Sunday, 22 August 2010

Larkin with Toads

This is the script for my 2 minute "Pause for Thought" on the Blair Jacobs Sunday morning show on BBC Radio Humberside, 22nd August 2010:

This summer has seen the appearance of giant fibreglass Toad sculptures in Hull city centre to commemorate the death of the poet Philip Larkin twenty five years ago. If there ever was an atheist I might be tempted to describe as “spiritual” perhaps it would be Larkin. Poems such as “Church Going” express a kind of sadness and loss he felt as an atheist visiting an old church, “Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in, If only that so many dead lie round.” At the same time poems such as High Windows spoke of the freedom of the young to break free from the shackles of religion, “No God anymore, or sweating in the dark about hell and that, or having to hide what you think of the priest”. Aubade spoke of the necessity of facing the reality of death without “that vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend that we never die.”

Today is the anniversary of the death of another famous non-believer who once worked at the University of Hull and was known to write poetry, though he was better known as the writer and presenter of the BBC TV series “The Ascent of Man” in the 1970s. Jacob Bronowski died on the 22nd August 1973 and local Humanists have begun a campaign to celebrate his life and work, not with sculptures but with a commemorative plaque at one of the places he lived during his time in Hull in the 1940s. I would contrast Larkin’s gloomy fear about death with Bronowski’s exuberant Humanism and his Promethean spirit. Bronowski once said “It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it” and “knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty”. “Every animal leaves traces of what it was; man alone leaves traces of what he created.”