Saturday 3 December 2016

Britain is finally a country for and Westminter Abbey a place to commemorate an old poet called Philip Larkin

A memorial stone to the poet Philip Larkin, inscribed with lines from one of his most famous works – “our almost instinct almost true/What will survive of us is love” – was unveiled in Westminster Abbey on Friday evening, the 31st anniversary of his death.

When Larkin attended the unveiling of a memorial to fellow poet WH Auden in 1974, he remarked in a letter to his mother : 'Poets’ Corner seems to be getting pretty crowded! No doubt there will be room for me.'

He will finally took his place alongside Britain's other best loved poets, between Ted Hughes and Rupert Brooke and at the foot of Anthony Trollope and a few places away from Lord Byron and Dylan Thomas. The Abbey’s masons, according to tradition, have placed a new penny under the stone to date its installation.

The decision to honour him was made by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr John Hall who said : "Philip Larkin is one of the great poets of the 20th Century in English and it's been pressed on me by a number of his colleagues and friends that it's the right time to memorialise him."

Philip, who was born in Coventry in 1922, studied at Oxford University and had his first poems published when he was 18 in 1940. He took up the position of librarian at the University of Hull in 1955 and, in the same year, published his acclaimed collection, 'The Less Deceived'. His last collection, 'High Windows' was published when he was 52 in 1974.
In December 1984, a year before his death from cancer, he was offered the chance to succeed Sir John Betjeman as 'Poet Laureate' but declined, being unwilling to accept the post's high public profile.

Professor Edwin Dawes, who chairs the Philip Larkin Society, said that he was quoted more frequently than those of any of his twentieth poetic contemporaries and : "The memorialisation of Philip Larkin in Poets' Corner will be warmly welcomed by his many admirers in all walks of life. We are delighted that in 2016 Larkin will take his place at the very cultural heart of the nation, in Westminster Abbey amongst Britain's greatest writers."

So why has it taken so long for Philip to be recognised in the Corner ?
The answer resides in the posthumous publication of his letters in 1992, followed by a 1993 biography by Andrew Motion, which caused controversy and led to accusations that he was racially prejudiced, bigoted and misogynistic.

They revealed that he, for example  :

* was strongly against the award of Arts Council grants to 'wogs like Salmagundi or whatever his name is'.

* suggested :
'Prison for strikers,
Bring back the cat, 
Kick out the niggers, 
How about that?'

* thought of Hull : 'God, what a hole, what witless crapulous people, delivered over gagged and bound to TV, motoring and Mackeson's stout . . . Hull is a frightful dump.'

* observed : 'The lower-class bastards can no more stop going on strike now than a laboratory rat with an electrode in its brain can stop jumping on a switch to give itself an orgasm.'

* in 1978, wrote to Robert Conquest: 'We don’t go to Test matches now, too many fucking niggers about.'

*  commented : 'I find the “state of the nation” quite terrifying. In 10 years’ time we shall all be cowering under our beds as hordes of blacks steal anything they can lay their hands on.'

But of course, he had written :

'Toads' in 1955 :

Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?

'Afternoons' in 1959 :

Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.

'The Whitsun Weddings' in 1964 :

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
    Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

'This be verse' in 1974 :

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.

So now, far from plot 81 in Cottingham Municipal Cemetery near Hull – where he was buried under a stone starkly inscribed with his name, dates, and the single word 'Writer' – his own memorial has finally been installed in the Abbey.

Poets' Corner became established at Westminster Abbey after Geoffrey Chaucer's remains were
interred in a tomb there in 1556.

Philip described himself as “an agnostic, I suppose, but an Anglican agnostic, of course”.

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