Larkin’s animal poems – 3
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.
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.