Unknown Philip Larkin poem found in shoebox
A missing piece in the portrait drawn by Philip Larkin of his secretary and lover, Betty Mackereth, has been filled in with the discovery of a previously unpublished poem, “Dear Jake”.
Discovered in a tatty envelope for internal Hull University communications among a shoebox full of letters, the poem is a touching address to a woman who brought some happiness to the latter period of Larkin’s life.
The poem was found by the producer Simon Pass during the making of a documentary about the poet’s relationship with Mackereth, due to be shown on BBC4 tomorrow night, to mark 25 years since his death in 1985. According to Pass, the fact that the poem was typed is a signal that this should be considered “a completed piece”.
Pass said that the manuscript was enclosed with a card from Larkin saying, “This is for you. You can sell it later on,” and explaining that it should be read in conjunction with “Posterity”, his 1968 poem imagining a cynical biographer misunderstanding his life.
The former poet laureate, Andrew Motion, who first revealed the relationship in a biography of Larkin published in 1993 and who presents the programme, said that while the poem is “not absolutely premier division Larkin”, it is a marvellous discovery.
“It’s a little, new piece of the jigsaw,” he said, “which gives a very sweet and touching picture of this episode of his life”. Larkin’s relationship with his secretary changed in 1976 after the poet suggested she should invite him in for coffee, he explained, though as she had been his secretary for 19 years “he didn’t exactly pounce”. “Dear Jake” dates from this year.
“It’s a very sweet and loving poem,” Motion added, “in which he’s grateful to her for being there, and also for being experienced, because on the one hand she was not too shocked and on the other she was not too adhesive.” The poem confirms that Mackereth did “cheer him up in what he was already thinking of as the last part of his life”.
Larkin’s relationship with his secretary, which was conducted entirely in secret during the poet’s life, was one of the three affairs that shaped the poet’s emotional life â€“ a complicated arrangement described in “Dear Jake” as “four lives … fractured by affection”. A relationship with the academic Monica Jones, whom he met while he was working as a university librarian in Leicester, lasted from 1947 until his death. An on-off relationship with Maeve Brennan, who worked with Larkin at the Hull University library, began in 1971 and lasted for almost two decades.
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Philip Arthur Larkin, (9 August 1922 â€“ 2 December 1985) is widely regarded as one of the great English poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. His first book of poetry, The North Ship, was published in 1945, followed by two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), but he came to prominence in 1955 with the publication of his second collection of poems, The Less Deceived, followed by The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974). He contributed to The Daily Telegraph as its jazz critic from 1961 to 1971, articles gathered together in All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961â€“71 (1985), and he edited the Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (1973). He was offered, but declined, the position of poet laureate in 1984, following the death of John Betjeman.