Born Yesterday

The Larkin poem ‘Born Yesterday’, which he wrote for the one-day-old Sally Amis wishing her, not beauty or genius, but just an ‘average of talents’. It’s very taking, especially in its final passage, so I’ll quote it in full below. My reason for mentioning it, though, is not just to keep up a supply of poems for delectation or edification, but because it perfectly captures a ubiquitous predicament. Larkin wishes that Sally, when she’s grown, be spared a search for some great but elusive good which promises¬†enormous happiness but a happiness which never materialises, and in the process destroys all lesser consolations:

Tightly-folded bud,
I have wished you something
None of the others would:
Not the usual stuff
About being beautiful,
Or running off a spring
Of innocence and love –
They will all wish you that,
And should it prove possible,
Well, you’re a lucky girl.

But if it shouldn’t, then
May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
Nothing uncustomary
To pull you off your balance,
That, unworkable itself,
Stops all the rest from working.
In fact, may you be dull –
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.

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