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Larkin’s animal poems – 1

March 22, 2013

Take One Home For the Kiddies

People rarely think of Philip Larkin as an animal lover. But he was, genuine, sensitive and unsentimental, as these poems and many of his Letters to Monica make clear.

He was ahead of his time. Only in 1978 did Clarissa Baldwin’s slogan A dog is for life, not just for Christmas begin to make pets as presents, socially unacceptable. It took Larkin six years, 1954-1960, to perfect these eight lines. They still shock.

Published in The Listener, 5 December 1963, and in The Whitsun Weddings.

Take One Home For the Kiddies

On shallow straw, in shadeless glass,
Huddled by empty bowls, they sleep:
No dark, no dam, no earth, no grass –
Mam, get us one of them to keep.

Living toys are something novel,
But it soon wears off somehow.
Fetch the shoebox, fetch the shovel –
Mam, we’re playing funerals now.

Philip Larkin

See also At Grass hereMyxomatosis hereFirst Sight here, Pigeons here and Laboratory Monkeys here.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2013 10:17 pm

    I love your description of Larkin as genuine, sensitive and unsentimental. Seems very apt for this poem. Isn’t it clever – he’s somehow suggesting this is the sort of thing you see every day. For me this goes far beyond dogs as presents; its the mundane yet horrifying aspects of life which we see every day and which shock us … but usually we pass by on the other side of the road. Do you think there is something of this in this poem? He’s commenting, but not stepping in to save the puppies …

  2. March 22, 2013 11:10 pm

    I’d missed it, but yes, a bit of that is certainly there. Larkin was pretty clear eyed about his selfishness.

    I love that line in his letters, writing to someone who was having a bad time, he couldn’t stop grumbling about his own troubles. But he ended “Your life is the harder course, I can see. On the other hand, mine is happening to me!”


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