On 2 October 1974 Larkin sent his mother a colour postcard of Prince Charles, saluting in military uniform : ‘I am in the train going down to London where I shall see Betjeman and go to Westminster Abbey to see him unveil a tablet to Auden.’ On the following day he sent a follow-up letter: ‘It was a solemn ceremony. Poets’ Corner seems to be getting rather crowded! No doubt there will be room for me.’
Now the Dean and Chapter have sanctioned a memorial to this best-loved of recent English poets. Carved by Martin Jennings, who created the Larkin Satue in Paragon Square and the Betjeman statue in St Pancras, it displays the final lines of ‘An Arundel Tomb’. Because of the crowded space it is tucked in just below Chaucer’s canopy and close to the memorials to Auden, Eliot and Larkin’s younger contemporary, Ted Hughes, who beat him to the Abbey by exactly five years (partly Larkin’s own fault for turning down the laureateship.)
Eddie Dawes, Chairman of the Larkin Society, told the BBC ‘ Almost since the founding of the Society in 1995, ten years after Larkin’s death it had been our ambition to see Philip memorialized in Poets’ Corner and our first approach to the then Dean of Westminster was seventeen years ago. Happily, today that ambition is finally fulfilled.’
Following Evensong, with some sublime singing from the choir, the ceremony was introduced by the Dean. There were readings by the Larkin Society’s Honorary Vice-President, Baroness Bottomley, and by Grayson Perry, and the address was delivered by Blake Morrison. The Larkin Society’s President Anthony Thwaite and Eddie Dawes unveiled the plaque, and Rosemary Parry, Larkin’s neice, laid a wreath. Anthony Thwaite then read from ‘Church Going, and a reading by Sir Tom Cortenay of ‘Reference Back’ led to ‘Oliver’s Riverside Blues’ the jazz classic to which Larkin’s mother refers in the poem: ‘That was a pretty one’.
Larkin would be delighted to know that room has at last been found for him here.
For a lively description of proceedings by by Prof Jim Thornton go to: https://ripe-tomato.org/2016/12/04/poets-corner-at-last/
Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.