Friday, August 31, 2018

Some people are at home in hospitals, but I’m not one of them/ Larkin, letters to Monica (1961)

11 February 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest bun,
Here is “Naturally[‘Naturally the Foundation will Bear Your Expenses’: completed February 1961, published “Twentieth Century” (July 1961). L. evidently did not ‘try it’ on Alan Ross at the London Magazine]. You know, I don’t think Cox really got it. He said something that suggested he thought it was a bit hard on the Queen. What do you think of it? Seriously? Shd I try it on Alan Ross? Or is it just not good enough? It ‘came to me’, I think, when washing up after listening to the Cenotaph Service last November & thinking how much sooner I’d be there than going to India - in fact the two situations presented themselves so strongly in opposition that I was greatly stricken, and dyd Seek to Compose vpon Itt. [...]

2 March 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] Sunday. Very fine morning: I am wearing my trendy trousers & the purple jumper. Bunny news is that there is beetles & woodworm in the church roof. I bet! Beetles with long ears, etc.

How are you feeling? It’s funny you should sleep so long, but it isn’t likely to do you any harm, is it. I should find it hard to walk as far as you do, but I suppose it seems natural to you by now. It is a long way, though.

Now I have had lunch & shall go out on my bike for a bit, though I have endless things I could do. You’ll be amused to hear that my sister, ill in bed so that my mother had to be fetched to get food for Walter & Rosemary [L.’s brother-in-law & niece], nevertheless managed to rise from the sickbed to attend a dress rehearsal involving the last-named. God, that my skirling laughter were a flame-thrower to extinguish such a nest of stupidity.

11 March 1961
Ward 6 [Kingston General Hospital, Hull*]
P.S. - I’m afraid this becomes rather a ‘frightened’ letter, & isn’t much fun to read for that reason. There’s no news.
I have got a ballpoint pen now, as likely to last longer & be less trouble than a pen, an ink pen I mean. It is Saturday & I’ve just had some lunch: it’s 10 to one. There is nothing much to report. I haven’t been x rayed yet, or brain-waved, as I believe they intend to do.
[*On 5 March 1961 L collapsed during a Library Committee meeting and was taken by ambulance to Kingston General Hospital, Hull, for ‘neurological investigation’. When he was discharged, he was looked after at Needier Hall by Peter Coveney. In April he spent two weeks in Fielden House, London, being examined by Russell Brain. The diagnosis was ‘epilepsy of late onset’ with ‘no positive evidence of an organic cure’.]
I feel about the same - that is, there is something wrong with my vision, wch makes me have to focus specially sometimes, & I feel rather distant from my feet: this is all summed up by being aware of my right eye. […]

Today the doctor came round and said there were many more tests still to be done, but that nothing had been revealed up to now. It isn’t heart, anyway. Of course I can’t help worrying a good deal about it. I dread hospitals, & the very fact of being in one is enough to frighten me. The very phrase ‘results of the x ray’ makes my blood run cold. Some people are at home in hospitals, but I’m not one of them. What the hell is wrong? […]

To me there seem two diseases, really: the ‘virus’ that brought temperature & lack of appetite & coated tongue & sore bowels & eye-ache, & the longer-term focussing trouble centring on the right eye, & wch isn’t accompanied by any other trouble except slight ache - only very slight - in the right eye. How can one fit the two diseases together? And why should I have fainted? […]

I must thank you, dearest dearest love, for coming to see me so quickly, and for sending me cards & letters. Our meetings were pitifully short, even on Wednesday, & I don’t know what I said - I was quite muzzy on the early days of the week. One thing that makes me ashamed is my refusal to let you use my flat. This has been a worry all through, & springs from the fact that I had left a few private papers & diaries lying around. Such things, which I suppose I keep partly for the record in the event of wanting to write an autobiography, & partly to relieve my feelings, will have to be burned unread in the event of my death, & I couldn’t face anyone I thought had seen them, let alone being willing to expose you or anyone else to the embarrassment & no doubt even pain of reading what I had written. This is just the kind of situation I feared might arise. Let me say how ashamed I am of it & of having to explain something of my reasons to you. What this will lead me to do about such things in the future I don’t know - assuming there is such a future. Perhaps destroy them right away.

[…] Later on. […] A slight focussing disability - wch is really how this began - is a wonderful symptom for something terrible. Oh dear, I’m really a horrible coward. Can you imagine all the fearful things that are passing through my imagination? In a time like this one has to keep all the fright and anxiety to oneself - there is no point in expressing it, yet one, I - think things, & construe things, & imagine things, & all to the very blackest end. I shall be TERRIFIED of seeing the doctors after the x-ray!! […] Shall I end up in a London brain clinic? I have a nervous dread of x rays - in fact I’m so unhappy altogether, I can’t bring myself to do anything but lie either whining to you or shuddering to myself. I am not finding it easy to read, as I suppose I should if I were getting better. I’m not getting better, at least as far as my sight goes. I know that. And it’s a long time now - six days. I shd be getting over anything trivial, shouldn’t I? Oh dear, does this read like the contemptibleness of a very fainthearted kind of person? You'll read it on Monday, the day I expect when I am x rayed. My sentence. My dear, I'm sorely afraid at the thought of all I have to go through. I can only tell you so over and over again with variations.

Later. I’ve tried to read, but I can’t seem to take it in. The bloody TV is on - it’s 5.20 - & this doesn’t help. But of course the real trouble is I’m rigid with funk. […]

I hardly know if I ought to send letters like this. You see, darling, I’m afraid I’m seriously ill, & really this is all that’s in my mind, and nobody can give me any comfort. It would be comforting to have you here to talk to, if you could stay all the time, but it wdn’t be any ultimate comfort, wd it.

[…] Sunday morning […] I’ll write one or two other letters now — last Sunday seems so far away! & close this later in the day. Oh darling, please have patience with me - I’m so low in spirits.

[…] 10.30 a.m. The time drags by. […] You know what horrors are associated with livers for me, through my father. You know the kind of thing that’s passing through my mind - well, I wish it were passing through: it’s settled down to stay, I’m afraid. I lie remembering all the details of the past few weeks that might be relevant… […]

My dear, this is a rotten sort of letter to send you. Do you mind? You are all I have to talk to, to ease my mind. If your ideal man is strong & silent then I am a long way short of your ideal: I am weak & babbling. I shall give this to the visitors to post, & probably start another one pretty quickly. […]
You know my sister’s telephone number, 4160, in case you shd want to telephone her. I don’t know why you should at present, but it’s as well for you to be prepared.

A new inhabitant has just been wheeled in - he ‘looks healthy enough’, wch is what one immediately asks oneself. Mr Cooper. [The final words of Anthony Thwaite’s poem ‘Mr Cooper’ are: ‘And Mr Cooper dead’.]

11 June 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest one,
[…] How are you? I can remember of course that you were here, & what we did, but you slip so easily into my life, making no disturbance, it’s almost like trying to pick out a rabbit among bracken. Not that rabbits have lovely legs like yours. Your legs are the only legs I ever see the point of, except for walking about on, of course. [...]

9 August 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
If I were to make a will here & now I suppose I should have to think of a literary executor - say, Bob - leave him something, leave something to Rosemary [L.’s niece, born 1947], and divide the rest somehow between you and mother. I suppose there are a few institutions or people I might remember in a small way. But it isn’t a topic I relish thinking about. No doubt I ought to follow the advice ‘If there’s something you have to do, do it from choice while you are strong.’ But I shd quite genuinely be rather at a loss to know what to do. […] I’m sorry I’m not naturally adept at wills. They are one of a long list of subjects that never seem to have been discussed much in my life. Don’t please think of me as being deliberately stupid or obstinate. […]
8 October 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
I’m sitting down after a quite busy though fairly enjoyable day - didn’t get up till 10.40 ogh ogh, then, it being a fine sunny morning, I got on my bike & went out eastwards: had a drink at Pauli, a village on the Humber, & round through Hedon & home. About 30 miles in all. On the wall of the Pauli pub there was a notice saying “old golfers never die, they simply lose their balls.” Bucolic humour. A dull ride on the whole, but I felt in better physical shape - isn’t it odd that on Friday I was so feeble, just going to town tired me, yet today I could cycle a long way without feeling exhausted. And do the bed & laundry & wash socks & make a proper supper of two very nice lamb chops, rice and onions. This sounds like boasting, but when I feel low I tell you, so when I feel well I might as well tell you that too. [...]
2 November 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] This reminds me that Bob’s new book (!), ‘The Pasternak Affair’ [Robert Conquest, “The Pasternak Affair”], arrived this morning. It’s dedicated to wch will no doubt mean a new file in the Kremlin. […] The book looks typical Conquest exposé of life in the U.S.S.R., full of appendices giving verbatim translations from Russian sources. […]

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A ‘real’ poem is a pleasure to write/ Larkin - letters to Monica (1960)

9 January 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] The problem of what to do in the evenings has reappeared - of course, there are plenty of odd jobs, and I could write a review or two, but I wish I felt more inclined to write poetry. The poetic impulse is distinct from ideas abt things or feelings about things, though it may use these. It’s more like a desire to separate a piece of one’s experience & set it up on its own, an isolated object never to trouble you again, at least not for a bit. In the absence of this impulse nothing stirs. [...]

16 March 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] This reminds me that I found Sir Leslie Martin & his italianate side-kick St John Wilson sneaking into the Library at 6.15 p.m. yesterday so I gave them a brief tour. [architects of the new library] It was rather embarrassing, like showing two conscientious objectors round the Imperial War Museum. The only thing they fell on with glad little cries was an exhibition of filthy modern paintings on the landing. Of course, they didn’t criticise anything: it was just their miserable silence that underlined their response, or lack of it. It left me feeling like the proprietor of a Victorian music hall. Not that I mind that in theory - but for an hour or two it did seem rather garish, those reds & pinks & blues, & my room appeared like the madam’s room in a high class knocking-shop. Anyway, I made them sign my book. I almost expected them to add ‘Weather unfortunate’, or ‘Meals monotonous’. The Library will be the swansong of the old style. After this it will be all Danish butter-factories.
I’m glad to hear your dept. is getting into a mess - that’ll teach your man to go gallivanting off to the Land of the Free and leave you to educate each other. He needn’t think he is older than the Bourbon-on-the-rocks by wch he sits. [...]

12 June 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] I hope you got my card from Pocklington [L. made a rare visit to a school, an independent boys’ school near York], I gave it to one of the boys who met me to post - expect he read my prospective opinion of my evening there. This was quite pleasant, but an awful bore when it came to talking about ‘poetry’ (ugh! the very word makes me spew). The master who entertained me was a Cambridgey kind of Trevor-Roper kind of person: grace was said, rather disconcertingly. […] One smaller boy with a white, criminal face contradicted me unsmilingly quite a bit - I should say he was the best of them. The rest were quite decent chaps or fly general-paper finessers. Next morning I felt in fine fettle to refuse the morning’s invitation - from Kings School, Canterbury. [...]

Mother will be arriving on Sunday night. I feel a bit better now than I did earlier on, though still unhappy at the prospect of DEATH and of wasting my life, or of having wasted my life, worries familiar as bailiffs, sitting constantly in my hall. […] I’ve got a new pair of sandals, Lotus, like the others but light-coloured leather. How vulgar shoes are becoming! It’s hard to find anything that doesn’t make you look like a ponce or a professor.

4 August 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear,
You’ll be surprised to hear I’ve just torn myself away from Bradbury’s novel [Malcolm Bradbury’s first novel, “Eating People is Wrong” (1959)]: I began reading it in the bookshop again this afternoon & couldn’t help buying it, it seemed so funny. […]

Before that I was sponging the sitting room walls: antidote to being fed up. They’re now all smeary like endpapers. I dreamt I dwelt in marbled halls.

Well, the Gatwick train & that purple vested charlatan seem further away than a week. Home was pretty awful by contrast: mother was in a low mood because of real and imagined thunderstorms, wch means manic grumbling and selfcentredness, & there wasn’t anything to do, except verify the time of my train. I did some white painting, & chopped up a box for firewood, & read “Persuasion”, wch seemed to me novelettish, & gloated over my shirt. Of course I hate hating home: it makes me feel a rat for not providing mother with a better life, & for being so unsympathetic.

[…] I miss the drink and the laziness of our holiday, & your company & readiness to trade chuckles and gull cries. [...]
We didn’t get around to discussing your will, or my will: I freely admit such things give me the creeps, & a leaden weight of fear in the stomach. But we ought to have done, because I didn’t find your letter clear - I wanted to ask you exactly what you want me to do: you want me to make a will, & tell you the provisions of it, is that it? or is there some special provision you want me to make? I don’t know that I have any ideas on the subject. I suppose you & mother & my sister are the only people I need consider, unless I want to leave funds to provide a bottle of Guinness on my birthday for anyone who calls at Hardy’s birthplace. My birthday will be a grim day - I think the house will be empty after it for the rest of the week. I may have a few library people in, or go out.

15 August 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest bun,
Feel irritable these nights: I have an urge to do a poem, but can’t get it going. I suppose basically it isn’t a real poem. Often one spends weeks trying to write a poem out of the conscious mind that never comes to anything - these are sort of ‘ideal’ poems that one feels ought to be written, but don’t because (I fancy) they lack the vital spark of self-interest. A ‘real’ poem is a pleasure to write. I have been trying this poem on and off for some time. [...]

Tuesday. Got boozed tonight, by drinking a bottle of Bow Joe [L. and Monica’s name for Beaujolais] along with spaghetti, a rare dish these days. The drink made me feel pretty cheerful, & disinclined to sit staring at an empty page, comme d'habitude. I played jazz as loudly as my player could manage, reading the end of D.T. in America. […]

I am distressed to hear about your upset state. TAKE IT EASY. Bird or no bird, you must preserve yourself, & not have seizures, except such as the badger deals out in the field of play. I know birds upset you, but they’re not like Teddy boys, they don’t mean to. Baron Corvo used to have seizures at the sight of ‘reptiles’ i.e. toads, lizards, etc., so you have good precedent, but don’t be alarmed, don’t get into states: they are more afraid of you than you of them.

I have to keep describing Sark to persons in my daily life: I call it ‘a village surrounded by sea’. [L. and Monica had recently returned from a holiday on the island of Sark] That is really how it struck me.

[…] Wednesday. Empty-page staring again tonight. It’s maddening. I suppose people who don’t write (like the Connollies) imagine anything that can be thought can be expressed. Well, I don’t know. I can’t do it. It’s this sort of thing that makes me belittle the whole business: what’s the good of a ‘talent’ if you can’t do it when you want to? What shd we think of a woodcarver who couldn’t woodcarve? or a pianist who couldn’t play the piano? Bah, likewise grrr.

[…] I wish I could get something going in the poetry line. Sorting over my papers at the Library I began a file called Refusals! I find I’ve already turned down the Poetry Book Society without remembering it. Good show, good show.
22 August 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest bunny,
It s warm again. This makes me more aware of my unwritten poem. Every night I sit & can’t write it. On Friday I wrote a disrespectful little jeux d'esprit called “A Study of Reading Habits[first appeared in “Critical Quarterly”, Winter 1960] ending ‘Books are a load of crap’. It needs a little polishing, then perhaps the TLS. I’ve never had a poem in there. This would be especially suitable. But the poem I have in mind remains obdurate. [...]

Tuesday Haven’t done much tonight. […] I then sat down in front of my poem, or non-poem, & promptly fell asleep. Escape mechanism. After I woke up again I wrestled a line or two out. [...]

4 October 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest bun,
I’m hoping to enclose a couple of prints of Sark with this - the yard, and the one of us on the headland. I got myself a print of Tabitha & children, but they are in fact out of focus. Very pretty, though. She looks just as if she is telling them off. But I don’t see much future for me as an animal photographer. [...]

27 November 1960
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dearest,
I didn’t have time to put anything in an envelope to you this week, thanks to this review (wch thank God is now in the post), so I wasn’t able to say anything very loving - but I did love being with you last weekend. I treasure the memory of your lovely looks, really as I say lovelier than ever. Beautiful handsome girl! You’re really horribly attractive, especially your legs, as you know. […]

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

Friday, August 24, 2018

Earth never grieves.../Larkin, letters to Monica (1958-59)

29 January 1958
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] Since getting in, I’ve read Dacre Balsdon’s “Oxford Life” wch as has left me with a desire to go to the place, for his account bears no resemblance to the three shivering underbred years that the reference books assure me I spent there. The complete absence of dons in my time makes a great contrast: I had a moral tutor, but never saw him (the only words of his I remember are ‘The three pleasures of life - drinking, smoking, and masturbation’) - he is now President: nor did I get one sniff of the gay coffee drinking social life, girls & acting & concerts with recorders. Nor did I like the servants better than the undergraduates: thievish incompetent gossips, bullying and cringing. […]

Actually, I think certain people take to Oxford, as they do to other things like the House of Commons & clubs. I don’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but I saw that the things I was enjoying were not endemic to Oxford. As for the fine old traditional life, wpwpwp (symbol of curious quacking noise made with the lips). Ah well.

No, I don’t know what you ought to wear at ARH’s: the sort of thing I see people in is ‘smart dresses’ - have you any of these? Perhaps they are like proper suits and collars in my life: something never actually purchased.

[…] Then I tried reading some Hardy poems into the recorder, & wasn’t impressed by the result: more & more I think poems are better read with the eye. “Unhappy summer you”, one I like, is very soggy in the middle. One that went unexpectedly well was a sad one that I can't find now — about a lonely woman moving to a town & dying there.

And how in the middle of quite a slight poem – “Raking up leaves”* - there comes the line “Earth never grieves”, wch if Goethe had said it (“Die Erde geweine nicht” or something) would have been elevated to the ripeness-is-all status. Earth never grieves, I thought, walking across the park, watching seagulls cruising greedily above the ground looking for heaven knows what. Don’t you think it’s a good line? A very good line. [...]

[*Hardy’s poem ‘Autumn in King’s Hintock Park’ has the refrain ‘Raking up leaves’; ‘earth never grieves!’ appears in the final stanza].

Thursday Heard Kingsley’s programme tonight: EVERY SINGLE RECORD he played I had taken up to Oxford, & introduced him to in 1941: well, almost every one. He admitted that it was the jazz he had first heard. I expect I am getting like the character in one of Connolly’s skits [‘Where Engels fears to tread’, in The Condemned Playground], who introduces Betjeman to Victorianism, etc. He spoke quite well, but not entirely accurately, & showed rather a denseness, almost an insensitivity, towards his subject. Oh well.

[…] I can quite honestly say I don’t think nearly so much of qualities lacking in you as qualities lacking in me. It seems more to me that what we have is a kind of homosexual relation, disguised: it wdn’t surprise me at all if someone else said so, only there’s no one in a position to do so, except you. Don’t you think yourself there’s something fishy about it? Perhaps not, or not in that sense. But I sometimes think that what you have isn’t a spiritual relation but a perverse one. I don’t know. It’s hard to say anything in letters if one isn’t to write a 2 volume treatise. It seems to me I am spoiling yr life in a hideously ingenious way.

9 March 1958
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] When you linked Handel & Hardy in a recent letter it occurred to me that what they have in common as far as I’m concerned is that they make nearly all other essays in their respective arts seem just playing around: they alone are writing real music, real poetry, that can be taken seriously. Don’t you feel that? Even Bach seems a dull codger to me beside Handel, & what’s more to be writing ‘music’, just Shakespeare is writing ‘poetry’. Hardy & Handel are the pure & proper utterance. I expect you’d like to add Hutton! [Len Hutton: cricketer, 1916-90]

17 March 1958
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear bun,
Late - 11.25 p.m. - I cocked an ear to my programme, snapping it off as “Church going” started to drag its weary length along. The programme badly missed “Coming”, to separate “Bleaney” & “I remember”. Still, can’t have everything, I suppose, though I don’t know why not as I’m sure C.G. wdn’t occupy the 8 mins remaining, unless the needle stuck in a groove. Silly incompetent swine! Well, now I shall have to put away those poems for good. I’m sure everyone’s sick of them.

[…] These illnesses, hospitals & such, at sixty bode no good to man or beast. [...]

[…] Thanks for your letter this morning: I’m so sorry about all the annoyances […] Certainly your list sounds like Hell on earth: I’m writing this at work & so can’t make up my own, but the dislikes wdn’t differ from yours - architecture, Christ: I don’t even care about architecture ‘in good sense’.

9 August 1958
21 York Road, Loughborough, Leics.
[...] I suppose one’s birthday is a fit time for reflection. [L.’s thirty-sixth birthday] I find my life very scrappy: I write no letters or diary, let alone anything else, I am always tired or bored, I never get out (why don’t I live in the country?), I am completely selfish without achieving anything. And my time is taken up so easily! Next week I have to zig-zag all over the place - Durham & Cambridge - all on business - hours & hours spent yawning on trains - this life, unambitious as it is, is too much for me. I feel I am on a dry dull stony road with nothing on either side but rubbish-dumps & filling-stations: life has no depth or colour now, I don’t notice things, I’ve no strength to. All my strength is hugged close to keep going: there’s no unselfish impulse outwards in any sort of action or writing or feeling or - oh well. [...]

18 October 1958
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] Today a degree (honorary) was given to the President of Rochester: there was a free lunch, wch brought Wood blinking in his Glasgow gown, & sent me scuttling into town to lunch at a quiet bar I know with a pint. Wood looked aghast at this, like Empson confronted with a poem. He just couldn’t grasp it! Coming to the ceremony... but not having the FREE LUNCH... I fear the eccentricities of my behaviour will be too much for him one day: he will convict me of insanity, an academic Mr Deeds.

[…] I’m sorry you feel so much against the “Catcher” [J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)] (Dr Pussy doesn’t like it either: he thinks the title unpleasant, somehow) - I found it rather ‘disgusting’ at first, but after that it began making me laugh & I enjoyed it a lot. It’s hard to defend it without seeming to ‘think it good’, but it seems to me moderately lifelike, I mean more lifelike than say “Lord of the flies” (‘nay, if you are to bring in gabble) - & certainly more lifelike than his own “Zooey” in the “New Yorker”, & that’s something, even if his feelings & conclusions about life aren’t your/my own. It’s utterly artificial, a book with no proper plot, but the language & conversation seem real enough to me. [...]

3 November 1958
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] I wonder why you’re finding your work hard. Is it because as you grow older your standards (kwkwppls) get higher, or is it because as you get older literature seems a paltry affair compared with life? That wouldn’t surprise me - I feel it, I think. My own kind of literature gets realler & realler - Hardy, Barnes, Praed [?], Betjeman (and you’d add Wordsworth) - the rest gets further away. Who cares about asses like Blake or bores like Byron!
14 April 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] This morning I had an enquiry from the U. of Cincinnati asking if I wd like to go & be their Something lecturer for six weeks in 1960 for 200 gns A WEEK and expenses. Sounded pure hell to me. Betjeman was it in 1957. Can’t help feeling flattered, but am refusing, of course. [...]

7 May 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] Next Tuesday I go to the opening of Sheffield U. Library. Any hopes I had of sitting next to T. S. Eliot were dispelled by the table plan for ‘the lunch’: I’m on the outer edge next to the representative of “The Star”. Haw! Hum!

[…] Tuesday Back again - I left early so Eliot didn’t get a chance to talk to me. Quite a nice day, but Sheffield is too far for comfort. I wore my new suit, Bengal shirt, white shantung tie, green hat, “Times” & rolled umbrella & looked all right, except that my socks were wrong. Eliot looked all right: he’s a big man, you know: it’s never said, but he must be well into 6'. The cast of his face is not literary at all. His hair is plastered down on either side of his head like Toad’s, & he looks almost like an old storekeeper or engineer, or I suppose an old lawyer. Mrs Eliot was sitting two rows in front of me: she was dressed in a white straw hat with navy festoonings, a navy silk 3/4 length coat with embossed flowering, & white shoes, not very nice. She reminds me of Rachel Trickett** in the face, if that tells you anything. [...]

[**A previously unpublished letter from the poet Philip Larkin, declining the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry has been discovered in a safe at St Hugh’s College.
The letter, typed on Larkin’s letterhead at the University of Hull’s Brynmor Jones Library, is in reply to a suggestion from the College’s former-Principal, Rachel Trickett, that he should stand for the prestigious role.
Rachel Trickett wrote to Larkin on 8 October 1968 and Larkin ‘after the luxury of a few minutes day-dreaming on the subject’ writes to dissuade her from putting his name forward. Although ‘deeply honoured’ to be approached he considered himself ‘entirely unfitted’ for the job and dreaded the potential ‘sherry-drill with important people’. - See more]

8 June 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] I felt awful yesterday, dull & feeble & bored. It strikes me I am extremely lonely here. I don’t think I have ever had so few companions anywhere else. […] I expect you imagine I am always going out & about, but I don’t, nor do I want to, but a few kindred spirits wd be no bad thing - to drink pints of beer with, as your man wd say. What wd be a bad thing are the available people, sad bunch of stupid sods. Or perhaps it’s the set-up. Here social intercourse can only take place within the ‘pattern’ of you-come-round-to-me-and-I'll-come-round-to-you, plus wife & with nippers to get back to, & I don’t really know anyone here worth cutting a plate of sandwiches for. The ‘pattern’ I prefer is the public house one, but there’s no sign of it here.
This port is quite nice!
Of course you’re equally lonely, if not more so, though you do have ‘departmental evenings’ - I don’t! My life is really desiccated. Without my work - my filthy salaried employment - I am incapable, flat, aimless, pointless. That’s a fatal admission. My individual life has, like the state, viderdt avay. I suppose in my place you wd do something at the garden. I think you have greater inner resources than I. I think of you as possessing a great deal of will power: I have none of that. […]

4 July 1959
21 York Road, Loughborough, Leics.
[...] In the evening, I went out a walk round the park, and had another look at the war museum in the bell tower. It needs taking in hand. The faded litter of field postcards and armbands in glass cases looks very uncared for. I’ve been reading the book on Passchendaele [Probably Leon Wolff, “Flanders Field: The 1917 Campaign” (1959)], which was the reason I went in. It’s a harrowing book, partly by reason of the deaths, but partly, probably mostly, because of the disagreements & lack of cooperation between Govt & Army, & between Britain & France, and because the Army seemed incapable of seeing what was going to happen, even in the simplest things like sending tanks to fight their first battle in mud! After Passchendaele, when there was no one to back them up, they gained more ground in hours at Cambrai than the whole Ypres campaign had in weeks. On the other hand, one feels that we were close to defeat in 1917, & that some kind of action was needed if the Germans were to be prevented from attacking the French, who wd have given way at once. Whether Ypres & Passchendaele were the only answer I can’t tell. But it leaves you stunned at the awfulness of it all. [...]

11 August 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear,
I'm back in my customary dazed doze: any thoughts of ‘seriously getting down to some writing’ provokes merely a round, or canon, of Who are you kidding, etc. I sit in my chair, hiccupping distractedly, staring at a few lines of verse written two months ago, & trying to summon up the faintest interest in them. [...]

Wednesday Again a dumpy evening. I have faint notions for poems, but they aren’t strong enough to find words to dress themselves. My mind has gone colourless and watery: I feel little, and when not working have no incentive or desire to do anything. Sometimes I am restless and jumpy, but not especially depressed, just at present anyway. The limit of disagreeable sensation is a mild apprehension about nothing in particular; the most perceptible symptom a refusal to pursue any train of thought.

[…] I have at last had a letter from Kingsley, speaking of America with pretty well unqualified enthusiasm, but not saying an awful lot about what it’s like to live there. [Amis was on an invited appointment at Princeton University] He just says he worked & drank v. hard & had lots of women, & that Americans are very nice & not at all as the intellectual English press depict them. Of course he wouldn’t notice things like noise or no draught beer. Perhaps there is draught beer, though. I bet it’s hard to find.

19 August 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dearest,
[…] Actually, I saw a rabbit today! It bolted right across the lawn as I was going home!

I bought ‘3 farm eggs’ today (not from that oily sod) & thought of you, because they had no stamps on & one had a feather sticking to it.[…]

25 August 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear bun,
Just a line late at night. I have started having a bath at night during this hot weather, for something to do, as I feel inactive — the sort of inactivity people had in the army before a big operation, perhaps. It’s still not altogether certain that we shall start [moving into the new library] on Monday: I think someone isn’t facing facts somewhere. I went into the upper floor of the stack this afternoon and there wasn’t a single switch, a single socket, a single bulb. Or a single -ing workman. And they are supposed to be out by tomorrow, & if they aren’t I can’t put the cleaners in, like ferrets. And if they don’t get in, I’m sure we can’t load dirty shelves.[…]

2 September 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest Bun,
Autumn is with us up here: I must add a third blanket tonight, and the cobwebs are very heavy with dew in the mornings.
Well, The Move is on us: alarm at 7 a.m., start work at 8.30 a.m., everyone, except perhaps myself, working like beavers, keyed to a kind of hysteria reminiscent of wartime gun-sites. It is of course fun (of a kind), & delightful to have one’s foot in the door of the new building, but it is awfully hard work because, although in theory the movers do all the heavy work, in practice full boxes have to be lugged to doorways and so on, which is tough on the girls. […]

15 September 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear Bun,
The first week was exciting, the second exhausting, the third merely boring. We shall finish tomorrow, or the next day; at least we shall lock ourselves in & close the doors (reverse that). The sun has gone & the days are grey & chilly. […]

Actually, the break up of the library meant a good deal of wooden shelving could be had cheap, & strange sights were seen - Wood in on Sunday, gaping speculatively round, people who never set foot in the library between end of term & beginning of term (and not often otherwise) were running in as easily as rats. The intoxicating spicy Trade Winds of Something for Nothing bring our jolly mariners out of the hold as limber as weasels - my God! I’ve never known a safer bet than that academic people will be round you like wasps round a jar if you so much as whisper ‘no charge’. They will carry off anything no matter how useless. There were people bearing away mouldy spars on the grounds that it wd be ‘cheap even as fire wood’, like some crazed medieval yokels.[…]

29 September 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest bun,
I was sorry to hear about your mother being ill from your letter this morning. What an awful year you are having, nothing but people close to you suffering illness. I do hope this is not serious and you are able to leave home with fair peace of mind. One ill parent is bad enough, but two! And only you to look after them! A few sisters or near cousins - or anybody, really - would be a godsend, at least just now. I suppose there is nobody. But it is too much worry for one: do try to keep your strength up by eating and drinking, and get plenty of sleep. I do hope things soon improve. If you wanted to ring me up (41719) you cd always reverse the charges. I’m usually in my sitting room after 8 p.m. (before that I shouldn’t hear the telephone).

It wouldn’t have occurred to me that you weren’t grown up! I don’t know whether you mean something different from being put on, or disregarded, or overruled: these things happen to grown-ups, sometimes exclusively so. No one ‘puts on’ a child, do they? What people do for children is make allowances. I suppose ‘eventually’, as Fritz Wendel [in Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin”] would say, no one is quite grown up.

11 October 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
I was very upset to get your telegram & did feel for you strongly. [Monica’s mother died on October 11]

13 October 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Are you really going back to Leicester tomorrow or Thursday, I wonder? I expect there’s much to keep you and yet much to take you back. I do hope you are having help in the sad and difficult business that must result from your mother’s death. Really, I can hardly believe it is all true, and wish it weren’t. It shows, or seems to show to me, how thin the surface of life is that we scuttle over like water-beetles. I thought of you yesterday, and deeply hoped you were not being simultaneously ravaged & numbed by it all. I think it is affecting me by making me peevish and unwilling to undertake the increased bothers of a new term. Of course I might have been peevish anyway. More than likely! [...]

26 November 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest bun,
I have four rolls of pink toilet paper on my low table, more or less at my elbow, but their only significance is that I’ve been too lazy to put them away. Pink is a new departure for me - only just discovered Bronco (why Bronco? Talking Bronco) makes it. Well, it’s curious to begin a letter in this way. I have been alone to the cinema to see some Italian film called “Girl in a bikini” (remember Maria Allasio) and didn’t much enjoy it. I do think foreign countries look vulgar & ruined. Coming in I ate two buttered pikelets and drank some milk (I’d previously had a Chinese dish at the Red Lion Restaurant. The Chinese are marvellous at making you feel you don’t want any more, without satisfying you.)

[…] So tell R.H. that Grigson [Geoffrey Grigson, the poet, critic & editor] fixed me up: actually it’s included in a Grigson anthology for children called “The Cherry Tree”, too. It’s a nice poem. ‘Everybody’ knows about it now (hence my enquiry), as the original documentary was on TV, or part of it. How little people know, without having it stuffed down their throat by mass media.

1 December 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] I met the Registrar’s secretary at the bus stop, who said ‘I didn’t think you’d know me with my clothes on!’ This is the kind of verbal gaffe she’s given to making. As a matter of fact I didn’t.

[…] Elgar always makes me think of Dr P., & you, & fills me with a terribly strong loving yearning, for wch there seems no proper target or expression, & wch no one will ever understand - it is like some land where we are together for ever, beyond the reach of time and change and small selfishnesses and the burden of scrabbling from day to day. [...]

9 December 1959
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] Well, I was glad to get your letter, very long in the circumstances. I do feel sorry for you, & for your father. I sympathise with him because I am one of the mice who give up & drown, not the kind who go on swimming until the milk turns to butter & they can hop out. Particularly as it won’t! I shouldn’t have the heart to make him do anything. But I’m not the kind of mouse who tells other people they can’t boil eggs. I’m sure it is all a fearful strain on your strength and patience. I wonder if you managed to get the nurse. [...]

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

Saturday, August 18, 2018

I'm terrified of the thought of time passing.../Philip Larkin, letters to Monica (1957)

29 January 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear,
I’m sitting on my couch for once, & uncomfortable it is too - as uncomfortable as out of doors, which is saying something. What a relief to have an evening in! I am an old sloth. [...]

10 February 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] I hardly read anything - never have a book on the go like I used to. I just re-read ‘old favourites’ - ‘silent friends’ - Butler’s “Notebooks” in bed at present, & “Summer Lightning” [P. G. Wodehouse, Summer Lightning (1929)] in the kitchen. “Nothing” [Henry Green, Nothing (1950)] in the sitting room.

[…] I feel you at my elbow, frowning whenever I write ‘a lot of’, ‘a bit of’, ‘get’, ‘pretty’, ‘rather’, or any of the Kingsley words - I frown myself, too. But the alternative seems to be sounding like a “Times” leader. [...]

12 March 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] Good Lord! Murry [John Middleton Murry (1889-1957)] dead! I feel (just hearing it on the 10 p.m. news) quite shocked by it. […] He never really existed after 1920, did he - the brief flash during the 1914-18 war by being associated with D. H. Lawrence & Katherine Mansfield & running that magazine, or those magazines.

[…] George Allison, too. [(1883-1957), radio sports commentator] Would you remember his football commentaries, in the old square-4 days? He was the most exciting one I ever heard: his ‘It’s a goal!!!!’ was the most abandoned shriek-roar we shall ever know.
One of the quainter quirks of life is that we shall never know who dies on the same day as we do ourselves. […]

Thursday Windy & rainy today. No news. I overslept & started the day badly in consequence. I seem to walk on a transparent surface and see beneath me all the bones and wrecks and tentacles that will eventually claim me: in other words, old age, incapacity, loneliness, death of others & myself... Wasn’t there a George Robey* song with a refrain In other words? I’ve opened Hopkins** to find fine simplicities to draw your attention to: but I admit they’re few and far between. Still, that makes them more effective.

1. Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
All the air things wear that build this world of Wales:
2. Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes
3. Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
4. All life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
5. To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life among strangers.

*Sir George Edward Wade (1869 – 1954), known professionally as George Robey, was an English comedian, singer and actor in musical theatre, who became known as one of the greatest music hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

**Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889), an English poet and Jesuit priest

9 April 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[...] Tonight I heard a few yowling settings of Hardy by some guy called Finzi [Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), English composer], wch made me look at the poems again. I shan’t believe I am insensitive to poetry as long as Hardy can make me tingle all over like a man menaced by a revenant. But they sadden me as much as anything, sadden & frighten. I'm terrified of the thought of time passing (or whatever is meant by that phrase) whether I ‘do’ anything or not. In a way I may believe, deep down, that doing nothing acts as a brake on ‘time’ - it doesn’t of course. It merely adds the torment of having done nothing, when the time comes when it really doesn’t matter if you've done anything or not. Do you understand this? Perhaps you take more naturally to doing nothing than I do. [...]

I hardly know what I do in my evenings - doze, write letters, listen to the radio, think about you, or certain aspects of you, wonder if I could start reviewing a book or writing a poem. My cast of mind is very odd. I don’t want to learn anything: I have no interests: in fact I defend my mind against things: I just go from circumscribed sensation to circumscribed sensation. If anyone tried to turn his life into a womb, that’s me. It’s all very bad. I don’t feel a bit creative these days. Just go on hurling money away & eating hardly anything. [...]

24 May 1957

[...] The ‘achievement’ I speak of is to set a solid set of works against it all, and it irks me that I can do nothing, & have done so little. I wanted to write such a lot - novels particularly - about ‘the way things turn out & the beauty of the natural world’; but it doesn’t look as if I shall: and I wanted to do it not for my sake but for its sake - responsibility is always to the thing & not to yourself or the filthy reader. I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist, by children if you’re not. Otherwise it flies forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day*. When I think of everything I’ve seen & felt, & how little of it I’ve managed to pin - about 3 days of my whole life - then I grind my teeth. Consider people like Trollope & how much they did. Of course all this is an idealistic & probably unreal conception of writing, but some people seem to have carried it out, or acted as if it were a fair statement of the facts. [...]

*Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
- Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748)

6 July 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear,
Saturday night, and a storm brewing — I’ve been round shutting the windows, and drawn my sitting room curtains so that I can't see the sheet lightning blinking over the near-at-hand trees. Nearly 10. I’ve been in since shopping, listening to the endless cricket commentary, reading another wretched book, eating supper, snoozing. I went out & bought 2 bottles of wine & some sherry, for no very good reason except that since cutting down my smoking to 1 per day I feel a stronger craving for drink. I wish there were some really nice drink. After gin & Italian and gin & orange I’m trying sherry, but it’s not specially agreeable.

[…] One funny thing I’ve recently discovered is that there are some university rabbits! Apparently a family lives (appropriately) under the Sanctuary, a shed given over for religious purposes, & gambols about by night. You know the university site is quite large & still fairly wild in parts: I wish I could see them. I was told that one came & looked through the windows of the Union refectory at the graduates’ dinner last Saturday. Doesn’t it all sound preposterous?

[…] Oh dear! Storm much nearer, crashing about overhead. — Some time later: I think it’s all quietened down now: it was really frightening for a time, like someone flicking a vast electric light on outside the house, and grinding pieces of coal together before chucking them down a 6o-ft shaft on to the head of a tympanum. Anyway, now I’m settled down with a fresh glass of sherry & a stack of LPs on the player. Wouldn’t it be rather romantic to turn into an alcoholic? ‘About half way through 1957 he began to drink much more heavily...’

[…] Then outside I met the space-man head of the Dept of Psychology, who asked me to tea, where I eventually met his Boxer, Mitzi, whose comprehension of me was slow in the extreme. Her grandfather was good enough to be in a book about the breed. Apparently they are a cross of bulldog & mastiff, wch I didn’t know before. In Germany they used to clip their ears, & may do so still, but yis Barbarous practice is illegal in England, good show. All day I felt that one just needs somewhere to be - my flat for instance - & one doesn’t want to be rushing off to Venice or somewhere.

[...] When I said in a previous letter that monsterism arose from an inability to face life, I meant of course a sustained and unprejudiced contemplation of the passage of time, the inevitability of DEATH, the onset of incapacity and impotence. I think that as soon as - no, I mean that how one regards these facts settles one’s whole life: if they seem distant & almost irrelevant then you are O.K.: if they seem closer to you than the name stitched on yr underwear then you have had it, nothing else can possibly win yr concentration.

Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.

[…] My dear, whatever I think or say, or however I behave, it isn’t because I think myself superior to you: I’m always aware how much more equable & just and intelligent you are (end of the Graves), & of how well you treat me: I mean, to be quite explicit, I notice and am thankful for the absence of the so-called ‘feminine’, i.e. bloody silly, qualities in you - at least, not b.silly, because men deserve them & anyway they frequently succeed - but anyway the absence of ‘tactics’ and that. If I am nasty to you, then just answer back, & you will see me collapse like a stoned fig. You must always remember that I have much more chance to get sated of, or irritable with, you than anyone else, because I see you & write to you much more often. And also of course I feel that people think ‘This is what he likes’ & am specially careful of you. Just conceit of course. But, of course, well, well, there are always sidelines, complications, conflicts. I feel my head sinking forward like a melonful of lead shot. The Murphys wrote (2 letters in 1 envelope) urging a visit - the older I get the odder people seem. Are they each other’s idea of the good life? Why? If not, why did they get married? Beats me.

[…] I should think I am as incompetent at sex as at algebra, dancing the galliard or talking the lingo in Roma. […] To be personal in sex is surely to be tender. To be tender is not to be lustful, or whatever one can call it.

[…] I don’t reckon you’re inarticulate. I shall go to the grave thinking you talkative, just as you’ll go to the gr. thinking me dominant & careerist.

26 July 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull

[…] I know every inch of it [Edward Upward, “The Railway Accident”; “Lions and Shadows”, fictionalised memoir of ‘an education in the Twenties’ by Isherwood, another of L.’s favourite books], & can’t criticise it any more than one can criticise a garden one played in as a child. [...]

Tuesday I know I can’t be said to present a consistent front to you on the subject of visits, holidays, etc., & I don’t at all resent yr questioning what I mean, or what I feel. I know I say one thing one time & one the next. Recently I’ve felt that we have grown slightly stale, like a good show that needs a break or a rest - does this sound very rude? - I mean myself as much as you: same jokes, same attitudes, same prejudices... I don’t mean the rabbits, I like them, or our friend from Poules [Sir Pussy - whimsical invention by L. and Monica], he’s all right, but all the other gags seem to be ossifying a little and not being replaced. Again I feel that they exist because inside them we agree or agree to agree, outside not. I hadn’t meant to knock the holiday on the head so decisively, but - but - I don’t know, dear: last year made a great impression on me, as about the first failed holiday we’d had. And I think perhaps your lack of enthusiasm for a return to Sark, or a visit to the Scilly Isles, meant that there really wasn’t much enthusiasm in me either. Sark pleased me & I’d like to go nearer the season: that is the kind of place I like. Perhaps I’m a Mediterranean addict without knowing it! Anyway, perhaps I didn’t say so clearly enough, but if it was 'my choice’ this year, I’d have chosen Sark or something like it. [...]

16 October 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] I have a few moments ago identified my feelings on Sunday regarding your U.S. offer: [Suggestion by A. R. Humphreys to Monica that she take up a visiting appointment at Queen’s, New York] 'Toad ceased his frivolous antics at once. He became grave and depressed, and a dull pain in the lower part of his spine, communicating itself to his legs, made him want to sit down and try desperately not to think of all the possibilities.’ It’s impossible for me to start from any other point than this apprehensive depression, though it’s not easy to account for it. Of course it might be that I didn’t want you to go! but perhaps it’s alarm at being forced to choose. In a way, the immobility of our relation suits me fine, & it may be that the prospect of being hoofed out of it is scaring the lights out of me. […] if I’m prepared to marry you it shouldn’t need an American invitation to precipitate the proposal. I wish I could describe how I feel without going on & on. I am simply terrified at the prospect of us going on year after year & not getting married - so terrified that it may almost be something else I’m terrified of but don’t recognise: but equally there is something missing in me - or in the way we get on - that wd precipitate it. […]
I like you as you are, you’re quite fascinating enough for me […]

But you’ll want some impersonal advice as well as all this raving. I can’t deny that a lot of what you say sounds true, tho’ I don’t see why ARH should like you any better for going to Yankland. […]
Oh, I can’t write on the subject: I want to retreat up to the end of the burrow, as I described them doing, & lie there till it’s all over. My pen is quite heavy. Do I think it wd part us if you went? Not necessarily, but it’s possible. Equally it might bring us together! A year apart might prove to be just what the doctor ordered, or it might be so dreary that we shd meet to part no more. But I'm sure I should hate to think of you out there in the bog with no one to help you, being ‘dated’ by octagonal-spectacled PhDs who were in Rome last year, & think W. S. Merwin a real pawut. [...]

2 December 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull

My dear bun,
I am just opening a letter after telephoning you tonight: tomorrow I go to filthy Needler party, arrive 10, leave 10.10, after drinking 9 drinks & pinching 8 behinds (you’ll be lucky), insulting 7 guests, telling 6 jokes, licking 5 fingers, turning all 4 cheeks, going down 3 times, giving 2 cheers, and looking after dear old number 1 - and on Wednesday I dine with the Publications Committee & an O.U.P. representative - so the few sentences I can write now will be all my care.

Do read Bradbury’s article in the current “Punch” on teaching in U.S. - it’s a killer, really wonderful, almost as good as M. McC. I know you won’t believe me, but do read it. It should confirm you, if you need confirming, in turning down that sweat-shop job in N. York. [...]

I have great pleasure in Master Handel his Water Music, ay and his musick for ye Royal Fireworks. He is very good, you know: he writes short movements for the kittens, as well as the larger sonorities in wch a great D.Mus. can properly delight in. You will hear the kittens’ movements when you come. What splendid pieces they are! He sounds quite different to me from other composers: there is a kind of urgent excitement in him, as well as the voice of angels, that marks him off: do you think that my love of Hardy, and Handel, & certain jazz players, is just narrow mindedness - ‘mere’ personal predilection - or will it all be ‘explained’? I am glad Butler thought so well of Handel: ‘As a boy, from 12 years old or so, I always worshipped Handel...’ He says that if George I and George II had not given H. royal pensions he wd have starved. […] Apparently Handel is buried next to Dickens, in W. Abbey! […]
Isn’t it strange to think that he died after Oscar Wilde? And yet the year Wilde was born Butler went up to Cambridge. I was reading Oscar Wilde’s trials last night, & Dylan Thomas in America, in an effort to convince myself that fun-having does you no good. […] Apparently the one thing that threw him into a rage after his release was people coming up & saying they never believed all those monstrous charges against him. There is a pathetic story in Harris about his giving Wilde a cheque for 100 f at the beginning of dinner, & Wilde asking for 100 f at the end of dinner, having forgotten the earlier gift, & coming & apologising next day, after finding the cheque in his pocket. Funny how we have our troops of authors! You & yr Scott & Thackeray & Wordsworth: me & my Wilde & Butler & Shaw. I see yours & approve them: mine are what I pursue, & I suppose vice versa. [...]

Tuesday Horribly cold. Ghastly Needier ‘Christmas party’ tonight, God damn & blast it to Hell, I say meekly.
[…] Like most situations, it will probably be worse than one hopes, & better than one expects.

18 December 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull

My dear bun,
Well on into the “Messiah” now – “Why do the nations” - finished the Riesling […]
The sky is clear tonight, & milder, & full of great snapping stars, & I am dizzy with emotion & Riesling - I upset a glass, as Geo. П might have done, at the New Oratorio Compos’d by Mr Handel. [...]

26 December 1957
21 York Road, Loughborough, Leics

My dearest bun,
Well, I suppose this is the kind of Christmas most people have - kind, not degree, for of course one aunt doesn’t counterbalance Ernie and Perce, and Gordon and Mae, and Stan and Doris, and Auntie Bea and Grampy and Sid and Flo and Arthur, and Mr & Mrs Ingleby and Eileen, and the Sopwiths, and Dadda Wilks and Irene and Wally - for really she’s quite a quiet aunt, given only to constant cups of tea & monologuous anecdotes that all sound like something out of Stanley Houghton. Of course it does mean an increase of 100% in competitors for the best armchair, but on the whole I think the visit is a success. Mind you, I don’t like home & never have. I am sent into furious rages about every 3 hours that make me want to smash things and shout obscenities, & sometimes smash things and shout obscenities. And it’s awfully boring, too: I am quite sick of it by now. ‘Till Thursday’ - I can stand a week of almost anything till then. I am going back on Saturday, determined to have 24 hrs holiday at least. At the moment I feel full of ideas for sneering bad tempered poems. I’d like to do one on Christmas generally. I think the reason we make so much of Christmas is that we can credit anyone getting born. No one’s seen anyone rise from the dead yet. There have been one or two fine spells of solitude, however - I walked to Nanpantan, absurd name, like some Red Indian town, on Christmas morning, where I drank a pint of mouldy beer before returning, & this afternoon I indulged in a last-hour-of-daylight prowl round the silent brick streets of Loughborough… […]

Friday [...] The weather is really awfully fine today.

Philip LarkinLetters to Monica

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Nothing will be good enough to look back on/ Philip Larkin to Monica (1956)

11 January 1956
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
Dearest bun & only,
[…] I’m trying to write a poem on something we saw in Chichester. Can you guess what? [...] [It was in Chichester a little later that L. and Monica saw the ‘Arundel tomb’ - see Dec. 1955]

As regards Kingsley’s life, well, I’d certainly like to work 3 days a week six months a year, & THE REST NOTHING. He & Hilly struck me as a pair of DIRTY RICH CHILDREN - they have no worries, they REFUSE TO SUFFER; no jealousies - Hilly tells me how Kingsley was ‘t’rrifically necking old Miggy’ (i.e. Margaret, her sister) on New Year’s Eve, and so on & so forth - not enviable, but I envy him his lazy life & his absolute refusal to do or worry about anything ‘nasty’. No wonder he can write. A pity he didn’t marry a virago, but then he never wd, he’s far too clearsighted, though he couldn’t have foreseen the money. Well, this is stupid jealous talk. [...]

26 January 1956
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, East Yorks
[…] What I’d really like is the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry!

[…] How time goes. I laid down my pen at 9 & picked up my pencil*: now it’s 11. I’ve added 6 1/2 lines**, but only 4 are ‘firm’. It’s nice & quiet up here - almost all it is nice & .[...]

*L. almost always used pencil for writing in his poetry work-books.
** Of ‘An Arundel Tomb’.

26 February 1956
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, East Yorks
One might say ‘Penicillin is stronger than death, sometimes’ with fair truth, but ‘love is stronger than death’ reminds me of that slogan ‘Britain (or London) can take it’, wch irritated me in the same way. It surely meant that people can stand being bombed as long as they aren’t bombed. If A says ‘we can take it’, & В is hit by a bomb, then clearly В can’t take it, so A’s statement only means ‘A can take В being bombed’: similarly ‘love is stronger than death’ means ‘A’s love is stronger than B’s death’, which is self-evident. A’s love is not stronger than A’s death. At least we’ve no reason for thinking it is. Does all this sound very Bertrand Russellish? Perhaps it is not as logical as I think. Of course love is not just a word: I don’t mean to be ‘cynical’ about it. Nor do I want to enlist myself under it because, again, it isn’t just a word, I can see clearly that my life isn’t governed by it. Some bright lad (E.M.F.?) said the opposite of love wasn’t hate but individuality (personality, egotism) and I’ve been feeling increasingly that it is this that keeps me from love - I mean love isn’t just something extra, it’s a definite acceptance of the fact that you aren’t the most important person in the world. Here again I feel a fallacy lurking: if A isn’t the most important person in the world, then why shd В be? The better conclusion wd be that if A wasn’t, then nobody is. Of course I'm not speaking of love as an emotion but as a motive, that leads to action, which seems to me the only real proof of a quality or feeling. Do I sound like some horrible young don, half-Jewish, at Birkbeck College? Don't let me. There isn’t anything very new about my remarks: obviously people who think themselves the most important person in the world are ‘immature’ - part invalid, part baby & part saint, as I wrote.

8 May 1956
192A Hallgate*, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] We ought to have talked about holidays more - how little time we have together! I was reading about the Carlyles tonight in V.S.P. [V.S.Pritchett in the New Statesman]: “Their worst agonies seem not to have come from their common hypochondria, her jealousy or his monstrous selfishness, but from not getting letters from each other on the day they were expected when they were separated.” Do you think people will write like that about us when we are dust? My dear rabbit! [...]

*L. had recently moved into this, the top flat of his colleague Ronald Drinkwater’s house.

10 September 1956
192A Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] I often feel poems have to have some falsity in them, like yeast, or they won’t ‘rise’.

27 September 1956
192A Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] The flat is a trial [L. was in process of moving to 32 Pearson Park]. Nothing seems likely to come […] I really don’t know when I shall get in. […] I went down at lunch, & felt displeased with it all. The front door rattles. The children below were audible. The stairs are supremely squalid. Hum. Ha.
[…] Ah, don’t talk about our lives and the dreadful passing of time. Nothing will be good enough to look back on, I know that for certain: there will be nothing but remorse & regret for opportunities missed not only for getting on the gravy train but for treating people decently.

27 October 1956
192A Hallgate, Cottingham
[...] No, you misjudge me about public speaking - it’s the desire of the cripple to ice-skate, the asthmatic to sing in opera - I long to wait for the laughter to die down, & then recommence. ‘But the motion before us, Mr President, Sir...’, my crisp firm voice reaching effortlessly to the back of the hall, my buttonhole, my evening dress, surrounded by eager pompous young faces. Ah! La rêve! [...]

4 December 1956
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] Flurry of insults in the December “Encounter”! [A dismissive review of New Lines in the October issue by David Wright was followed in the December issue by letters, including one by Robert Conquest.] I’m afraid Conquest isn’t much of a champion in any case. And an ‘ignoramus’ in the “Listener!” [At this period most book reviews in the Listener were anonymous] Well, well. The Irish 6d [In ‘Church Going’] was meant as a comic compromise between GIVING NOTHING and giving REAL MONEY - like the Musical Banks. Well, I wd sooner be insulted by Tom Scott [Combative Scottish poet who wrote much in Scots] than praised by Pamela Hansford Johnson - poetry a public activity, oh go and boil your stupid opinionated Scotch head, you haggis-fed clown. [...]

Talk about making the sun run: we certainly filled Sunday afternoon well & pleasantly. I liked the pudding & the sauce, very much, too. Does that sound funny? I expect it does. And that quite remarkable gold turf of cloud filling half the sky when we left. I expect you think I behave one way one time and another another. This isn’t the place to go into it all, and I’m not sure I could anyway - not without talking for several days, for fear of seeming to lay more emphasis on one thing rather than another - but I am always worrying about what I want for you, for mother, for myself - or think I want. Of course worrying is all cant. Action is the thing. But don’t think I think ‘everything is all right’. [...]

I may let the university magazine [L. means the Leeds University Poetry and Audience, to which he had earlier contributed two poems and a book review. ‘An Arundel Tomb’ had already appeared in the May 1956 London Magazine] have “Tomb” this Christmas, in wch case I’ll let you have a copy. I don’t, myself, like it very much: it belongs to that period after publication when one tries to write ideas of poems instead of real poems. In fact I think it’s embarrassingly bad! and I fancy you will too when you see it again. Real poems have more bite to them. “Mr Bleaney” is more real. “Lambs” is not bad: better than “Tomb”. [...]

8 December 1956
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] I’m sorry if I neglect to answer things in your letters - to some extent I’ve ‘always’ done it: my parents, & Kingsley, complained similarly. There may be several reasons - carelessness, forgetfulness perhaps, tho’ I always write with your last letter beside me (some may get missed thereby). I’ve always tried to avoid the ‘I-was-interested-to-hear-you-had-been-to-Sevenoaks-you-would-find-Uncle-Edgar-very-changed-I-can-just-see-you-trying-to-appreciate-the-roses!’ kind of letter, a sort of repetition of the one received. Sometimes I don’t answer because I can’t think of anything to say, or anything ‘profitable’ to say. These will no doubt be the cases you chiefly complain of. But never am I trying to squash you, or cause you uneasiness or pain. Quite the contrary. (Tuesday.) I shouldn’t think you could be ‘too intimate’ in that way - and in any case it wd be the height of bad manners to believe you could, since you are otherwise so close to me. [...]
I don’t reckon I ‘understand’ you at all, even if I do sometimes! Doesn’t it always seem cheek, ‘understanding’ people? Do you reckon to ‘understand’ me? Sometimes you seem to, but sometimes I feel you ‘trust’ me rather than understand me - curious feeling, like finding a rabbit has crawled into one’s overcoat pocket when you take it down from the peg. You try to lift it out, but it is determined to stay, so after a while you leave it, though for all it knows you may be going to the kennels... This is ‘just a thought’, not meant as a parable or allegory, but for your Diverfion.
Probably not comprehensible! [...]

I’d very much like you at least to see this place, but as I once tried to explain it’s hardly possible for you to stay under the same roof & though there’s a hotel across the park it seems rather miserable for you to stay there. It might be best for you to look at it & then both of us go on elsewhere. (The people underneath aren’t going away at Christmas.) What an awful long way I am from everywhere. [...]

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

feeling that the world is all right, even if I am all wrong/ Larkin - Letters to Monica (1955), p.2

[Beginning of 1955]

22 July 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E.Yorks
My dear,
I sent a very dull letter today, & yet if I begin another it’s really only to anatomise my dullness. It’s so intense as to be a little frightening. I come ‘home’, eat a rough supper in my room so as to be away from the horribly-close noises of the household, & then sit... Nothing to do. The room seems airless. I don’t want to do anything, not to try writing poetry, not to write letters, not to go out - where is there to go? I just sit shudder at the noises of the household. Reading doesn’t attract me. I’ve no friends. Really I feel like a plant in a pot that nobody waters. There’s a horrible piano jangling somewhere - sounds too faint to be in the house, but too loud to be outside it. I feel: ‘You’ve properly done for yourself, now.’ It’s all very horrible. The inhabitants of the house seem very close tonight: there is continual talking. Have they visitors? Someone to stay? I shrink in every fibre of my being. Some are upstairs, some down. They call to each other, in horrible flat voices, short unintelligible questions and answers: half of them are addressed to dogs. Another voice is rumbling, the piano is still going... altogether the house sounds as if in five minutes a large family is to leave for its summer holidays. Oh dear! I can’t disentangle my different strands of feeling: part nausea (only half accounted for), part boredom, part hatred of my surroundings, part terror of the future, and even of the present, part tiredness: all play their parts. I don’t know why I shd write it down for you. It’s not interesting, I know. But... [...]

Saturday God: the house seems full of people - this is the kind of ‘quaint’ life people have when they’re young and adventurous, not when they’ve got £1500 a year. Curse it all. Must dress now & go to work - that’s another evil thing.

After lunch. Ugh! That’s my reaction to life at present. The sun is shining brightly & it’s very hot, real heat-wave, but I am really nearer the state of mind I was in when I came here than I’ve ever been since... [...] I ought to go out, I suppose, but that’s only a palliative - my dear, I do feel absolutely sick at heart, my blankness has been goaded into revulsion & I am up in arms again, sufficiently fed up to start moving again, back at the point when not moving is worse than moving. And I can’t do anything, not now: I must endure the weekend, & all next week, &... This state of mind is different from my earlier howls: this is a kind of nausea, as if life were some milk-skin clinging to my lip. I don’t, at the moment, see how I’m going to endure it, it’s all so frightful - I really had better go out.

9.50 p.m. I went a long bike ride in boiling weather, enjoying it in snatches, but obssessed (oh, how do you spell that word?) with the contents of this letter and the circumstances that produced it. I went to Beverley in a roundabout way, had tea at the Beverley Arms, then went west in a long arc round the villages and wolds to Kirk Ella & Hessle, for the sake of calling on Jean Hartley to see what the position was now. But she was out & the filthy sluttish mother-in-law merely shouted at me through the window - why is my life in the hands of the workingclass? By the time I got back I must have done nearly 2.0 miles & felt tired. The house was quiet when I came in, but somebody came in after me & I don’t think things have altered. In Beverley I went into St Mary’s and found the rabbit (see enclosed leaflet). I like this church: I hope one day you’ll see it. The rabbit is not a very attractive one: I should say it is sneering rather, and some of it has broken away. Then again it might be a hare, I suppose. But it is certainly wearing a satchel.
What evidence there is for the Lewis Carroll story I don’t know. The only guide I have says nothing about it — doesn’t even mention the rabbit. Still, it is there, a lone invader of a hated ecclesiastical stronghold. I expect the satchel contains carrots. Looking into a small papershop for cricket scores I found a pile of Beatrix Potters, & read Apply Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes - especially the present of carrots put down on the stair. It made me wish you were with me - or rather, it reinforced my wish that you were with me. I thought a lot about you as I rode, about your mosquitos (I don’t think I notice mosquitos as such) and your garden - glad you used the secateurs.
You have a closer grip on things than I. My life is tourniquet’d at every point: I am too exhausted to wail about it - & the immediate stimulus to do so, mercifully, lacking - but it is so, yes indeed. When you exhorted me not to sound so bored with everything in London I reflected that probably do sound bored a lot of the time - I’m horribly lacking in ‘outgoing’ feeling. […]

Sunday. My uncertainty persists. Where is that music coming from? those voices? My “Observer” didn’t come this morning. What am I doing here? I agree last summer seems an impossible dream - Belfast does, altogether, though I had my depressions there. Oh hell, why can’t I stop being miserable and complaining? Why is the wireless so loud? Why does it seem to alter in volume from minute to minute? Who are all those people talking? I don’t know who the extra swine were, but I think they all went off yesterday afternoon to some wretched caravan-site: heaven alone knows when they will return or how many of them. Someone comes in to sleep, therefore, & numerous people throng in all day - curse the whole crowd.
Are you fed up with all this? Or does it seem no more than the murmuring of bees to you in your garden? Did you like the scarecrow I drew? […]

3 August 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
My dear lonely rabbit, [...]
Well, here I am, back. I ought just to bring you up to date - I went home on Saturday afternoon, 1.30 to Grantham - a lovely run, the scorched land misty with heat, like a kind of bloom of heat - and at every station, Goole, Doncaster, Retford, Newark, importunate wedding parties, gawky & vociferous, seeing off couples to London. [This appears to be the gem of what eventually became “The Whitsun Weddings”.] My literary pleasure in this was damped by missing the 4.8 connection at Grantham [...]

So I was at home Sunday, Monday & Tuesday, doing nothing but pore over a poem, play records, & go walks with M - short ones, of course, because there might be a storm. I must say home is where the records are: I should love to play you the pieces I have by ‘Muddy Waters’, a blind singer. And my Barber sides, [L.’s recordings of Chris Barber]

[…] Coming back I felt low - I bought “1984” & reread it with pleasure, thinking how like Hull it all was. ‘The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats.’ However: contrary to my expectations, work was nastier & here pleasanter.

[…] Yes, I agree about the cool sitting-rooms. My ideal is a large first-floor room, with a carpet & a large sofa, a wall of books with the bottom shelf partitioned for & filled with records, and a large record-amplifier pulsing in the corner, bringing out the bass very clearly. It overlooks a garden with fields beyond. I am lying on the sofa, sipping a gin drink.
I’m very excited to find that the Botany prof, here, a man called Good, was born in Dorchester about 1900 & was brought up there. HE OFTEN SAW HARDY WALKING ABOUT. I’m going to force him to invite me round.

6 August 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham
[…] Sunday. Evening. People pour into the house, doors slamming, dogs barking ... I went a walk this afternoon. People had told me to ‘walk to the Wolds’ or the Dales or something, but when I got about a third of the way there I thought ‘this is enough for me’ and turned back through Rowley and Little Weighton. It was a fairly sunny afternoon but there were cloudy intervals. Near home I stopped and watched half a dozen Jersey cows. How lovely they are! like Siamese cats, almost: the patches of white round the eyes and the soft way the coffee-colour melts into the white underbody. They were licking each other affectionately in pairs on the chest and along the neck. When one stopped the other would begin licking back! The Peaceable Kingdom! In the end I found I'd walked about 11 miles - long way for a seal. But never a rabbit did I see, alas. I ought to write a Lament for the rabbits. My head is full of ideas for poems, these days, but they vanish as soon as I sit down. [...]

Will write more tomorrow. Well, when I was young I used to make these nights [the nights before his birthday] occasions for prophecy, but I don’t now. They were usually of the order ‘Shall write a novel, shan’t have a woman’, or occasionally vice versa, but they grew so negative in the end that I abandoned them. My mother used to have a jolly litany of ‘You’ll never be six-teen/seventeen/eighteen again’, thus early implanting in me the fear of time. [...]

I really must post this tomorrow - I do sympathise with your impatience with your life. I feel the same, only more rage at myself for not having the brazen energy to live properly - to find a place by brute force - not just tamely exist in the least horrible way I can find with the least trouble. Fool, fool. Do you think if we married we should be the same, & live in a semi-detached house called ‘Oakdene’ & advance ‘sound parish views’? That wd be awful, wouldn’t it? There would be a piano next door, played by someone who changed the treble but not the bass. The bakelite handle of the ‘french window’... The kitchen audible in the lavatory & vice versa... but this is a horror story. I’m sure we’d do better than that. Must get ready for bed now. Goodnight, dear bunny.

15 August 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham
[…] Thank you for your letter - I’m afraid you are equally miserable poor dear. I am sorry. I feel it can’t go on, & yet it does, from term to term and landmark to landmark, on & on, never getting any simpler or easier or even duller. I mean we do not feel it less. Our lives are not as good as a play. Perhaps other people’s aren’t, either - yet one wonders. [...]

Wednesday Nearly zero hour. Feel fairly nervous. I hate these occasions. I suppose RM will know only what Patsy has told him about me: nobody I know has known RM. Mrs. S. is at the ready below! I wonder if you are similarly waiting?*
[…] “Mr Bleaney” went down the best I thought: Elsewhere [The Importance of Elsewhere] seemed to lack the odd rhythm I hoped it had - I don’t think he understood it. Departures [Poetry of Departures] of course has its own ‘tune’ in my head wch they didn’t reproduce - there should have been much more tone-colour & drama in the reported speech, or the direct speech, is it. Oh well. 28 guineas for yours truly. Scandalous of course. Think what he gets.

*In a letter dated 18 August 1955, Monica wrote:
“Reception was so bad that I couldn’t hear the one poem of the 3 that I didn’t know, or hardly. That’s one you haven’t shown me, tho’ you told me about it, or not about it but its title & that he was using it for this programme. ‘Mr Bleaney’ sounded so very like you - yr catalogue of the room’s shortcomings! Like you & like me - I smiled at the radio as if I were smiling at you as it was read. And I like your poetry better than any that I ever see - oh, I am sure that you are the one of this generation! I am sure you will make yr name! yr mark, do I mean - really be a real poet, I feel more sure of it than ever before, it is you who are the one, I do think so. Oh, Philip - I don’t know what to say! You will believe me because you know it doesn’t make any difference to me whether you are or not, I shouldn’t think any less of your value if yr poems seemed to me bad & if everybody said so; and because I’ve never said to you this is magnificent, this is greatness triumphant, in yr hands the thing becomes a trumpet” [...]

7 September 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] Conquest’s proofs came today [poems to be included in “New Lines” (1956)]: “Maiden name”, “Church going”, “Latest Face”, “Skin”, “Born Yesterday”, “Triple Time”, “I Remember”, and “Photograph Album”. Jolly nice they looked, too, on the whole, but they are not quite my favourite sort of poetry. I am struck by my ease and deftness of expression and rhyming, rather than by any depths of feeling. Still. The book is for ‘early next year’.
10 September 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham
[…] Colossal noise downstairs, like a pub. О God! I should like to lob a ‘pineapple’ among their riot. Yes, I try to draw comfort from our holidays, but a Leopardian mood (nothing to do with leopards) sits on me & I can only think of their ending: you remember his poem about the night before the festival, & how he thinks that people are happier in their expectation than they will be at the festival. [Giacomo Leopardi, 'll sabato del villaggio’ (The Village Saturday Night)]

26 September 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] You are a true rabbit in wanting to ignore trouble: I a true seal in rhapsodising romantically over the more melancholy side of things.

9 October 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
I’m sitting in my, for once, overheated room, listening to “Porgy & Bess” from Brussels, but it’s a hell of a bore except for the two famous tunes, neither of wch have been played yet. This is the only sheet of paper I have here - at least, I can’t see any more, & I know I left a pad in my desk at the Library. Well, to give this place its due, the weather has been splendid yesterday & today. I have been quite transported by the sun, warm air, bees still burrowing into late flowers, the beautiful chill mauve blue of Michaelmas daisies in the churchyard; and in the villages, when I rode out this afternoon, the thick stacks behind the warm brick farmhouses. The sky was pale blue, with the immoveable small curly clouds of autumn in it. Yesterday — after a degree congregation and luncheon of surpassing foulness — the village seemed quite lovely. I went to the local library & strolled very slowly back up the main street, pausing to buy two teaspoons & a root of celery, feeling contented with the content that comes from feeling that the world is all right, even if I am all wrong. The pavement outside the Union Hall (over the Cooperative Stores) was scattered with confetti, & inside they were dancing & drinking & singing “Let the rest of the world go by”. Mrs Squire’s garden is tidied for the autumn, but still littered with squashy wrinkled plums, with wassups rolling in them, and apples of various sorts, including tiny little shiny toy apples, the like of which I haven’t seen before. I had my celery for tea, & an egg, & real coffee (since returning I’ve been too dispirited to have anything but “Nescafe”). How good the real coffee tasted! For once I felt insouciant, like a tramp, in my horrible kitchen, reading a library book. [...]

26 October 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] Poor dear bunny, scrabbling at its horrible papers - I felt very sad at your analysis of your position: it would have happened to me - I believe that - if I’d gone into teaching. I can’t read, or think, or write nowadays. It’s a sad thought, the 10 years - I can’t say anything about it, it is just too sad. I don’t know that you’re much more ridiculous than I am. You at least adopt a motto of ‘Non Serviam’. I with my schizoid reeling from Vice-Chancellor to rabbit-story, living like a pig on £1500 a year, am quite as absurd really. In fact I don’t think you’re absurd at all. [...]

[…] Oh my dear, boredom, exhaustion & fear are not unknown here - these awful librarians on Saturday! О for a sudden attack of influenza!

29 October 1955
200 Hallgate
[…] Monday. Very cold here - large frosty moon, spilling chill light over the lifeless leaves. Mrs. S. very poorly again - she appears to have been retching all day & is quite broken down by it - she is still coherent but very feeble. I tried to sit with her tonight, but she dismissed me in order to retch better. She gave me her right hand to shake. I do not like the look of her at all.

[…] The yellow chrysanthemums put in the Library for Saturday were frost-bitten this morning.

12 November 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
Mentioning poems leads me to say that in my opinion my poem [“Referred Back”, later “Reference Back”] was wrong, but in this way: the subject of it was being brought into communication again with my mother to a record made when any such loss of communication wd have been unthinkable: and the oddness thereof. But the poem wd have come better from her! I shouldn’t regard our relationship where I was one as ‘a loss’ but I suppose she might. In a sense it is written from her viewpoint, or my imagination of it. Coveney wd nod his plump head at all this - he is a lifelong Freudian - but, whether he wd be right or not, the poem is only papered over cracks too deep for me to think highly of it. […]

24 November 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] I am simply longing to know what you think of the book* […].

*Monica wrote on 25 November 1955:
My real look at your book [...] I wish “Myxomatosis” were followed by something other than “Toads” — if I’d seen page-proof I’d have thought so at once; because “Toads” makes clear at once that the toads are “symbols”, the transition is rather awkward, & may even make some fools think you don’t mean real rabbits, or mean something else besides real rabbits, something they think is of “deeper significance”, social or personal according to their own batty bias, & that wd be an intolerable thing [...]!
20 December 1955
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[...] I hope Chichester [It was in Chichester a little later that L. and Monica saw the ‘Arundel tomb’] is nice & Dickensy. Writing that bit has awakened certain longings in me, certainly irrepressible feelings, very jolly & heartwarming, about snow, and rising suns showing werry orange over frosty hedges, and kitchen fires, and chimney-pots, and deep lanes, and the swift dusk of Christmas afternoon, coming up the steel-coloured sky towards the few little golden bubbles of cloud down the west at half-past three, and animals ... Oh! England! [...]

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

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