by Philip Larkin
Church Going Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new—
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't (11-12)
The speaker starts wondering about how people managed to get the roof of the church to look so new. Again, this lack of concern with holy things shows that the speaker has a very secular and practical focus. He figures that someone would know whether the roof has been cleaned or restored, but then admits that he doesn't. The statement is symbolic, as it also applies to the speaker's relationship to religious faith. It's almost like saying: "Someone probably knows why people believe in all this religious stuff, but I don't." This is the message of much of the poem in general, and Larkin makes it especially clear in this blunt, symbolic statement about the church's roof.
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? (38-44)
The poem's speaker muses about the decline of religious faith, and wonders who will be the last person to visit the church for "what it was" (39). This could be an ironic statement, because the speaker probably can't tell us what the church ever was to begin with. Nonetheless, he wonders if the last of the churchgoers will be someone interested in church architecture, or maybe someone who wants to throw on a bib and start drooling whenever he sees something old and antique. Finally, maybe the last visitor will be a "Christmas-addict," who can't get enough of the sights and smells of Christmas time. What this entire passage implies, though, is that all of these superficial characters supposedly celebrate the church "for what it was." In other words, the passage implies that people have always come to the church for superficial reasons.
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies (55-57)
The passage opens with a parallelism in the phrasing of "A serious house on serious earth," which has the overall effect of making the line sound overly serious in a mocking way. But in these late lines, the speaker has also changed his overall tone toward religion, and has admitted that he personally feels the same appeal that has led many people to become true believers. The speaker (and maybe even Larkin himself) tries to explain the feeling that keeps bringing him back to religion, and the best he can do is say that he has a desire to go to a serious place where people think seriously about life. This is an especially interesting thing for Larkin to write, since Larkin is famous for always uses humor to distance himself from what he's talking about. The speaker also suggests here that churches will continue to thrive because church has a way of taking the desires that are common to all humans, and dressing them up with cosmic labels like "sin" and "virtue" and "destiny." This gives our lives a very profound sense of meaning that we wouldn't have without religion. Ultimately, Larkin doesn't necessarily say that this makes him a believer, but he definitely sees the appeal.