Philip Larkin’s great gift of happiness

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Photo by Charlie Solorzano on Unsplash

My favourite Larkin poem is ‘Born Yesterday’, in which he gives the gift of happiness to a baby girl.

Larkin was godfather to Kingsley Amis’ daughter, Sally Amis, and Born Yesterday is a poem to her where he imagines himself like a fairy godfather, queuing up behind the others bringing gifts of beauty, riches, fame.

Larkin doesn’t wish her any of those things, he wishes that she be ordinary.

What a great phrase that is. And how it can be applied.

You might see a dandelion, as you are walking down the street. Positioned where it is, growing out of a crack in the wall or a roadside verge. Ordinary in every detail, perfectly placed. How perfect it is, how ordinary.

How perfect to notice it, just being there, by the side of the road.

Ordinary things are what life is made of — they are tiny little miracles.

That’s how you catch happiness. Not by a firework, not by a big magic moment, but by hundreds of thousands of moment by moment happiness catching. It sounds magic.

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Photo by Maciej Ostrowski on Unsplash

In fact it is ordinary. It is the ordinariness of you can makes the catching possible. Embrace it.

Here is what Larkin wished for Sally Amis.

That she be ordinary.

And — here’s the magic part — he details that ordinariness like this:

May you be ordinary…
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.

It’s noticing that dandelion. It’s developing the muscles of the arm that reach up and pluck happiness from the branch. It’s the craft, and the art, of living well.

It never stops inspiring me.

It’s perfect. It’s ordinary.

Written by

Good mental health is an art. I am a mental health artist. Writer and advocate in mental health and story telling, work in progress.

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