Aug. 9, 2005

The Mower

by Philip Larkin

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Poem: "The Mower" by Philip Larkin, from Collected Poems. © Farrar, Straus, Giroux. Reprinted with permission.

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.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 378 A.D., the Romans were routed by the Visigoths at the Battle of Adrianople, a victory of barbarian horsemen over Roman infantry. It was one of the most decisive battles in what is now the nation of Turkey. Two-thirds of the Roman army, 40,000 men, including Emperor Valens himself, were overrun and slaughtered by the Visigoths which set the stage for the fall of the Roman Empire.

It's the birthday of Izaak Walton, (1593). He was the author of The Compleat Angler: Or, The Contemplative Man's Recreation, a guide to the joys of fishing.

It was on this day in 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden; or, Life in the Woods; the first edition was 2,000 copies, and it took five years to sell them off.

It's the birthday of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, born in 1896. He dedicated his life to the question of how a child learns. He was a tall, portly man with white hair, wore rumpled suits, and he spent long hours on his hands and knees playing marbles with children.

It's the birthday of P(amela) L(yndon) Travers, the penname of Helen Lyndon Goff, born in Mayborough, Queensland, Australia (1899). P.L. Travers, famous as the author of Mary Poppins.

She grew up in Australia. In her 20s, she moved to Dublin and created the character for her own amusement, a prim, somewhat ill-humored, magical British nanny who appears at a household in a high wind and floats away when the wind changes. Mary Poppins came out in 1934. It was a big success in Britain and the U.S., and P.L. Travers wrote seven sequels.

It's the birthday of the poet Philip Larkin, born in Coventry, England (1922). He was considered one of the great English poets of his time, though he only published four slim books of poetry, a total of only 117 poems. He grew up in the English mid-lands. His father was a governmental official and a Nazi sympathizer who decorated the house with Nazi regalia throughout the '30s until the war started.

Larkin went to Oxford and met Kingsley Amis there. They became life-long friends. He worked as a professional librarian for more than 40 years, writing in his spare time. He was a poet who managed to write very beautiful poems that incorporated all sorts of four-letter words.

In 1966, he wrote in a letter, "I feel I am landed on my 45th year as if washed up on a rock, not knowing how I got here or ever had a chance of being anywhere else... Anyone would think I was Tolstoy, the value I put on writing, but it hasn't amounted to much."

From 1974 to 1977, Larkin worked on a single 50-line poem, the last major poem he wrote called "Aubade," about watching the sunrise in a bedroom and thinking about the fear of death. It's the poem that most critics considered to be his masterpiece.

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




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