To Julian Barnes, on 27 September 1985, Philip Larkin wrote concerning an encounter with almost the only woman he ever admitted to ‘adoring’:
Your anecdote reminds me of a brief exchange I once had with Mrs T., who told me she liked my wonderful poem about a girl. My face must have expressed incomprehension. ‘You know’, she said. ‘Her mind was full of knives.’ I took that as a great compliment—I thought that if it weren’t spontaneous she’d have got it right—but I am a child in these things. I also thought that she might think a mind full of knives rather along her own lines, not that I don’t kiss the ground she treads.
Anyway, there must be something about the poem.
The poem in Mrs Thatcher’s subconscious can only have been ‘Deceptions’, a line from which also furnishes the title of Larkin’s anthology The Less Deceived. It has the longest subscription of any of his poems, and one which may be worth giving in full:
Of course I was drugged, and so heavily that I did not regain my consciousness till the next morning. I was horrified to discover that I had been ruined, and for some days I was inconsolable, and cried like a child to be killed or sent back to my aunt.
Mayhew: London Labour and the London Poor
Prompted by this miniature trouvaille of helpless misery and exploitation, the poem takes up the story transmitted across the past: