New Larkin poem unveiled

For 26 years, its existence and virtually all its text have been secrets kept by one person — his former secretary and lover Betty Mackereth.

The untitled poem, imbued with Larkinesque sadness about the passing of love, relationships and the seasons, is revealed to 300 members of the Philip Larkin Society in their latest newsletter.

Larkin, who died in 1984, sent Mackereth the poem during their affair in the mid-1970s. In her first public gesture since then, she says in a note in the newsletter, “The poem accompanied a letter from Philip sent when spending a week at All Souls [College], Oxford, in February 1976.”

She has apparently broken her silence to set the record straight after a Guardian report last month implied the first verse of the poem was doggerel and unlikely to be by Larkin. The verse was quoted when it was claimed to have been found in a notebook which vanished from the poet’s former home in Hull, where he was university librarian.

The newsletter thanks Mackereth, who also lives in Hull.
It makes plain that she does not intend to say more about the topic.

The poem is described as “moving’’ in a note from James Booth, professor of English literature at Hull. Don Lee, a society official, said the poem was unexpectedly experimental.

We met at the end of the party

When all the drinks were dead

And all the glasses dirty:

“Have this that’s left,” you said.

We walked through the last of summer,

When shadows reached long and blue

Across days that were growing shorter:

You said: “There’s autumn too.”

Always for you what’s finished

Is nothing, and what survives

Cancels the failed, the famished,

As if we had fresh lives

From that night on, and just living

Could make me unaware

Of June, and the guests arriving,

And I not there.

— Â

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