[Skip Navigation]

Plagiarist Poetry Sites: Plagiarist.com | Poetry X | Poetry Discussion Forums | Open Poetry Project | Joycean.org
Enter our Poetry Contest
Win Cash and Publication!

Visitors' Comments about:

The Mower

Philip Larkin

Add a new comment.

Added by: paul mckenzie
Easy come, easy go...
Leaves of Grass
Added by: Monica Jones
“Leaves of Grass”, A Major Literary Event

“The Writer in the Garden” is an exhibition at the British Library whose central exhibit concerns the “The Mower”, Larkin’s threnody for the untimely, unexpected and unwanted death of a hedgehog which fell to the sharp, powerful and unyielding blades of his trusty Qualcast Commodore, whilst mowing his “sodding grass”. (1)

Such is the energy, industry and spirit of modern literary scholarship, and the archival care of the British Museum, that we are able now to examine the lengthy correspondence which Larkin had with his lawn mower supplier. The anally retentive poet (and fixated, according to the Poet Laureate’s examination of his stash of pornography) had carefully preserved copies of his correspondence with these troublesome , and it has to be said, unhelpful and difficult purveyors of lawnmowers to Yorkshire gardeners and greenkeepers. Their pivotal role in the genesis or at least major influence on this major work casts a fascinating insight into the complex and often unseen struggles between poetic endeavour and it’s need to deal with, and confront the apparently absurd but nonetheless realistic problems of urban gardening.

This correspondence commenced on October 23rd 1979 when the poet wrote to East Yorkshire Lawnmowers to say,” I am still not happy with the Webb lawnmower that I bought last month”. This was the replacement for the trusty hedgehog mangling Qualcast Commodore to which he had to resort to complete his lawnmowering, as with the Webb machine, ”the blades continually jammed”. It is not difficult for those familiar with the mordant wit, curmudgeonly behaviour and reported obscene tropes of speech, that peppered his conversation, how the perspiring and portly poet, recalled his lawnkeeping problems to his colleagues and fellow writers. It is one of the puzzles facing scholars that there is, apparently, no written record from anybody, about the stories of his struggles with his gardening machinery, which must surely have been a source for dinner table anecdote or footnote to his jocular missives. Perhaps some nuggets of literary history lie in a Texas University filing cabinet, waiting for some academic truffle hound to unearth and complete this, so far, unsatisfactorily incomplete tale.

As a legal afterthought, his peroration to this first letter, the opening salvo in this eighteen months of correspondence and telephone calls, he resorted to thinly veiled legal threats, “to put on record .. it does not at present do the job for which it was purchased”.

The respondent was either negligent, or wilfully mischievous by addressing his reply to Dr Larking and displayed a churlish self serving insouciance, regrettably often found amongst the merchant classes, who suggested,” he had neglected the care of his clutch cables”.

Winter was due and there were continuing problems with long grass, and wet grass, and further letters from the lugubrious librarian. He was however reluctant prepared to wait for the spring for a satisfactory response involving a request for demonstrations from the suppliers staff. More notes and date stamped University Library filing cards record a lengthy series of telephone conversations which terminated on November 20th as he continued to fume about the inadequacies of the Webb product in tackling his troublesome turf.

Undaunted, it appears that in the spring, and probably at considable costs , “Dr Larking” purchased, what was claimed to be a more robust product from New Zealand, described as a grass cutter, not a suburban lawnmower. The Norlett, was designed it was claimed, for longer grass. It as this point that the exhibition organisers called on the experience and knowledge of Brian Radam. the curator of the British Lawnmower Museum. It must be remembered that this high authority of the history of grass cutting is responsible for the care of the national heritage collection, including the discarded machinery of Prince Charles and his sometime wife Lady Diana, Vanessa Feltz, Alan Titchmarsh and also Brian May, who it may be remembered played the National Anthem (recorded on television) from the roof of Buckingham Palace to the invited guests who were sat on the carefully protected but flawless Palace lawns when celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

The National Collection, extensive as it is, does not include the subsequent model that the expatriate from Coventry, the home of engineering excellence, purchased, to cope with the lengthy and invariably wet grass of 105 Newland Park, the shabby middle class suburb where Larkin lived in an evidently persistently moist Hull. Here, Monica Jones, one of the many and celebrated mistresses of his younger days and partner of his fading years, was able to continue the struggle with the lawns which had proved such a frequent coda throughout his extensive correspondence. Whilst this Blue painted Victa 160 cc super two stroke was not the machine which destroyed the hedgehog of the poem, it had, after the death of Monica Jones, found it’s way, as part of her effects into the cellars of the Brynmor Jones library at Hull University.

It is a monument to the indefatigable resolve of the organisers of the exhibition that this model has been loaned to the British Library as a suitable centrepiece to the contribution that the lugubrious librarian made to the celebration of the English Garden – albeit, limited it appears, to recording the death throes of a snuffling hedgehog within the whirring blades of the poetically propelled chariot of death.

The 11 line, 99 word poem can be seen in the original and much amended hand written form. It is perhaps appropriate in this age of public demand for apologia for bombings. holocausts and military mayhem, that the unknown and unnamed hedgehog’s nemesis, is identified and his regrets are displayed for the public to see, consider and weigh, and place contextually in the wider frame of reference of English writing.

Philip Larkin bequeathed half his estate to the RSPCA.

Entrance to the exhibition is free and continues until April 2005. (British Library Tel 020 7412 7332). A wide range of Refreshment facilities are available and extensive public toilets (including disabled and baby changing rooms) are available.

1. Letter to Anthony Thwaite September 16th 1974 – see Collected Letters of Philip Larkin Faber & Faber. London 1987. pp 234/5

» Add a new comment.

« Return to the poem page.