Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Philip Larkin's Mr Bleaney

On Poet-in-Residence there is a Gwilym Williams poem about a 'turtle in a tank'. A line in the poem refers to the turtle's expression as being 'Larkinesque'. The Larkin in 'Larkinesque' is of course the English poet Philip Larkin, one of the best homegrown poets of recent years. In the 1980s a survey of English children of secondary school age revealed that Larkin was by far the most loved poet.
Photographs of Larkin sometimes show him wearing a slightly bewildered expression. Hence that line in the 'turtle in a tank' poem. Larkin was sometimes bewildered, if that's the right word, by the values he found in the world around him. It was a kind of sad but humorous bewilderment as the poem 'Mr Bleaney' serves to illustrate. This poem is Poet-in-Residence's favourite poem by Philip Larkin. It comes from 'The Whitsun Weddings', Larkin's best collection and a wonderful book.

Mr Bleaney

'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.' Flowered curtains, thin and frayed
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land,
Tussocky, littered. 'Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand.'
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags -
'I'll take it.' So it happens that I lie
Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags
On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown
The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.
I know his habits - what time he came down,
His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways -
Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk
Who put him up for summer holidays,
And Christmas at his sister's house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don't know.

Philip Larkin (1922 - 85)

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