may have mentioned before that I usually am not really into poetry and to my knowledge have never read anything by Philip Larkin, but everyone who can handle language well has my respect. And that includes you, of course.

    It intrigues me that you call ordinariness "aching". I consider myself to be very ordinary and like it.

    Congratulations to your beloved team's win!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Aching" - it is a matter of perception. I picked that word because it fits Larkin's view and not necessarily my own. To tell you the truth I think there is nobility in a decent, ordinary life. Every one of us is different and every human being can surprise us. Thank you for reflecting on this.

      Delete
  3. I too am a Larkin fan and always enjoyed teaching him in school.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Until now, I didn't know you taught English. I pictured you in a science lab wearing a lab coat and safety glasses as children gathered round to watch you burning magnesium in the flame of a bunsen burner.

      Delete
  4. I have never heard of him before and had to search. Interestingy forthright. Why a Writer not a Poet? Maybe - from what I've learned so far - poetry had only been a way to write down unpleasant truth in a friendly kind of manner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems to me that Poet is a more lofty category than Writer. Unless dyslexic, we are all writers. I am pleased that this post sent you off in search of Larkin. "Interestingly forthright" is a good way of describing his work but it might also be described as "painfully introspective", "subtly observant" or "finely crafted".

      Delete
  5. A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reminding me of Shelley's remark Sue. I am not sure that Philip Larkin would have seen it that way. Shelley was only 29 when he died - he had hardly lived at all.

      Delete
    2. " they fuck you up your mum and dad" showed so much insight and acceptance

      Delete
  6. Nice tribute to Larkin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Peter...and thanks for calling by. Fancy a cup of tea?

      Delete
    2. Would love a cup but there is a large body of water in the way.
      Cheers

      Delete
  7. I can't possibly agree with Larkin about Mums and Dads (at least not mine), but 'Afternoons' really gets to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. His own childhood was probably quite miserable with a domineering father who was a bigwig on the local council, a very timid mother and a sister who was ten years older than him. I agree about mums and dads - most love their children and do their best.

      Delete
  8. Who could forget " sunny Prestatyn"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It spoke of the ephemeral quality of beauty I think..."Now Fight Cancer is there."

      Delete
  9. Simple is the best. Say it as it is..."Writer" seems most appropriate. No flowery words needed...just pure simplicity...keeping it real; keeping it sincere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which single word would you pick Lee? "Cook"? 'Optimist"? "Queenslander"?

      Delete
  10. "Lost in always" -- I like that. I like the minimalist one-word gravestone inscription, too. (Although a truly minimalist inscription would just give his name, I suppose.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, he was a librarian - just like you but sometimes he would spend hours in his office at work crafting his poetry. It took a long time for the university authorities to latch on to this. "Lost in always" was a fragment of Larkin's own writing and a deliberate nod to him.

      Delete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.