‘Church Going’

Here’s a link to Philip Larkin reading his poem, ‘Church Going’, and here is a definition and a picture of a rood loft (but don’t worry about this too much, the speaker in the poem, like most of us, seems not to know what a rood loft is).


And here is a link to the poem, and that final stanza again:

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.

Please post your comments on the poem below, in the ‘comments’ section. I’m curious to read your responses. If you have any questions about the poem, about any aspect of it you don’t understand, or about any of Larkin’s other work, you can also post them here.

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14 Responses to ‘Church Going’

  1. nimetpoyraz20900260 says:

    When I read “Church Going”, I understand that he is not sure of his ideas about religion. He is between belief and disbelief, but he wants to find something that can save him from this uncertainty. Since he is in need of answers for the questions in his mind, throughout the poem he continuously ask questions. For example, the narrator of the poem affirms, “Cleaned, or restored?” (12) and “Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?” (27) These lines indicate how Larkin is trying to find something that can solve his problems. English poet, Andrew Motion affirms that the structure of Larkin’s poems shows “a debate between hope and hopelessness, between fulfillment and disappointment” (Motion 72). We can understand from Motion’s statement that Larkin’s poetry generally indicates a conflict between two things. I agree with Motion, because in “Church Going”, Larkin shows his conflict between belief and disbelief, religion and irreligion. Graham Holderness states, “Larkin’s poetry is distinctively incapable of making sense of the experience, of endowing death with any meaning”. I think he is right that Larkin’s poetry shows an inability to make sense of death, because death becomes meaningful when someone believes after- life and believing after-life means becoming religious. However, as we can understand from “Church Going”, Larkin is not a religious man and he is between belief and disbelief. A poet who is not sure of his religious thoughts cannot make death become meaningful in his poetry; and therefore, I think Graham Holderness is right. Finally, as Ronald Draper says Larkin is seen as both negative and positive poet and like most of his other poems, Larkin shows his negativity in “Church Going”, since at the beginning of the poem he shows his negative, hopeless and disappointed thoughts about religion and church. As a whole, I liked this poem just like Larkin’s other poems, since he directly and clearly shows his ideas, uncertainties and conflicts in the poem.

    Source: Motion, Andrew. Philip Larkin. London, 1982
    Graham Holderness, Philip Larkin: the limits of experience
    Ronald Draper, The Positive Larkin

  2. the speaker just comes out and admits that he’s pleased by the church because it’s a serious place for serious questions. Humanity, he concludes, will always have a hunger to ask those big questions like “Why are we here?” and “Where do we go when we die?” And for this reason, the kind of urge that created religion in the first place will never go away, even if organized churches do.

  3. 20801343l says:

    The poem “Church Going”, used as evidence of Larkin’s boredom with life, is an interesting case in point. It creates a change of tone and interact between two basic personality traits in the poet’s work as a whole: the one clever, the other more open and sensitive. The poem is an exploration of the self, with the church acting as an present stimulus. As the exploration proceeds, what the readers witness is the ascension of a more serious voice, the emergence of a curious doubleness of identity in the speaker. Where one voice is skeptical and often turns to the caustic, the other is more sensitive and tries towards praise. When we look at the end of the poem, a man remembers that he is “mixed up with earth” even though he is also gesturing towards an eternal land of the spirit. His attitude holds him back from the decisiveness of faith. After his praise of sacredness of the place as a “serious house on serious earth”, he concludes: “And that much never can be obsolete/ Since someone will forever be surprising/…/If only that so many dead lie round” (55-64). Throughout the poem the speaker searches for spirituality, and we can deduce that he is a spiritual, but not religious man.

  4. ie20902343 says:

    I think the title is very interesting. When we think about Larkin’s ideas on religion and the Church, I believe we can interpret the title in different ways. For example, the title might suggest attending to a church basically. Secondly it could be that, the values of the Church are dying away, and the importance of the Church in the society or in Larkin’s eyes is diminishing. Thirdly, it can suggest the fact that the ideas of the Church still go on, continue although not as prominent as before. I think he’s criticizing some superstitions related to Church when he talks about turning the place into a tourism attraction or a place where people can cure themselves by touching a stone. These might be the things that keep the Church going. We see this idea of ‘Church Going’ when he states, “For, though I’ve no idea what this accoutred frowsty barn is worth, It pleases me to stand in silence here”. The value of the Church is not about the stones inside or superstitious stuff, but rather a church is a place where he finds peace?

  5. 20801870ss says:

    When I saw the title “Church Going”, I realized that it cannot have one meaning. I thought three different possible meanings or implications for the title before reading. One idea is “going” to church as a ritual on Sundays, the other possible meaning is that church is going and lose its effect on people; and the last one is its spiritiual help standing for people. After reading, it is quite obvious that in “Church Going”, the persona discusses the usefulness and futiliy of going churches although he seems that he does not know much about the church and religion. As an evidence, in the fifth line, he sees its holy objects as “some brass and stuff”. He seems he does not feel any respect for the sacredness of the church or religion because of his ignorance. In addition, he says “tense, musty, unignorable silence” in the church in the seventh line that make us know that the persona does not feel any feeling related the church.
    However, to some extent, the persona seems to be in search of some spiritual help or relaxation. In that sense, one can say that he is spiritual but is not supposed to be a religious man. He is in need of spirituality. Therefore, he thinks what will happen when all religious things come to an end and when all the believers go or rejects to believe. So, that kind of thinking on religion makes him curious about this subject. And asks lots questions because of his curiosity in the poem like “But superstition, like belief, must die,/ And what remains when disbelief has gone?” (34- 35). He cannot find the answers but he does not stop asking questions as well. According to my interpretation, I think that he wants to believe in someting but he does not want to believe blindly in religion or what else so he asks questions throughout the poem in order to get rid of his ignorance on church and religion.

  6. n20900754 says:

    Reading through the poem, we understand that although the speaker does not know much about the churches or he is not a religious person, he has this hunger for finding something that will answer the questions in his mind. The main characteristic of the speaker is his tendency to ask questions and at the end of the poem, we see that he does not come out with certain answers or solutions to these questions. And although he is not a religious person, we cannot say that he is completely faithless. He is somewhere between belief and disbelief, and again, we do not find out what exactly he thinks about religion. He asks the question, “What will happen to the churches?” and the title suggests some kind of answer to this question. The title ‘Church Going’ gives the sense that churches are dying away and they are losing their effect on people. So, the speaker focuses on the possibilities related to what might happen when the last believer in the world is gone. He says that these churches may be turned into touristic places to gain material wealth or they may be turned into spiritual or sacred places where superstitious people go and pray. As the speaker talks about these possibilities, we sense that he actually does not really care about what will happen to these churches, which reveals his ignorance and irrelevance about religion. As I stated earlier, the poem does not give a certain solution or answer to the questions the speaker asks. It only reflects the thoughts that cross the mind of an ignorant person.

  7. unalemre29 says:

    Besides Larkin’s the dubious ideas about religion, or christianity in this case, there are some obvious criticism on the people who go to church for a particular aim. These aims mostly reflect the ungratefulness of human beings because some people visit the church for weirdest purposes. Some come to church to “make their children touch a particular stone” (29). The action will probably be remembered by these children but they would not know why they touched the stone. Some others will try to find the cure to cancer by picking “simples” (30) or some “Christmas addict[s]” (43) will pay a visit to church because they have rendered it as a tradition which they do it in a certain time of the year. While there are people who do come to the churches for purposes which are either meaningless or dubious, it is not surprising that Larkin has such obscure ideas of christianity and of going to church.

  8. Dilara says:

    What at first looking like a disrespectful attitude towards the church later turns out to be an admiration even though having no religious beliefs. This is such a nice poem with its contradictions. Faith and skepticism are so close to each other even though they seems to be just the opposites. One thing could make you believe in God(s), and another thing makes you leave all the beliefs behind. This dilemma will never end in my opinion as long as there are humans lining in this world.


  9. betulerdem says:

    the attitude of the speaker is very similar to me because I mostly find myself at different places that I have no purpose to fulfill but I just be there to be. I mostly do not have any better place to go and I just linger around with no aim at all but in complete boredom. Larkin’s attitude is resembles that because he goes to church to sit, not to pray or donate anything. It is like going to a restaurant and ordering something without being hungry or desiring a certain food and observing the windows of the restaurant out of boredom. I think most of the population lingers around in boredom without any aim at all because of the century that we live in. The world has changed and it has made us people who spend time at useless places all the time because there is no better place we want to be so we just sit and look at the windows and donate without intending it.

  10. b20801711y says:

    Philip Larkin’s poem “Church Going”, displays the signs of poetic persona’s weariness of life. The poem sets out a change of tone and interplays between a different couple of personality characteristics. When we deeply look at the poem itself and the poetic persona’s interpretations, we can see two kinds of personalities: first one is witty and the other one is more emotional and frank. The poem is like a battle of two personalities and the aim of the poetic persona is the exploration of the self. When it comes to the church, we can interpret it as a notion of provocation on the way of exploration of the self. In the process of the discovery, the tone of the poem turns out to be more serious and the emphasis of poetic persona’s dual identity gets more clear: first voice is more bitter and leery and the other one is more emotional and ardent.

  11. ceren20601875 says:

    Even though Larkin, as a poet of The Movement, rejects modernist poetic forms, he deals with somewhat modernist concerns in “Church Going”. Religion, which has mostly been considered as one of the most important aspects of life and society, is the central theme, yet the speaker imagines or more appropriately predicts the church going into disuse. He says “when churches fall completely out of use” and not “if”. He has no expectations from and is bitter and pessimistic about the future, specifically of the church, and he uses a highly sarcastic tone about the church’s fate; “… 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?”. He is lonely and prefers it that way; he only goes into the church after he makes sure “there’s nothing going on”. Church going is a communal event and is a way for people to socialize and when it falls into disuse, more and more people will become alienated from society like the speaker. He, in a way, recognizes the church’s important role when he refers to it as “this special shell”. It is special and sometimes a sanctuary for some people and like a shell, it protects, or as some people believe it does, what is inside. However, he calls it “this accoutred frowsty barn” with a condescending tone in the next line. The poem shifts between the speaker’s hope and despair; his need to believe and his apparent disbelief. He always ends up in a church even though he cannot find what he is looking for; most probably because he does not even know what it is, and ” it pleases me (the speaker) to stand in silence here”. Even though Larkin rejects modernist forms and employs a more colloquial language and an anti-intellectual tone, his concerns are mostly modernist ones; alienation, pessimism and despair, questioning values which have constituted an important part of society and perhaps have been taken for granted, and disbelief.

  12. Larkin’s tone, meaning both the tone of his pen in the poem, and also the tone of his voice in the record we listened to in class, represents the serious, silent, “gravitating”ly dull, and even boring athmosphere of the church. Indeed, in my opinion Larkin’s approach to the church, judging by his actions, such as thinking about who will be the last one to visit the place (as opposed to thinking about God, universe, and life itself, subjects more frequently thought of under a church’s roof), and his self-interrupted recital of “here endeth”, and even the Irish sixpence he leaves as donation, is rather cynical and full of irony. Indeed, his thoughts regarding religion is clear: “But superstition, like belief, must die”

  13. artun352 says:

    In his poem “Church Going”, we can observe Larkin’s fascination with the concept of religion. Although he doesn’t believe in religion or God, he marvels at people’s strong faith. He visits churches once he makes sure that it is empty “Once I am sure there’s nothing going on/ I step inside, letting the door thud shut”. As he steps inside, he starts to observe in an attempt to understand this phenomenon, but his efforts are rendered unavailing and he thinks that his visit wasn’t worthwhile. We can say that although he cannot understand or believe in God, he cannot stop himself from visiting churches either, which might be a demonstration of his guilty conscience in that he doesn’t believe in god but he has internalized the rules and moral doctrines preached by the Christianity and imposed by the society and now he feels guilty for rejecting what the rest of the society embrace with open arms and closed minds. His visits to church can be interpreted as his attempt to find the signs that will lead him to the faith. He starts to contemplate on the function of the churches and what their purpose would be once the concept of religion is overridden. He cannot decide whether to let them decay, “avoid as unlucky places” or restore them as a show place for visitors. I think the persona suffers from a hole in his life that he might have diagnosed as the loss of the spirituality. Through his visits to churches, he tries to see the church and religion through the lenses of the society hoping that it will gain him access to the spiritual world that all the believers seems to share.

  14. It is a really interesting poem in that the speaker’s tone is so casual even though he is describing an empty church, which is a holy place. He just walks in, takes a look around. The altar is “the holy end” for him and the preparations for Sunday are some flowers, “brass and stuff”. He reflects the gradual and general alienation from religion and thus the churches. His attitude is an example of a more general approact to the church. His reflections on what to do with the churches when religious belief completely disappears are evidence of this. However, the complete disappearence of belief is worrying for the speaker as well. So, he finds the undeniable use for the churches. They are the places where people go to get “more serious”. In that aspect the church will prove usefull still after the end of religion.

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