In the next stanza, Larkin continues his consideration of religion’s future. After the downfall of the churches, Larkin mentions that “dubious” women will come. By using the word “dubious,” Larkin shows that those that currently rely on religion are uncertain, and are searching for a way to explain life, and therefore use Christianity as a means of hope and explanation. In Days, Larkin explores the race between “the priest and the doctor,” science and religion, to discover the meaning of life, and concludes that ultimately, neither will prevail.
Similarly, in this poem, Larkin plays with the notion of the human desire for reasons and explanations, and describes religion’s role in this search. Larkin continues to say that a “power of some sort will go on,” with the implication that with the deterioration of the church, society will create a substitute. He shows his skepticism towards religion, pointing out its potential for replacement. Larkin mentions the games and riddles which people will resort to for their answers “seemingly at random.
” The word “seemingly” implies Larkin idea that this power is not random, and that there is a correct answer for the everlasting quest to find the meaning of life. Although this is unusual in Larkin’s poetry, he shows a glimmer of hope in “Church Going,” as does the persona each time he enters a new church. After this moment, however, the visionary moment is lost and Larkin returns to his realist style, in which “superstition, like belief, must die. ” As everything else, the hope that one carries will disintegrate with exposure to the world, and upon realization one will see that without religion, only the physical remains.
In response to the rhetorical question he poses in the previous stanza, “what remains when disbelief is gone? ” Larkin sees a faithless world as containing “grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky/A shape less recognizable each week,/A purpose more obscure. ” At this point, his cynicism prevents wonder and the previous possibility for a visionary moment becomes unlikely. The break after sky, leading the reader to the next stanza, reflects the ambiguity of the “purpose” that Larkin refers to. In the fifth stanza, Larkin renews his sense of wonder, discussing the church’s future in terms of its followers.
He progresses from thinking about the physical aspect of religion, the building, to attempt to understand the ways in which religion affects people. By repeating the word “last” in “who will be the last, the very last,” Larkin acknowledges the society’s shift from faith to a more secular lifestyle, and emphasizes the difficulty of retaining a religious perspective. As Larkin examines the characteristics of the devoted, he avoids mentioning the common follower, showing that he does not believe that religion can keep its true followers.
Instead, Larkin proposes possibilities for the “last to seek this place for it was. ” Each of these focuses on the physical aspects of religion, even in descriptions of seemingly religious fanatics, that are in reality attracted to the “gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh;” tangible objects in the church. Larkin’s use of assonance and punctuation in this stanza describes the types of people that he refers to. “One of the crew/that tap and jot” uses monosyllabic words that are easy to pronounce, reflecting the nature of a fast-paced reporter, eager to record every aspect to vividly relay it to others.
The lack of punctuation in “counting on a whiff/of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh” also uses assonance to bring the reader in. The “whiff” is a long sentence, with several “ands” in place of punctuation to portray the “Christmas-addict. ” Larkin continues to present a last option, for which he slows down with punctuation, forcing the reader to consider this alternative. The break before the following stanza reinforces Larkin’s desire for the reader to pause and reflect on the frequentness of his “representative. ”
Larkin restates his yearning for insight into religion when he admits that although he cannot determine the reason for his delight, “it pleases [him] to stand in silence here. ” He acknowledges that there are few places where one can find silence, and appreciates the church’s refuge. Larkin depicts the silence by avoiding a period at the end of the sentence and the stanza, which leaves the reader in deep thought into the next stanza. However, he oddly calls the church an “accoutered frosty barn,” demeaning the church’s sanctity.
He proves the growing distance that is evolving between society and religion, emphasizing that the Church once held a power of people that it has lost to secular lifestyles. Though Larkin believes the traditional religious significance of churches has been dispersed, he still finds himself “tending to this cross of ground” because it once represented, even if only on a ceremonial level, “marriage, and birth, and death, and thoughts of these. ” Although these were once devoted to religion, they have since been separated, and are no longer recognized for their spiritual value.
Larkin uses this to look toward the future, when religion will entirely disappear, and be replaced with other motives and devotions. Larkin’s use of the word “shell” to describe the church, symbolic of religion, reveals his opinion that Christianity is empty, similar to a shell. While people find comfort in this structure, it serves little purpose but to contain emotions, and reassure believers of their destinies. As Whalen writes, the persona here “demonstrates a longing for its ritual integrity, its past vitality.
“3 Churches have meaning for him because they are “the visible and outward sign of devout contemplation, bringing into focus the bearing of ethics, philosophy, and history upon human nature. “4 Larkin admits to being “uninformed” often throughout the poem, recognizing that his knowledge in comparison to God’s is minute. He is unsure of several things; at first of the restoration, “Someone would know: I don’t,” and later of the value of the church, when he says “though I’ve no idea. ” Larkin points out that many people are similar to him, ignorant, regardless of their desire to use Christianity as a source of wisdom and direction.
In the final stanza, Larkin personifies “compulsions” to show that people are merely using the church as a means of justifying their destinies. He implies the inexistence of destiny; that they are impulses which humans are apt to label as inevitability. By using the word “gravitating,” Larkin implies that this pull is not a willful act, but rather something that we cannot control. Larkin goes back to the idea of superstition when he explains that people see an appeal in churches is their supposed power, which is in reality an excuse for viewing Christianity as a guide.
Larkin refutes the transforming power of traditional Christian faith, yet affirms the sacramental power churches hold on human imagination. In them, he finds his hunger or yearning for the mysterious and the secret most nearly answered: “some will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious. ” According to Parkinson, “The connotations of the words in Larkin’s poem are used to disarm the skeptical reader of his own skepticism for long enough to persuade him to admit the necessity and legitimacy of metaphysical speculation” (231).
Thus, “Church Going” is one of Larkin’s poems where the visionary moment is most nearly realized and least affected by skepticism often evident in his other work. Larkin’s view of religion is constant throughout his poetry; in Aubade he says, “Religion used to try,/that vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die. ” In this poem he similarly implies society’s reliance on religion, while in reality it is merely a pretense.