Church Going

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The theme of Philip Larkin’s poem “Church Going” is the erosion of religious abutments. Larkin is largely considered to be an atheist; however, he did live in a society that was predominantly Christian, so this poem is perhaps his way of trying to understand the attraction of religion. The narrator, who appears to be an atheist also, goes to a church, wanders around, and leaves unsatisfied. He doesn’t understand the allure of churches or religion, and wonders to himself when they will go out of fashion. He then goes on to imagine what they will be turned into once they do fall out of use. In the end, the narrator comes to the realization that religion and churches will never go out of style, because mankind has an innate need to believe in something greater than themselves. This poem was written in 1954, and published in 1955. The rhythm of the poem is iambic tetrameter, and it has a strict rhyme of ababcadcd. The language of the poem is conversational, and the narrator poses many interrogatives (asks questions). Larkin uses a lot of religious imagery and words, some are used as they are intended, but others are used in a blasphemous way. Blasphemy is the act of expressing lack of reverence for God, but if one doesn’t believe in God can what they say really be considered blasphemy? That is just something to consider while reading the poem. The title can be interpreted in a few different ways: the act of going to church, the customs that keep the church alive, visiting the church as one would a theatre, and the disappearance of the church (Philip Larkin and Christianity). The narrator of this stanza is both clumsy (not tactful or subtle) and ignorant. In this stanza, the narrator talks about the present state of the church. Given that the narrator is an atheist, he makes sure that no one is around before he enters the church; he wants to be able to explore the mysticism of the church by himself. He lets the “door thud shut,” which is a bit disrespectful. The church is considered to be a holy place and holy places are to be highly cherished and treated with respect by all who enter them. Perhaps, letting the “door thud shut” was his way of seeing if the church was truly empty, because if it wasn’t empty then someone would appear when they heard the noise. The narrator sounds bored when he utters: “another church;” he seems to be uninterested in the church, but if that’s that case then why did he stop at the church to begin with? The narrator begins to describe the church from his clumsy and ignorant perspective. “Little books” refer to bibles or hymn books. In this context, sprawling is referring to the flowers that have been picked for Sunday service and are spread out in all different directions. The flowers are now brown, which we can infer to mean that Sunday was at least a few days ago, and that no one has come by since then to throw them out. “Brass” could be referring to the monumental brass that is commonly found in English churches. Monumental brass “is a species of engraved sepulchral memorial which in the early part of the thirteenth century began to partially take the place of three-dimensional monuments and effigies carved in stone or wood. Made of hard latten or sheet brass, let into the pavement, and thus forming no obstruction in the space required for the services of the church, they speedily came into general use, and continued to be a favorite style of sepulchral memorial for three centuries” (Wikipedia). He continues by saying “and stuff up at the holy end,” which shows how truly unimpressed and ignorant he really is about the church. “The holy end” refers to the pulpit and the surrounding area. The organ is small and neat, which we can then interpret to mean that the church is small or that the church is poor; neat probably refers to it not being dusty, so there must be someone who comes there and looks after the church. The air is described as being tense (anxious), musty (moldy; stale; tasting or...
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