A Famous Poet Has a Change of Heart

Last week I was lucky enough to have a few days’ stay with my daughter in Newcastle. We visited the Picture a Poet exhibition on tour at the Sunderland Museum from the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition featured photo portraits of famous British poets. In addition, students from Sunderland University had done a photoshoot of poets from the North East. My daughter was one of the poets!

She had recently been given by another writer friend an anthology of poems entitled Being Human and she showed me this little poem in it, which I found very moving. I hope you will too.

The Mower by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

The poet’s secretary and one-time lover, Betty Mackereth recalled his grief over the incident.

She said, “I remember too well Philip telling me of the death of the hedgehog: it was in his office the following morning with tears streaming down his face.”

 But Mr Larkin had not always set such a high value on another’s life or grieved its passing. Author Maeve Brennan recalled a shocking occasion when the poet had driven his car straight at a hedgehog and deliberately killed it.

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