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Larkin’s animal poems – 2

March 23, 2013

At Grass


Brown Jack won the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Ascot six years in a row between 1929 and 1934. A few years later the short film Where is Brown Jack now? inspired this poem.

It’s about death of course, Only the groom and the groom’s boy, with bridles in the evening come, but there’s little sadness or regret, rather a celebration both of the horses’ famous primes, and of their comfortable retirement.

Brown Jack died in 1949, the year the film was made and the poem composed. Here’s a story about him, nicked from here.

In 1934 after winning his 6th Queen Alexandra Stakes he was taken away to his stables for the last time amid wild scenes of jubilation. To assist in getting through the crowds the police thought of organising an escort. But instead they made a simple sign which they stuck on the front of his horsebox, “Brown Jack”. The traffic and the crowds parted to let him through and to watch the passing of a horse whose like they knew they would not see again.

The poem is one of Larkin’s most popular. He knew it was good – he closed The Less Deceived with it.

The eye can hardly pick them out
From the cold shade they shelter in,
Till wind distresses tail and mane;
Then one crops grass, and moves about
– The other seeming to look on –
And stands anonymous again

Yet fifteen years ago, perhaps
Two dozen distances sufficed
To fable them: faint afternoons
Of Cups and Stakes and Handicaps,
Whereby their names were artificed
To inlay faded, classic Junes –

Silks at the start: against the sky
Numbers and parasols: outside,
Squadrons of empty cars, and heat,
And littered grass: then the long cry
Hanging unhushed till it subside
To stop-press columns on the street.

Do memories plague their ears like flies?
They shake their heads. Dusk brims the shadows.
Summer by summer all stole away,
The starting-gates, the crowd and cries –
All but the unmolesting meadows.
Almanacked, their names live; they

Have slipped their names, and stand at ease,
Or gallop for what must be joy,
And not a fieldglass sees them home,
Or curious stop-watch prophesies:
Only the groom, and the groom’s boy,
With bridles in the evening come.

Philip Larkin

See also Take One Home for the Kiddies hereMyxomatosis hereFirst Sight here, Pigeons here and Laboratory Monkeys here.

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