Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Born On This Day: Larkin, A Rather Unlikely Leo Poet

Whatever conceived
Now fully leaved,
Abounding, ablaze –
O long lion days.
(P.A.L 1982)

The above was one of the last poems written by Philip Larkin, born with the Sun in Leo. It was found written on the back of an illustrated postcard, one of a calendrical set (this for July), depicting illuminations from The Book of Hours, and a representation of the zodiac sign for each -in this case Leo.
"A man reaps wheat in a field bordered by vivid green. Above him burns an intense vermillion sky, laced with leaping tongues of gold (real gold on the real thing). To the right, separated by the master’s ruled margin and Leicester city’s postmark, is a magnificent flourishing lion: the sign of Leo, Larkin’s sign. And on the back? Carefully written out is the poet’s lyric translation of the scene."
Philip Larkin is better known for his somewhat dour poetry, often harping on death and other depressing matters. Not Leo-like at all! He's not a favourite of mine, though I once had 15 seconds of fame speaking to him on the telephone. My very first job was as assistant to the County Archivist in East Yorkshire, England. The Archivist was a friend and colleague of Philip Larkin, with a common connection to the University of Hull Library. I spoke to Mr. Larkin, then Librarian at the University, on the phone one day in the absence of my boss. It was quite unremarkable, he didn't speak in iambic pentameter, sprinkle the conversation with metaphor, nor did he entrance me with his charisma! Ah well, poets are just like the rest of us mortals when caught without their poetry hats on. Disappointing.

Philip Larkin was born on 9 August,1922 in Coventry, UK. He died at a relatively young age, 63, in 1985. Perhaps his depressing turn of mind was born of some subconscious knowledge of an early demise. I can find no note of his time of birth, the chart below is set for 12 noon on his birth date.

Wow! Look at that - Sun sandwiched tightly between Mercury and Neptune in Leo - what an astrological signature for a poet ! Mercury is the writing planet, Neptune planet of imagination and creativity. Jupiter the publishing planet is harmoniously linked by sextile (60*) to the Leo cluster. Mars (energy, aggression) trines the cluster from Sagittarius. Uranus (change, the avant garde) in Pisces is qunincunx (a scratchy, irritable aspect) to the Leo planets, which fits with this poet's reputation as being something of a reactionary, a curmudgeon, racist & misogynist . He totally lacked charm as far as I can tell!

The Moon would have been somewhere in the first half of Pisces whatever time Larkin was born. This must have brought in a strand of compassion and softness, which seems to have been most evident in his love of animals.

"The margins of his pencil-written manuscripts are frequently crowded with mice, rabbits, sheep, and owls. And, although he himself never kept an animal, the pets of his friends would concern him as much if not more than the friends themselves did."

He had love for the female sex too - several at a time if some reports are to be believed. It is from his letters to Monica Jones, the woman who was his longest lasting partner (he never married, seemed to be terrified of commitment) that a clearer idea of his personality might be gleaned - and it appears he did have a much softer side. (HERE)

Venus in Virgo, and Saturn in the last degree of Libra: these two are close enough to be considered conjoined, but in different signs. Saturn (restriction, limitation) so close to Venus could well represent this man's aversion to marriage. Saturn being very close to the North Node of the Moon too - an extra sensitive point - gives Saturn's hard edge extra potency. I wouldn't be surprised to find Capricorn (rulership of Saturn) rising in his natal chart, but we can't know without a time of birth.

It appears that Larkin had no time for astrology nor any esoteric subject. Apparently he was sent a copy of his natal chart by another famous poet, Ted Hughes, just to tease, Larkin being known to deride what he called the "myth-kitty".

I began with one of Larkin's poems, so will finish with a couple more, a couple with less of his signature dourness. The first reflects his Sun sign (though that was quite unintended I'm sure), the other simply appeals to me, as a "wish it were true" poem.


Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.
The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding.
Heat is the echo of your
Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.


Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.
It's hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it's been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.
Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it's a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.


Wisewebwoman said...

I'm a major fan of his, T, and have written about him and somewhere around I have the movie made about him.
He was certainly a depressive but extraordinarily attractve to women and I get that.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ I find him interesting but not in any way attractive. Maybe your Leo Sun is sympathetic to his.
My Aquarius Sun is very sympathetic to Carl Sandburg's Aquarius Sun- whenever I feel down I pick up his "The People, Yes" open it anywhere and start reading. Always, it helps.

Anonymous said...

I believe all poets are unlikely poets. It is as if one is inoculated with the lyrical spores, or impregnated as a flower might be. Here is one of Mr. Larkin's glum but hopeful comments on childhood observation which resounds with me - and, of course, is beautiful. Ahhh.... Also too perhaps it prefigures an adult awareness of some great secret of Life's. (It certainly borrows unscrupulously from TS Eliot.)


On longer evenings,
Light, shrill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice

Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon -
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~~Hi! Ah yes, I see what you mean about all poets being unlikely. In the post title I really meant that he was an unlikely LEO-type poet due to his generally gloomy style tending to depressive. Leo isn't generally known for gloom. :-)

Nice poem - thanks. Quite minimal, clean - I like that.