Philip Larkin’s Poem Church Going

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Philip Larkin’s Poem "Church Going"

When it comes to religion, we can choose either to believe or not to believe. Some have faith in a supreme being, and week after week, devoutly cram into the church of their choice and recite their prayers. In contrast, there are nonbelievers. They see religion as an escape from reality-- a false hope that after living a long and difficult life, an omniscient, unconditionally loving deity will welcome them into an eternal existence.

In Philip Larkin’s poem, "Church Going," the speaker is also a nonbeliever. But whether his lack of faith is in a supreme being is not evident. Rather, his agnosticism is more the result of his displeasure with declining religion. As he walks through the church, unhappy with his surroundings, a tone of disappointment and disbelief becomes apparent.

The first stanza introduces us to the speaker as someone who is in church more out of curiosity than religious fervor. He enters only when he is "sure there’s nothing going on," which immediately distinguishes him from other people who go to church. He isn’t a loyal parishioner eager to attend mass. Instead, he wants to enter alone, when he is positive that he will not encounter a priest or believer.

We are not sure what real reason the speaker has for entering the church, especially since he does so when services are not in progress. But we do get the impression that being there does not make him happy. He seems bored to be in just "another church," as shown by the dull description he gives of his environment. The "matting, seats, and stone" most people might find beautiful, are reduced to an unexciting list. His reference to the furnishings upon the altar as "brass and stuff at the holy end" clearly shows t...

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... that, at one time, the sacraments of life were all connected to this one place. He acknowledges the church as "a serious house" that will never lose its real purpose because someone like him will always come to it. His remote, indifferent attitude as a spectator vanishes here, and turns into a deeper way of thinking which is more universal and philosophical. His original boredom and disappointment no longer fits his personality because he has discovered what attracts him to church.

The disappointed, unenthusiastic tone is prevalent through most of the poem. The church simply does not live up to the speaker’s expectations, and he feels uncomfortable in the silence. And although he occasionally has fleeting feelings of "awkward reverence," it is not until the end of the poem that he realizes not only the purpose of the church, but his own reason for being there.

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