Church Going: Larkin to be honoured at Westminster on Friday
A stone will be placed in Poets’ Corner at Westminster abbey on Friday 2 December in memory of Philip Larkin, who died on the same date in 1985. It marks the culmination of a long campaign by the Philip Larkin Society. There is already a statue of Larkin at Hull’s main railway station, and a plaque contains lines from his poem ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ at the other end of the line, at King’s Cross.
Larkin will be the first poet to be honoured in this way since Ted Hughes in 2011. Larkin was born in Coventry, and became a librarian after graduating from Oxford. He was chief librarian at Hull University for many years, but his reputation took a serious hit following the publication of his letters in 1992, that revealed racist and misogynist views.
But in 2003 he was named in a Poetry Book Society survey as Britain's best-loved poet of the last 50 years. Prof Edwin Dawes, a close friend of Larkin’s at Hull University and chairman of the Philip Larkin Society, was quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying: “I feared this would not happen following the row over his letters and the claims of misogyny and racism and all the rest. But everything changes in time and it has been recognised that he is a great poet worthy of inclusion. Philip would be delighted.”
The honour for Larkin comes on the eve of his long-time home Hull becoming City of Culture in 2017.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr John Hall, said: “Philip Larkin will be memorialised very near Geoffrey Chaucer, finding a fitting place among his fellow poets. I have no doubt that his work and memory will live on as long as the English language continues to be understood.”
One of Larkin's well-known poems, 'Church Going', examines his ambivalent views about religion on visiting a deserted church, and includes the lines: "Hatless, I take off / My cycle-clips in awkward reverence."
Prof Dawes said: “The memorialisation of Philip Larkin in Poets' Corner will be warmly welcomed by his many admirers in all walks of life. The most admired and popular poet of the 20th century, his words are quoted more frequently than those of any of his poetic contemporaries, in the press and the media.”
ILLUSTRATION: PHILIP LARKIN SOCIETY