Aug. 8, 2002


by Philip Larkin

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Poem: "Toads," by Philip Larkin from Collected Poems (Faber & Faber).


Why should I let the toad work
          Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
          and drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
          With its sickening poison-
Just for paying a few bills!
          That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
          Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
          They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
          With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
          They seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
          Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets-and yet
          No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
          To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
          That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
          Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
          And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
          My way to getting
The fame and the girl and the money
          All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
          One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
          When you have both.

State fair season is in full swing with the opening today of the Iowa State Fair and the Missouri State Fair.

It's the birthday of mystery novelist Carolyn Wheat, born in Green Bay, Wisconsin (1946). Her years as a staff attorney for the New York City Police Department gave her the experience she needed to write a series of mystery novels featuring crime-solving attorney "Cass" Jameson. The novels include Dead Man's Thoughts (1983) and Sworn to Defend (1998).

It's the birthday of British art historian and novelist Iain Pears, born in Coventry, England (1955). He began his career as an art historian before writing his first successful mystery novel in the early Nineties. The Raphael Affair (1990) introduced the crime solving British art dealer Jonathan Argyll and his lover Flavia de Stefano of the Italian National Art Theft Squad. The pair have investigated theft and murder in the art world in a series of six books, most recently Death and Resurrection (1998).

It's the birthday of journalist Randy Shilts, born in Davenport, Iowa (1951). After coming out in 1971, he began to be active in the gay community. In his senior year at the University of Oregon, he ran unsuccessfully for student body president with the slogan, "Come Out for Shilts." He went on to become a journalist, capping his career as a national correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. When he was hired as a reporter for the Chronicle in 1981, he became the first openly gay journalist on the staff of a major daily paper. His first book was The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982), about the openly gay member of the San Francisco board of supervisors who was assassinated in 1978. He became one of the first people to write extensively about the AIDS epidemic in his book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987). His last book, published shortly before his own death from AIDS in 1994, was Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military (1993). He said: "HIV is certainly character-building. It's made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I'd rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character."

It's the birthday of English poet Philip Larkin, born in Coventry, England (1922). As a child and young man, he stammered badly, and was already balding and wearing thick glasses by the time entered Oxford. He described himself as looking like "a balding salmon." He hated to travel, and once said: "I wouldn't mind seeing China, if I could come back the same day." He became a librarian-and one of England's best-loved poets. His books of poetry include The Whitsun Weddings (1964), High Windows (1974) and Collected Poems (1989). His poetry was full of both caustic wit and deep pessimism. He said: "I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any-after all, most people are unhappy, don't you think? Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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