Gardeners’ World was delayed this week. Its Friday evening slot was filled by one of the programmes on the Duke of Edinburgh and Monty Don found himself talking to viewers last night instead.
A video clip submitted by a viewer of the programme urged those who were cutting their grass to be as careful about slow worms as they would be about hedgehogs.
The clip recalled Philip Larkin’s sad poem The Mower.
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.
I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:
Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
Of course, Larkin’s lines can appeal to our anthropomorphism, the hedgehog can become Mrs Tiggywinkle in our minds, but it is a profound expression of the reality and sheer bloodiness of human life.
The death is an arbitrary moment, it is inadvertent, a matter of carelessness, but maybe most of the harm we cause is similar. Even those who would own up to harmful acts sometimes engage in a post hoc rationalisation; who would not prefer to be thought calculating rather than plain stupid?
Men, especially, will pretend an intention, endeavour to justify an action, rather than admitting that the failure to deal with base, animal instincts is at the root of the damage they have caused. They have not been thoughtful, they have just been stupidly selfish.
Larkin recognizes his part, his responsibility, in mauling the hedgehog’s unobtrusive world “unmendably.” If the hedgehog were a metaphor for our own destructiveness, how much unmendable damage has been caused?
And the death brings mourning, mourning as real the next day as it was the one before. Pain doesn’t go away just because time has passed; unresolved, it deepens and darkens. Years later, hurts arise, overshadow happiness, bring tears.
Be kind while there is still time? It is Golden Rule advice, unquestionable wisdom. But if we were wise, we would not be clumsy, we would not cause hurt that does not go away, we would have the humility just to say “sorry”; we would not be mangling hedgehogs.