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Philip Larkin

Posted 12-08-2010 at 08:56 AM by Steve Bucknell
Updated 04-14-2011 at 05:45 AM by Steve Bucknell
Last night I made my own copy of Larkin’s unpublished poem “Dear Jake”. It took a while, pausing, replaying and peering at portions of the typed page as it appeared and was whisked away by the saintly hands of Andrew Motion. An offending word in the poem is censored on the film and bleeped out as the poem is read out; a nice 1950’s touch.

The poem is a companion-piece to “Posterity”, continuing the fun poked by Larkin at his posthumous reputation, and a touching gift to his secretary and lover Betty Mackereth. It’s a typical Larkin mix of cynicism and deep feeling. The poem looks at his life through the eyes of “Jake”, describing Larkin’s love affair as “the last singular comic episode/ in which four lives were fractured by affection,” and characterising Larkin as “an old goat.” The last three lines sound a more touching, personal note:

“Well, it was singular; but, looking back
Only what men do get, if they are lucky.
But when it came there was no thought of age.”

Larkin told Betty “This is for you. You can sell it later on.” The late lyrics Larkin wrote to Betty are gentle and hesitantly affirmative. This is my favourite, and slips nicely into A Book of the Winter:

Morning at last: there in the snow
Your small blunt footprints come and go.
Night has left no more to show,

Not the candle, the half-drunk wine,
Or touching joy; only this sign
Of your life walking into mine.

But when they vanish with the rain
What morning woke to will remain
Whether as happiness or pain.

Dear Jake

And when you wrote: ‘The substance of this section
Is the last singular comic episode
In which four lives were fractured by affection
Our subject tried so lately to unload
On one already mentioned (see page thirty),
Whom we can guess not fitted in the least
To cope with all that love and pain and duty,
And so must have been thankful when it ceased’.
Dear Jake, I know you really mean “Hey, Mac,
This old goat was so crazy for a .... he-“
No doubt the UP wouldn’t print that page.

Well, it was singular; but, looking back,
Only what men do get, if they are lucky.
But when it came there was no thought of age.

The word censored on the TV I guess is “fuck”...If it was “shag” or “lay” I think they could have broadcast it.
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