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Larkin’s animal poems – 3

March 26, 2013

Myxomatosis

Larkin to Monica Jones on 28 September 1954:

[…] I thought of you last night when I was finishing an 8-line poem: it began as a furious diatribe in response to filthy Ronald Duncan [Punch writer who had welcomed this solution to the rabbit problem], but it finished as a very casual little anecdote: I’ve sent it to the Spectator along with Church Going.

And again on 14 November 1954:

I’m not keeping “the rabbit one” from you: it’s only that in it I kill the rabbit, which makes it totally out of character and rather like a piece of journalism. I’ll transcribe it. [he types the poem with two variants – Blind/Caught and sightless/soundless in line 1]

It’s not much of a poem. But of course I felt strongly enough about it. I hardly dare ask what you think of it. I strove (queer word) to give the essential pathos of the situation without getting involved in argument.  Give me your opinion on sightless/soundless. I believe rabbits are both blind and deaf so either wd do – a field with no sights or sounds in. Oh dear. Is this “using” the rabbits? Honestly, my motives are really good – better than the poem, I’m afraid […]

Dear bun, I know what you mean about turning life into art – I sometimes have you with me for long stretches, noticing things together – actually that sounds horrible, but yesterday I walked up the Lisburn Road, a very dull road, for about 2 miles, a road nobody would ever walk along for pleasure – rather like say the Melton Road in Leicester, but I enjoyed it and so wd you, & I thought as much at the time. Simple pleasures!

Then on 28 November:

[…] Did you notice the rabbit poem, tucked away in the Spr on Friday? Wonder if I shall receive any letters about it. I don’t like the broken line: the first half has insufficient carry-on from the first 3 lines; the second is rather stupidly enigmatic, suggesting a farcical interpretation, like a belch or something of the sort. But I like lines 5 & 6, & lines 7 & 8 are vitiated only by the unspoken “Yes and you may not” hanging about them. I should have done better to choose something more incontrovertible for my finale, but the thing was written in such a tearing hurry I didn’t stop to consider such niceties.I do hope you find it respectful to the awful state of yr nation. I should hate it if you thought I was just earning a couple of guineas from their sufferings.

Finally on 29 January 1955:

I hear the Myxomatosis Committee says it will rage again this year. If this is so, I don’t want a holiday in England. It would be quite dreadful to be afraid to go out lest we shd happen upon any pitiful stricken ones. This Christmas was quite enough for me. […]”

The letters are full of his usual self deprecation about his technical facility, but there’s real concern as well. Rabbits were part of his and Monica’s private love language – he drew pictures of them both as rabbits in the margins and called her “bun” – and he twice worries that she might accuse him of using the rabbits. It sounds like a genuine worry, although whether about the rabbits, or Monica’s response, I’m not sure.

Imagine The Spectator poetry editor opening the envelope to find Church Going, with this tucked in as a filler. That must’ve been a good day!

It was later included in The Less Deceived, which was dedicated to Monica. Here it is.

Myxomatosis

Caught in the centre of a soundless field
While hot inexplicable hours go by
What trap is this? Where were its teeth concealed?
You seem to ask.
TTTTTTTTTTTTTI make a sharp reply,
Then clean my stick. I’m glad I can’t explain
Just in what jaws you were to suppurate:
You may have thought things would come right again
If you could only keep quite still and wait.

Philip Larkin

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

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2013 1:32 pm

    I’ve just read this. Larkin Further Requirements (1983): “[…] the paper I eventually sent it [Church Going] to procrastinated about publishing it and finally lost it. In the end they did publish it after about a year […]”. Not a good day for The Spectator poetry editor!

Trackbacks

  1. Larkin’s animal poems – 2 | Ripe-tomato.org
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