Before Radiohead’s “Myxomatosis,” off last year’s Hail to the Thief, no prominent artist had dared speak of that blindness-inducing, genital-swelling rabbit disease. Or had they? Philip Larkin (1922–1985) prefigured Thom Yorke & Co. by nearly 40 years in his poem of the same name, published in The Less Deceived and featured in the recent Collected Poems (FSG). It sounds even more like Radiohead than Radiohead (“Caught in the centre of a soundless field/While hot inexplicable hours go by/What trap is this? Where were its teeth concealed?”), which could be why the song sounds less like Radiohead than anything else on the album.
Bitter, dissonant, exhausted (only more so), Yorke conjures images of poetic betrayal (“It got edited/fucked up”), lagomorphic aphasia (“Don’t know why I feel so tongue-tied”), and icy disaffection (“You should put me in a home/Or you should put me down”). It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve used your man’s poems as a jumping-off point. The title of 1994’s B-side “Lozenge of Love” comes from “Sad Steps” (also from Larkin’s The Less Deceived), to which it makes a dire counterpoint. “I can’t sleep/Why can’t someone hold me/I need warmth . . . /I won’t have the strength/When you really need me,” sings Yorke; Larkin finds himself “Groping back to bed after a piss . . . /Four o’clock . . . /shiver[ing] slightly,” reminded of “the strength and pain/Of being young; that it can’t come again.” The final word: In 1997, fresh off of OK Computer, guitarist Jonny Greenwood read Larkin’s “Home Is So Sad” on the radio. An ostensibly sentimental poem about nostalgia for stillborn potential? This is what you get, Larkin might say.