One of my recent posts was about Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse”, whose nest has just been dug up by his ploughshare. In Philip Larkin’s case, it’s a hedgehog and a mower. In neither case was a crime committed ‘with malice aforethought’. Burns was giving his field a plough, and Larkin was giving his lawn a mow.
Larkin might blame himself that he’d let his grass grow too long before cutting it and also that, though knowing a hedgehog was in his garden, he’d not checked on its whereabouts before starting the mower. But we’ve all been there, so who among us would be the first to cast a stone? In his favour, he’d previously not only taken notice of the wee beastie in its “unobtrusive world”, but given it enough thought to have “fed it”, even if that had only happened “once”.
When the mower’s motor “stalled, twice”, it was on “kneeling” down that he was able to see that the hedgehog’s motor had also stalled, but “unmendably” in its case. Being twice “mauled” by “the blades” had made sure of that. Just like Burns, Larkin was not someone to ‘give this matter no further thought’. And there were feelings as well – of guilt and regret, for which a little ceremony of “burial was no help”.
Larkin woke up next morning, at once mindful that the hedgehog had not. As with a human death, so with this one – “the first day after” brought with it the sense of a “new absence”. As in the case of Burns’s mouse, life is such a wondrous thing that every life matters, and that has implications.
The implications are that “we should be careful of each other,” reminding ourselves that “other” includes all living things, and that “we should be kind while there is still time”, since death doesn’t always announce its coming.
In these Covid-19 times, we might care to reflect on the fact that as in the case of Philip Larkin, things we do, which seem harmless to ourselves, might prove to be anything but harmless to other people. To answer a biblical question, Yes, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and that should surely give us pause for thought, and careful consideration.