Theme of religion in Philip Larkin’s Church Going

Philip Larkin’s Church Going reflects upon the place of churches in society and how they will last. Larkin bases the poem on his experience when visiting a church. Throughout the poem, Larkin moves towards a general, universal statement: religion will survive, even after churches fall into disrepair.

In the poem. the narrator initially identifies the deterioration of churches. Larkin’s word choice in stanzas 1 : brownish’, ‘musty’ and sprawlings’ give the impression of something uncared for. Brownish and musty, in particular suggest decay. Sprawlings connotes spread out in a disordered fashion. The negative description of the church shows the narrator’s first impression. Larkin’s description of the poor condition of the churches progresses to show his lack of admiration for churches.

Larkin in ‘Church Going’ puts forth the view that he is unimpressed by churches. He describes them as ‘another church’: it’s the same as the others and there is nothing that makes it stand out. While musing whether the church’s roof is new or been cleaned Larkin says: “Someone must know: I don’t. This is very dismissive. The narrator does not appreciate the cosmetic effort. The narrator also talks about donating money to the church and draws the conclusion that the place was not worth stopping for.” Larkin struggles to understand the significance or the importance of churches.

Stanza 3 begins “Yet stop I did” showing to the reader an immediate shift in the narrators thinking and attitude. The narrator describes himself as “at a loss” he doubts whether his initial views were true. This is the point in the poem in which the narrator wonders “when churches fall completely out of use. What we shall turn them into”. The narrator has already identified that churches are fading but now he wonders what will happen to the buildings when they completely fall out of use. This is where the poem shifts and begins moving towards the general, universal statement.

Larkin’s poem has a weak rhyme scheme. Larkin’s week rhymes such as “here” and “idea” in stanza 6 and were’ and ‘myrrh’ in stanza 5 suggest uncertainty and weak ideas. The narrator in the later stages of the poem is doubting his initial thoughts, realising there is more to the church than he first thought, and is struggling to come to conclusion. This is also shown in stanzas 4-6 he asks a lot of questions including: ‘what remains when disbelief is gone? This doubt shows the progression of the narrators ideas as he questions himself.

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Larkin illustrates the idea in Church Going’ that religion will survive even after churches fade. This is shown in stanza 6 when the uses of a church are listed: “marriage, and birth, and death’. The effect of placing these as a list place them firmly in the poem, reflecting how constant these are in our lives. It suggests that as long as we continue to love and marry, to die and have children then religion will survive as these are times are times when we look for comfort and would turn to religion.

The narrator expresses the view that the church is unimportant, it is how it the religious associations affect a person that counts “I’ve no idea. What this accoutered frowsty barn is worth, It pleases me to stand in silence here.” Describing the church as ‘accoulred’ and ‘frowsty’ is very negative and archaic show that the church is old fashioned and that its place in modern society is obsolete. The narrator says it is being in the church that pleases him not specifically the church. This suggests that the importance is the associated ideas of the church that mater. It is at this point the narrator concludes.

The final stanza is where the narrator draws the conclusion. He says that he is “gravitating with it to this ground. It is the church site that is important and the significance of the church outweighs the importance of the physical building. The narrator feels that the “blend air all our compulsions meet. Are recognized and robed as destinies….. can never be obsolete.” The narrator is saying that the area is so important to so many people that the place will never truly fade. “Robed as destines suggests the ordainment, the validation, of such important life events, such as the marriage, death and births mentioned earlier. The final statements concluded in the last stanza. Philip Larkin’s ‘Church Going’ takes us along on a cynic’s journey to religious appreciation. We travel from the ugliness of disbelief to finally end up in a congenial peace. The “…. tense, musty, unignorably silence” inside of the Catholic church is the sound of the reader’s trepidation echoing, Larkin repeatedly subjects religious iconography to abuse calling it “some brass and stuff”. The church has a “holy end.” presuming that God has all. He can do to rule his own roost completely. None of these things matter to Larkin the critic or the persona narrating the poem. To the author it is just “another church”, its particular superstitions and beliefs conflated with and lost among those of the others, “Brewed God.” no doubt pokes fun at the Eucharist. The poem is seven stanzas long with nine lines in each. The first and third, fifth and eighth, and seventh and ninth lines rhyme. The first two stanzas set up the conflict, the second pair creates an universe without churches, “Parchment, plate, and pyx (vessel in which the Eucharist is carried) locked in cases.” and the remaining stanzas carry the force of the persona’s final, stirring resolution. Larkin was always smug about the value of institutional religion throughout his body of work. As in “An Arundel Tomb,” the particular details of personal, religious experience loom much larger than religious doctrine. He “mounts the lectern” to read verse, at least insinuating an ultimate and ugly act of dominion over religious ritual. The verses are “hectoring.” and “large-scale”. They bother the narrator and threaten to cover over the truth of his personal quest for spiritual wholeness. The narrator begins his exit by the end of the second stanza. He signs the book, leaves an offering and almost misses the point until a transformation happens. The persona was not ready. Upon entering he was careful to make sure there was “nothing going on.” He finds the outward signs of pure, uncritical belief very troubling. As if a “simple” or the touch of a holy stone could cure cancer. Still, by the end we know the truth. Ultimately the value of a church is independent of superstition or the value of the supernatural worshiped inside.” Power of some sort or other will go on. In games, in riddles, seemingly at random, even if there is no more church. Larkin offers a personal concession to the power of the place. For whom was built This special shell ? For, though I’ve no idea what this accoutered frowsty barn is worth, It pleases me to stand in silence here.” Even to an irrepressible existentialist who cared little for religion an essential truth comes calling. The richness of religion is tied up in human longing.

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