Aug. 9, 2010


by Philip Larkin

Down stucco sidestreets,
Where light is pewter
And afternoon mist
Brings lights on in shops
Above race-guides and rosaries,
A funeral passes.

The hearse is ahead,
But after there follows
A troop of streetwalkers
In wide flowered hats,
Leg-of-mutton sleeves,
And ankle-length dresses.

There is an air of great friendliness,
As if they were honouring
One they were fond of;
Some caper a few steps,
Skirts held skillfully
(Someone claps time),

And of great sadness also.
As they wend away
A voice is heard singing
Of Kitty, or Katy,
As if the name meant once
All love, all beauty.

"Dublinesque" by Philip Larkin, from Collected Poems. © Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1974, Richard Nixon officially resigned from the presidency. At 11:35 a.m., his resignation letter was delivered to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Gerald Ford took the oath of office. Then, at 12:05 p.m., exactly half an hour after Kissinger accepted Nixon's resignation letter, Gerald Ford gave his first speech as president of the United States. He was the only president in U.S. history who was never elected president or vice president.

In his inaugural address on this day 36 years ago, Gerald Ford said: "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men."

Gerald Ford died in 2006 at the age of 93 and a half, having lived longer than any other American president.

It's the birthday of the man the British voted (in 2003) their favorite poet of the past half-century: Philip Larkin, (books by this author) born in Coventry, England, on this day in 1922.

He was a librarian for 30 years and a lifelong stoic. He once said, "Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth." Critic Eric Homberger said that Philip Larkin had "the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket." Larkin wrote:

"I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die."

As a child he stammered, grew up in a house that friends or relatives never visited, had terrible eyesight and un-affectionate parents. Still, he had plenty of good friends and he seemed to have a good time with them. He hung out with Kingsley Amis and classmates he knew from his Oxford days, a group called "The Seven." They got together and listened to jazz, read their poetry to each other, drank lots of beer, and talked about big philosophical and aesthetic matters.

Philip Larkin really liked nature and wildlife, and he was especially fond of toads. He wrote some famous poems about toads, and the lines "Why should I let the toad work / Squat on my life? ... "Something sufficiently toad-like / Squats in me, too."

He was sometimes known as the "Hermit of Hull" because of his solitary nature; Hull is the name of the town in England where he spent most of his life. And this summer, Hull is unveiling sculptures of toads all around town, as part of an event called Larkin 25, commemorating the anniversary of Philip Larkin's death 25 years ago.

Besides commissioning three-feet-tall toad sculptures to be placed around town (called "The Plague of Toads"), there will be a new Larking Trail bicycle and jogging path and a bunch of different exhibitions featuring Larkin memorabilia. Next month, in September, Faber is due to release an edition of Philip Larkin's letters to his longtime companion Monica Jones.

Philip Larkin 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?"

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




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