A little poetry -- "Church going" by Philip Larkin

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A little poetry -- "Church going" by Philip Larkin

I read this poem in my poetry class on Tuesday. I picked the poem having never read it before that day. I must say that after reading it I was pleasantly surprised and glad I had read it. After re-reading it numerous times, I thought it would be a nice poem to share here. I see many themes and ideas within the poem that both atheists and theists can relate to and meaningfully discuss. Quite possibly, I think that the poem can be quite an enjoyable read for anyone concerned with our usual topics for discussion here. May I present:


Church Going

by Philip Larkin


Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
"Here endeth" much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.



          I enjoy the poem so much because of its Orwellian imagery of religion forgotten and churches deserted. Coupled with the question "What to do when religion dies?", I see the poem expressing the remaining need in individuals to think about "serious" topics. Traditionally, according to the poem, church was one of the places where "serious" issues were discussed. Contemplating a time when churches are empty and religion is useless, what does one do with churches, and where does one go to explore "serious" questions? The poem's illustration of the fleeting nature of religion contrasted with the universal desire to still contemplate the serious questions in life is a powerful idea, and one that I enjoy contemplating very much. I would love to hear what you have to say about the poem. Also, I think it would be fun for everyone to say what their favorite line from the poem is. Mine is:


                                  "Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,"




The implication that we should put Darwinism on trial overlooks the fact that Darwinism has always been on trial within the scientific community. -- From Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller

Chaos and chance don't mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our abilities to grasp and describe it. -- From From Certainty to Uncertainty by F. David Peat

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     "so many dead lie

     "so many dead lie round"

    Yeah,  the dead looking for "life", a meaning ..... something to worship, to save them from hating their very life  ....  Inventing heaven , and an after this life ....   

   To me, religious people are the dead  .....  and so said Buddha/Jesus. This is the nitty gritty now, AWAKE ..... raise the dead, cure the blind ..... heal the sick ..... "so many dead lie around" ....   This is the kingdom/heaven NOW said big J. AWAKE, said Buddha ..... help the dead !      

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Cheers for that.  That's

Cheers for that.  That's one of Hitchens's favorite poems on the subject, along with John Betjeman's "In Westminster Abbey".

"The whole conception of God is a conception derived from ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men."
--Bertrand Russell

Jacob Cordingley
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I've not come across this

I've not come across this poem before but I do like Larkin's poetry.