This is a poem of modern literature that talks about the brutality of men by using a symbolic mower. Larkin, as he always was, is sharp in his ironic statements. His piercing metaphors dart for the soul. His poetry expresses the pang of the age, how men react unknowingly or deliberately while a significant part of mankind suffers from the reaction. In this poem, the poet wants to alert readers about the consequences of one’s inadvertent acts and the suffering thereon.
‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin directly puts light on the action. The poetic persona in the poem is cutting grass on his lawn with a mower. Suddenly, it halts and the poet finds a hedgehog jammed into its blades. He recognizes it to be the same hedgehog he fed once a few days back. The poet has caused an unmendable wound to its “unobtrusive world” unknowingly. The next morning, the poet somehow feels a “new absence” in his world. The little creature was not a significant thing in his life, but after its death, it captured a place in the poet’s heart. In the end, the poet warns the readers to be careful about their actions “While there is still time.”
You can read the full poem here.
‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin is simple enough in its surface meaning. But there are some symbolic meanings hidden in the simple words of the poem. However, the main idea of the poem centers on ‘The Mower’. A mower is a grass-cutting machine, and it also means a person who cuts grass with a mower. Here, the poet uses a mechanical mower. Apart from that, the mower symbolically represents the weapons meant for destruction. The blades of the mower not only clear the garden but kill the grasses. Sometimes it also takes away an innocent’s life, like the hedgehog in the poem.
‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin contains four short stanzas. The first three stanzas have three lines each, and the last one has two lines in it. Being a free verse poem, there isn’t any rhyme scheme. There is one instance only where the poet tries to use slant rhyme in the last two lines of the first stanza. However, the poet uses both the iambic meter and the trochaic meter to present his thoughts in each line. The rising rhythm helps to focus on the second syllable more than the previous one. The falling rhythm does the opposite. Lastly, the poet makes use of both meters to maintain the flow of the poem.
Another important structural feature of the poem is the sudden ending of lines without any rhythm in them. It heightens the effect of the tragic incident present in the poem. However, the poem is a lyric as the poet uses a first-person point-of-view in the poem.
‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin contains some important metaphors and symbols that become clear after giving those words a second deeper thought. Likewise, in the first line, “mower” is a metaphor. It symbolically represents a weapon of destruction. There is also personification in this line. The “blades” in the next line is similar in a metaphorical sense to the “mower” in the previous line. In the next stanza, the “unobtrusive world” is a metaphor. It refers to the organs of the hedgehog.
The third stanza begins with a paradox. As the hedgehog has died in the previous stanza, how can it wake up the next morning from its eternal sleep? The last line of this stanza continues in the next stanza by using an enjambment, the poet presents an epigram. The poet warns the readers to be alert of what one is doing and how it will affect the larger section of society.
‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin revolves around the mower, and the poet symbolically uses it to put forward some important themes. The most important theme of the poem is destruction. The poet implicitly refers to the mower as a weapon of destruction that takes away several lives unknowingly. It has no soul, no feelings at all. The operator sitting in the driving seat, gets his job done. The poet alerts readers to how it affects humanity and creates a sense of absurdity.
Another important theme of the poem is humanity. The poet somehow refers to the victory of humanity over the barbaric activities of humans. In the poem, the poet feels the absence of the little hedgehog on which he inadvertently caused an unmendable wound. Before the incident, he hasn’t thought about this creature. But after the tragedy, he feels it is also significant in this world. The revelation is quite interesting. Ultimately, the poet advises readers to be humane in their deeds.
Stanzas One and Two
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
Unmendably. Burial was no help:
‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin introduces the main subject matter in the first two stanzas of the poem. It is ironically killing the hedgehog. The poet did it while he was mowing grass. A hedgehog unknowingly came under the mower and was killed. The poet discovered its innocent body jammed up against the mower’s blades. Thereafter he reflects on this tragic episode in the next section of the poem.
The poet showed an act of compassion to the hedgehog once, but he forgot about it. It was his ignorance that he discounted this little creature from his world. The poet doesn’t advocate for his innocence. He rather fixes his eyes on the larger issues humanity is facing in contemporary time. Men with cruel intentions evolve their jealousy into a weapon that ruthlessly swipes away millions of lives. They are blind to the damage they are causing to the basic foundation of humanity. The poet metaphorically refers to this idea in the second stanza of the poem.
Stanzas Three and Four
Next morning I got up and it did not.
While there is still time.
In the last two stanzas, Philip Larkin provides his understanding regarding the incident that occurred with him. He hadn’t killed the hedgehog, his ignorance did it. After its death, the poet thought that its existence also matters like the common men who faced brutality in the past. They accidentally came in front of the instrument of killing as the hedgehog, and history knows it well what happened to them.
In the parting section of the poem, Larkin advises what we should avoid and what we should adopt. The poet tells us to be kind to our fellow beings before the dim lamp of humanity is blown out.
‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin is a modern poem that reflects on the modern issues of inhumanity, lack of compassion, and ignorance. The impact the two World Wars had on humanity was a major concern of Philip Larkin and his contemporary poets. How men used destruction to destabilize the foundation of humanity in the modern age, is the main theme of this poem. ‘The Mower’ in the poem is a reference to the ruthless weapons created to destroy numerous innocent lives. By referring to the innocent “hedgehog,” the poet finally tells readers to be compassionate and aware of their actions.
Like ‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin, the following poems similarly spread the message of kindness and compassion.
- Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen – In this poem, Wilfred Owen rejects the brutality of war and the cruelty of those in power.
- August 1914 by Vera Mary Brittain – This poem by Vera Mary Brittain finds the beginning of modern conflicts in divinity.
- 1st September 1939 by W.H. Auden – In this anti-war poem, W.H. Auden reflects on the causes of the Second World War.
- Beat! Beat! Drums! by Walt Whitman – The poet Walt Whitman presents how humanity trembles for the brutality of men in this poem.
You can read about 10 of the Best Philip Larkin Poems here.