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, at Leicester University, his landlady recalled "his quiet unassuming manner and slight stammer; his wit and turns of phrase; his bow ties (unusual then) and his very very slight preoccupation with thinning hair. I can visualize Philip sitting in the garden with Oblomov my cat stalking him. We were never sure whether Ob was attracted by the smell of Philip's Harris tweed overcoat or the Bay Rum he used on his hair" (qtd. in Motion 149). This delightful vignette is worthy of a nineteenth-century painting: "The Cat Oblomov stalks the Young Poet." Also, it perhaps reveals more about both Oblomov and Larkin than the landlady knew: surely cat and man are experiencing a ritual that has become enjoyable for them both. One imagines the young Larkin, in a deckchair, pretending not to notice Oblomov, and both of them delighting in the sport. Animals are instinctively drawn to those who like them, and even though we can never know but only guess the feelings of Oblomov towards Larkin, of Larkin's fondness for animals there can be no doubt. The margins of his pencil-written manuscripts are frequently crowded with mice, rabbits, sheep, and owls. And, although he himself never kept an animal, the pets of his friends would concern him as much if not more than the friends themselves did. A glance at his letters to Robert Conquest is a case in point. Larkin never met Conquest's dog Bluebell but greatly enjoyed the thought of her: letter after letter ends with him sending love to "that lugubrious hound" (Larkin, Letters 493). Not only this, but he feels as much for the dog as Conquest himself did, recognizing that Conquest's decorating his house "will upset Bluebell" (Letters 415), and, as Conquest's marriage foundered and Bluebell was taken from him, he becomes more sympathetic still: "I feel very sorry for Bluebell and hope you manage to be successfully reunited. It must be a great strain for her-is she in kennels? Awful how you can't explain what's happening" (Letters 547). Perhaps Larkin knew that Conquest could take for granted his concern for him but, even so, Bluebell gets two sentences to her owner's one. As Larkin wrote later: "I agree Bluebell should be taken proper care of: it isn't her fault" (Letters 521). There is no mistaking either the depth of feeling or, more interestingly, the implication that human suffering can and should be endured by humans themselves but that suffering caused to animals by humans is another matter, and one about which he felt strongly. In a later message to Conquest, in July 1978, Larkin opens with his usual combination of robustness, self-deprecation, and honesty that makes his letters so vibrant: "Many thanks gor cor for your letters: I'm ashamed not to write more often and better. Not, of course, that I've anything to say" (Letters 585). Indeed he may not have had anything to say about his own life, but about Conquest's he certainly does have. Bluebell had just died. Larkin writes at once: "I was touched by your eulogy-elegy of Bluebell; it made your feelings for her quite clear, and also (unintentionally, of course) the niceness of your own nature. You make her sound more real, and more real to you, than anyone else. Pity old Ackerley shat up the dog scene: you could have done it better. Peace to her ashes" (Letters 585). This is quintessential Larkin. He says what he recognizes and feels, including the possibility that both he and Conquest may care more for animals than about people, and then, as if a touch abashed by the direct expression of his own feeling, lashes out at J.R. Ackerley's novel My Dog Tulip (1956) for denying Bluebell and Conquest their due. Larkin never saw Bluebell, but he did see the rabbits belonging to the Drinkwaters, a family with whom he briefly lodged on his arrival in Hull in 1955. Forty years later, Larkin's first publisher's
but Jean Hartley's implication ("nevertheless. his critics espouse. still less invests them with human attributes. "What oft was thought. and Mrs. Jean Hartley. in Motion 405). Larkin also knew that his Oxford anthology would stand as his epitaph. If pressed. criticism has made everything embody the themes now seen to be crystallizing in his Collected Poems.360 after probate-had as his main beneficiaries his companion Monica Jones. of communing with them and enjoying. "it's not their fault. his will-which came to L286. although Larkin's offer-it is not known if it was ever accepted-does show kindness towards the Drinkwaters." but he also-and this is what makes his poems remarkable-says what only he can think. To do that would be to diminish them. H. and it is from these sources that I have drawn all the previous background. and which was crucial for his writing. to express himself as an animal might feel in its own right. Lawrence and "wild thins" (Qtd. Of these experiences Larkin writes. Philip Larkin was a private man. writing several letters to The Timesin protest against vivisection and bullfighting. Perhaps there passed between Larkin and animals the "living vibration" that Jessie Chambers records as passing between D. age.wife. in Lawrence 11). significantly. H. Nevertheless. By the mid-1970s he was compiling The Oxford Book of TwentiethCentury English Verse. But on the question of animals he was not silent. being drawn through the wires" (61). Larkin doubted if he would ever. Larkin would perhaps have replied. through his letters and through Andrew Motion's biography. remembers that "Mr. This offer is illuminating for what it reveals about Larkin's feelings for animals. or pigeons on roofs. and animals are indeed well represented in the anthology and account for nearly half of his selection from D. It would also be arrogant. The Society of Authors. When he died. is extraordinary. "the lettuce leaves . he offered to come and take care of the animals when the Drinkwaters went on holiday" (35). of being with the rabbits on his own. but never once presumes. as he did of the dog Bluebell's difficulty. Out of admiration for their difference and dignity he only ever wonders what they think. apart from in the grave. Drinkwater had a very noisy young daughter." "even after") that Larkin's views of the Drinkwaters' rabbits should be jaundiced by his experience of living with their owners is false. and to the larger world his personal views became known only after his death. His empathy with animals." Furthermore. as Kenneth Grahame marvelously put it in The Golden Age. the tensions between solitude . he was fond of their rabbits and even after he moved out. and. the inevitability of death. in Pope's famous phrase. The reason that I have dwelt at such length on Larkin's feelings towards animals is not that they are in any way exceptional but because they find voice in a small but highly accomplished body of poems. find the silence he so longed for. but ne'er so well expressed. The Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But what Larkin avoids. Given energy by Andrew Motion's biography and Larkin's posthumous letters. its real aim is his own private pleasure. It is partly because Larkin's animal poems are close to our own experiences that they make so direct an appeal to us: we have all seen horses or cows in fields. and some of us have even accidentally killed an animal. or seen reluctant cats hauled up for photographs when they want to be on the ground. Lawrence and two out of the six of his own poems (the ones he chose were "At Grass" and "Take One Home for the Kiddies"). recognizing that he was "drawing English poetry in my own image" (qtd. Part of that image was his appreciation for good poems about animals.
Snout there too as well. with paws and snout together. and empathy unequaled since D. Till winter daylight weakens. Huddling around the warm stack suits them best. Soon. curling up. Perhaps the poem's starting point. from the frozen leaves and sticks under which it is hibernating. to scratch. sleeping so. but not a proper one. (CP 87) Unpublished during Larkin's lifetime." Standing incomplete. first this way." "Go on. "Nudge. Sleep will unshell us. feeling. a desire to stretch. perhaps. black as their shadows. Plainly the animal is a hedgehog uncurling itself. but that "then" also counters them with surprise and doubt. then. Morning. they come as near to ideological assertiveness as Larkin ever comes: he admires animals.e.and company. and they grow Hardly defined against the brickwork. Mould. yet by leaving the questions unfinished he shows himself not presuming to know." i. themes which are all in human terms.buried hedgehog's natural expectations on finding itself awake. is that the pigeons are surprisingly "black as their shadows. Mustiness. by a close reading. which does not threaten them. whenever Larkin's animal poems are looked at singly (they have never been considered as a body) they are pressed into the service of exhibiting these larger themes. displace" and thus have us watching the hedgehog performing these actions and experiencing the discomfiture that we anticipate it feeling before it "turns. glides into the hedgehog's natural inclinations "to stretch. this poem is remarkably accomplished. Displace the stiffened leaves: look out. which is as the speaker sees the hedgehog. empathizes with them. but not yet. Backing against a thin rain from the west Blown across each sunk head and settled feather. The opening line. the questions parallel the still-. Here is "Pigeons": On shallow slates the pigeons shift together. How dried a stillness. In the mid-1950s Larkin wrote three poems about creatures in winter. singleness and marriage. A wind is scraping. anonymous yet individual. Turn. How cold. and display a craft. "Pigeons" leaves us imagining the pigeons suffering during the rest of the winter. is the second arrogance. nudge. Light from a small intense lopsided moon Shows them. "Midwinter Waking" begins where "Pigeons" leaves off. Like a blade on stone. and it gives neither the animal poems nor the animals themselves their due. Lawrence." "Look out. to scratch" and into its half-asked questions requiring respectively the answers "winter ended" and "spring. This. including at night (which few would do). Larkin thinks as the hedgehog might think. then that." and "Turn" are all of course imperatives." but it is on the pigeons' apparent suffering that Larkin dwells: the dismal rain. perceiving them moving out of definition and then back again. Furthermore. (CP 109) One senses that the speaker has looked out for the pigeons at different times. Consequently. and deplores man's cruelty towards them. but takes a minute or less: Paws there. but rather than simply being commands to the hedgehog they suggest "Go on. Larkin's poems about animals are-whatever other resonances they may have for the readerprincipally poems about animals. H. huddling together. has given way to an icy winter cold (hinted at by the moon's intensity) that does. when considered in terms of themselves and of each other. Then has the-? Then is it-? Nudge the thatch. to resume its . although it is expressed in a brief adjectival phrase rather than explored. Darkness." "Displace. turns away.
hibernation. The poem.. the lambs of "First Sight" are being born. David Timms (still one of the best critics on Larkin) characterizes "Wires" as "a poem about maturing. but it also suggests everything connected with spring.. It approaches cruelty. But when we read a fable we know that we are doing so. and thus we as readers feel our difference from them." which would rhyme with "scratch" and "thatch" but which never found its way into the poem. Larkin's poem leaves no such impression: Beyond the wires Leads them to blunder up against the wires Whose muscle-shredding violence gives no quarter. bleating with tiny clouds of breath into the cold air and waiting beside the ewe whose "fleeces" are "wetly caked" ("fleeces" rather than "fleece" bring to mind the great greasy sodden fringes of wool that sheep have in winter). Newborn. the lambs cannot imagine "earth's immeasurable surprise. Larkin's poem achieves a tenderness beyond the reach of countless sentimental poems on the same subject. of stylistic exercise rather than of an experience deeply felt. which works like an animal fable: cattle learn in the same way as we. only to experience a "muscle-. They know no such thing as spring. whether or not we know what it is. Always. for it is only from our point ofview that the steers do so: they themselves are making no error but are obeying their instincts." This is the grass on which they will come to live with its unimaginable new color.. The young cattle learn their limitations through pain" (70). H. So successful is the poem in arousing afresh our sense of wonder at the spring and reproving us for having lost that sense that we forget that the lambs themselves have yet to experience it. writing of steers and prairies. . which it knows will come. (CP 48) "Blunder" is a superbly-chosen word. and their mystery. and there is something incongruous about Larkin. whatever his degree of empathy (and I shall return to this theme). Original and unsentimental. he holds back from assuming that he knows what creatures think and feel. It works on a human level while leaving the lambs as themselves. then. rather than on their mother's milk. it is very much in their nature to show pain when human beings cause it. Four of Larkin's poems show this clearly. In "Self Pity" D. "Wires. only "a sunless glare" and "a wretched width of cold" (CP 112). and our sense of the approaching moral. feeble.shredding violence" that has them starting back. Lawrence wrote that "A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough / Without ever having felt sorry for itself" (467). (It is an interesting speculation that when he wrote "unshell"-suggesting a chick emerging from its shell-Larkin had in mind "hatch." although praised for its ingenious abcd dcba rhyme scheme which enacts the enclosure of the cattle by the wires. is about needless pain. bellowing. leaves an aftertaste of uninvolvement. But if it is not in the nature of creatures to express any suffering they may feel (my own tentativeness is deliberate because Larkin's is) because of the weather. discourages sympathy: in Aesop an adult frog will puff itself up and burst only for us to laugh at its folly.) While the hedgehog is still hibernating until the spring. but Larkin never allows himself to be so categorical. so steeped in English matters.
(CP 130) Deceptively jaunty. and without enough to eat. is to be blind not only to the cruelty towards the rabbit that the speaker knows but is relieved he cannot explain to it. the poem implicates the true culprits: the parents. Larkin produced a delightful set of doodles on the back of his agenda paper (Chambers 45) 1: Whimsical and comic though they are. the animal is thoughtlessly bought and has its earlier wretched life exchanged for another much shorter one. exposed to the light and the public gaze. As for the creatures. I am caught in a snare! / I know not what fine wire is round my throat" (Lawrence 43). but the myxomatoid rabbit in "Myxomatosis" is dying. In its quiet drama." as Stephen Regan does (83). In the pet shop the guinea pigs. fetch the shovel -. these doodles depict a series of constricted hells. we're playing funerals now. It is worth pointing out the similarities between Larkin's poem and Lawrence's "Love on the Farm. they sleep: No dark. and nothing by way of diversion. unable to comprehend how: 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.Mam. (CP 100) To characterize this poem as "another animal fable. out of kindness. forces him to kill the rabbit himself.. Fetch the shoebox. get us one of them to keep. in another children's game. Twenty years earlier Larkin had expressed the same thoughts in "Take One Home for the Kiddies": On shallow straw. no dam. Its new housing is left for the reader to imagine. It soon dies. in shadeless glass. as a "living toy." not "mum" or "mummy"). by killing the rabbit through a virus. no earth. no grass -.Mam. they have little space (the giraffe especially). Living toys are something novel. no privacy and no food. not free./ You may have thought" [my emphasis]) and deeply ashamed at his own membership of a species that. Huddled by empty bowls. including his own work and his idea of marriage. "Myxomatosis" portrays a speaker respectful in his lack of presumption ("You seem to ask." The stress falls on "living" only to be undercut by "toys": the animal is a plaything." in which a man kills a rabbit caught in a snare and then. but also to "the speaker's inability to comfort the suffering animal" (Timms 71). with "fingers that still smell grim of the rabbit's fur.At least in "Wires" the steers can see the source of pain and learn to avoid it. ." embraces a woman who identifies herself thus with the trapped animal: "God. Between the verses. a dead toy now. made to do what its owner wants rather than what is in its nature to do. The dash after "grass" shows that the speaker would have continued his list had he not been interrupted by children who are rude (they do not say "please") and working-class ("mam. are deprived of all of their natural needs. only to be a prop.. Feeling trapped himself at an Arts Faculty meeting at Hull University in 1981. suppressing vigor and indignation. But it soon wears off somehow. Both "Wires" and "Myxomatosis" in their different ways involve animals enclosed.
D. Killed. He started writing about it soon afterwards" (Motion 475). and we hardly need Monica Jones's recollection that "when it happened." written in 1965. the subject of Larkin's "Ape Experiment Room. if known at all. is of course the animals knowing that the torture is about to begin again and their fear that it is their own turn next. (CP 214) Because the mower is of the kind that one has to push unaided (it is impossible to imagine habitbound Larkin using an electric one). Larkin is outraged as The routine begins again Of putting questions to flesh That no one would think to ask But a Ph.D. But vivisection. however. however. the hedgehog is killed by the blades without the distracting agency of electricity.the "nympho wife" could be simply a possession of the Ph.(CP 160) One senses the strain by which the vivisectionist is exaggerated almost to the point of caricature. twice. The accusatory ambiguity-.D. you see-he looked out for it in the mornings. The opening lines. too. or tightly-twisted grass. kneeling I found A hedgehog jammed up against the blades. The comma after "stalled" brilliantly enacts the pause of the stalling and adds an ominous tone to "twice. he came in from the garden howling. for having him digress so virulently. (just as his beard is) or she too could be an experimenter-raises the poem's temperature. are Larkin at his best: The mower stalled. Larkin allows the reader neutrally to experience with him the "stalling" of the mower and to carry out with him the natural step of kneeling by the blades to find out what went wrong: lawnmowers frequently get jammed by stones. Such overtheatricality. He'd been feeding the hedgehog. with a beard And a nympho wife who. And where behind rows of mesh Uneasy shifting begins. But to suggest that the poem's circumstances are the poem is to devalue Larkin's apparent artlessness that has the title as meaning at once the mowing machine and its operator. On a second reading. ." the poem's high point. when badgered by their children. and at himself for being distracted." which in turn is confirmed by the frozen violence of "jammed up. the poem's opening is grim. That "uneasy shifting." The everyday occurrence of having one's lawnmower stall twice now reveals itself to be two strikes: perhaps the first on its own did not kill the hedgehog. He was very upset. as does the speaker's later annoyance at the Ph. No one who has accidentally killed an animal can fail to empathize with the speaker's self-lacerating wretchedness. By withholding news of its death ("killed") until the prominent position in the third line. is a shadowy area known to most people."Take One Home for the Kiddies" succeeds not just because of its skill but because its target is so familiar: parents are always buying pets on the spur of the moment. only through posters and pamphlets. In "The Mower" there is no such strain. is not in keeping with the eerily forensic atmosphere of the opening lines: lights in a cluster beam Like suddenly-caused pain. but the second running-over has such force as to have the hedgehog "jammed up" (my emphasis) against the blades rather than merely jammed.
C. or at any rate about less than is Hughes'. His horses are social creatures of fashionable race meetings and high style. Thus if a poem is about people or the human psyche it is about something worthwhile. regardless of its skill." that "something" being "a powerful complex of emotions and sensations" (31). and the more urgency or angst it possesses.. while both Blake Morrison and Stephen Regan concur: for Morrison "At Grass" "taps and expresses feelings of loss and regret that might. as are his less severe followers who to varying degrees insist that "At Grass" is allegorical. Morrison identifies "loss and regret" as being for the pre-war days." (83) ." For Alvarez. who reads "At Grass" as "a fable of freedom. the reader is in no doubt of their quality. is a nostalgic re-creation of the Platonic (or New Yorker) idea of the English scene. the poem's ambiguous sense of release is readily understandable and entirely in keeping with the complex and uncertain debate about "freedom in those years. (30) Although conceding that "At Grass" is "more skillful but less urgent" than Hughes' poem." and "Next morning I got up and it did not. elegant and unpretentious and rather beautiful in its gentle way.. is uttered with desolate realization while stressing through the simplest verb. A very different stance was taken over thirty years when Al Alvarez. have been unusually pronounced around 1950" (84). an insecure realization of happiness. Andrew Crozier thinks "Both poems are allegories of an absent fullness of being. cannot do justice to the poem's two saddest lines: "It had been in the long grass. And after the statement that "burial was no help" ("was" rather than "would have been" quietly shows that the speaker did indeed bury the hedgehog) comes the line "Next morning I got up and it did not." The former. or merely an extrinsic element in the response of some of its readers" (83). emotionally. "Morrison wisely leaves open the question of whether such post-imperial nostalgia is actually intrinsic to the poem. The "bridles" of the closing stanza are a more appropriate image of Welfare State dependency than of "ideal freedom.. in the early days of what was becoming known as "The Movement. For example. "had been. part sporting.." which renews the poet's loss sharply by capturing so simply the difference between life and death. Alvarez proceeds to assert that the latter is "unquestionably about something." The assumption that the horses gallop "for what mustbe joy" (italics added) is. What differentiates the poems is their approach to the nostalgia of diminished being" (217-18). like many of Larkin's assertions about fulfillment.P.A. the better a poem it is. for a certain section of the British populace at least. however. part pastoral. Somehow Alvarez contrives to see Larkin's poem as not about anything. But such caution is a stranger to Stephen Regan. through my quotations from Larkin's poems rather than my discussion of them." compared Larkin's "At Grass" to Ted Hughes' "The Horses.Criticism.S." explicable as follows: In the context of post-war society. the first sentence devoted entirely to the hedgehog. implying not just that Larkin's horses are allegorical but that some allegories are better than others." the fact of the hedgehog's inoffensive existing.. still less paraphrase. As James Booth scrupulously points out. unmendably" the hedgehog's "unobtrusive" world. Larkin's poem. a nostalgia for 1935. On all counts Alvarez is wrong. Against this is clashed the brutality with which the speaker "mauls . "unobtrusive" both because the hedgehog was hidden in the long grass and because it obtruded on no one else's world. they belong to the R. I hope that by now.
Thus when James Booth. no jockey. It is worth noting that "At Grass" began when Larkin saw a short film about a racehorse called Brown Jack whose heyday was before the war. how "Myxomatosis. This is an affectionate reminiscence: "having a gallop" is far more empathetically warm (as well as suggesting choice and whim) than "galloping. What is damaging about these approaches is that they can tarnish our pleasure in the poetry: Alvarez and his followers can neither let the horses be the horses that they are or allow us to enjoy them. I have heard myself say. remarks that "The ominous `cold shade' in which the horses are 'sheltering' clearly carries undertones of death" (80). giving the sense of life as it is. nobody shouting the odds. and all the creatures in his poetry are always themselves. but this the poem neither . along similar lines. in the art historian John Berger's term. I suggest. the poem does not support him. it comprehends little" (102). To me it is a mark of the poem's lack of dogmatism that when it resists categorical interpretations it suggests its own richness of depth and wonder. and moves about -The other seeing to look on-. so Hughes has his hawk articulate opinions that a human sees as being in keeping with its appearance. or "just as it happened. of death. In the film. Be these matters as they may. but he does so without strain. that Larkin is writing from his recollection of a film (as a painting of a photograph looks like a painting from a photograph. who of all the critics is the one most sympathetic to animals. In "At Grass.It is beyond me how the poem can be read in this way or. and it remains only to point out that there is no hint." that Hughes' achievement is to place us in the mind of a hawk. and of the vagina dentata" (Clark 126). for horses get lonely. or he insists on qualities in them that they might not necessarily have. has to read "Myxomatosis" as "an existentialist statement about life as meaningless endurance" (212). `where is Brown Jack now?' Where Brown Jack was now was at grass. Till wind distresses tail and mane. as one reads the poem. no harness. rather than from life). on the other hand." Ted Hughes. Indeed. "The wolf is small. he writes. but it is equally likely that Larkin's poem was drawn from his own well-spent hours watching horses. But Larkin's horses are indeed horses. We would not expect a real hawk to think as Hughes' hawk does. Even Andrew Swarbrick. quite happy. moving about. Just as Kenneth Grahame picked as his principal character for The Wind in the Willows a toad because of its apparently apoplectic fatuous grinning face. Brown Jack had other horses as companions. the speaker knows that he is watching the horses across. (CP 29) The lines stand as they stand. unaffectedly and naturally. Larkin recalled that he saw "a film about. simply cropping the grass and having a gallop when he felt like it" (qtd. reading precisely." so plainly about a diseased rabbit. you know. while teaching "Hawk Roosting. usually so sensible. there is no doubting the success of the poem's quiet drama: The eye can hardly pick them out From the cold shade they shelter in. or attributes to them thoughts that they might not necessarily think. Then one axp grass." But the background is hardly necessary." by contrast. for Booth would be justified only if the shade were cold to the horses. can be said to "transform the sufferings of a wounded rabbit into the common predicament of the male" and accordingly have the rabbit being in the grip of jaws that "are simultaneously of the trap.And stands anonymous again. does indeed do as Alvarez wants and writes more of the wildness of animals than of the animals themselves. plausibly but without authority. in Motion 188). "an abyss of non-comprehension" (2). but in fact Hughes does no such thing.
James Booth is indeed right to term the noem "mystical" (84). The lines do indeed have the appearance of question and answer. a seriousness of contemplation and deeply-felt enjoyment that judges only when it is in a position to judge ("unmolesting meadows" implies that the race courses did molest). put the other way round. Reading "At Grass" one feels that the horses themselves are what is important. remains bewilderingly alien to them" (81). but rather that the poetry subordinates both itself and its maker to the experience itself. the wonder they inspire in Larkin. brings out the reverence that the speaker feels when he looks at the horses. a long way further back. If this were true. does he advertise his nimblemindedness. Three years before he died. the statement chimes much better with the poem's tone: namely that the animals' world remains bewilderingly alien to us. Nor is it as if Larkin strives to conceal his skill and we are conscious of the striving. we might wonder whether. for to do so would be to draw attention to himself and thus be less than loyal to his subjects: this very lack of ostentation is an act of homage to the animals. He enlarges our thoughts but does not command them. 1These doodles appear by permission of the Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin. WORKS CITED Berger. And when Booth observes that "the human world. felt this feeling.states nor implies. at the very least. combined with his intense liking of them. that gives his poetry its resonance. Nor. His poems about animals not only preserve his pleasure in animals and make. but so paltry a motive is at odds with the poem's deep seriousness. The poem refuses to be pinned down.. then there would be respect neither for the flimsy-minded poet nor for the poem itself. carrying into our memory our own intensified pleasure and clarified sensations of the animals that we see in our lives. John. Booth is particularly interesting on the lines "Do memories plague their ears like flies? / They shake their heads. If there is wit at all. Larkin said that when you write poems "it seems as if you've seen this sight. but the poet detects no such thing. like Hughes. in the end. And. it is the mystery of animals. but they allow us to preserve too. above all else. that in Hughes' case has him racking his ingenuity to yield more and more ways of looking at a pike." and responds that "The feebleness of the poet's wit in detecting in the shaking heads a human gesture of negation only serves to heighten the reader's awareness that such gestures are meaningless to the horses themselves" (81). the poem itself. . 1980. but the horses are shaking their heads because this is what horses do when irked by flies. The duty is to the original experience" (Required Writing 58)." it is not duty that we sense when he writes of the animal world. or simply because it is their habit to do so (the flies buzz in Larkin's simile but are not necessarily in the poem). And although Larkin referred to "duty. and have got to find a combination of words that will preserve it by setting it off in other people. It is love.. About Looking. then the poet actually watching the horses with pleasure-and surely it is significant that so many of Larkin's animal poems are in the present tense-and then. He does not emphasize the wonder he feels (as Lawrence does). New York: Pantheon Books. but which. enjoyable reading. had this vision. then it is a wit intended to catch critics out.
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