by Philip Larkin
Stanza 5 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
- The opening of stanza five gives a tentative response to the question asked in line 35, and suggests that, after disbelief has gone, the significance of the church will fade in people's thoughts over time, and become "A shape less recognizable each week" as its purpose becomes "more obscure" (38).
- By "shape," he's referring both to the physical building of the church itself, as well as to the figurative space that religion occupies in people's minds.
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?
- The speaker then wonders who will be "the very last" person to seek out the church "for what it was," its traditional religious meaning.
- Will it be someone from a construction background who is interested in the architecture of churches? (Only one of those folks, really, would likely know what a "rood-loft" is.)
- Or will it be someone whose interest is aroused by old junk? That's the best we can do with "ruin-bibber." A "bibber" is actually a term for an alcoholic, so a "ruin-bibber" would be somebody who's addicted to ruins. While that sounds healthier than alcoholism, we get the sneaking suspicion that this is not a compliment here.
- Being "randy," too, suggests a kind of sexual attraction. Now, Shmoopers, we've logged a lot of hours in front of PBS's Antique Roadshow, and we can honestly say that we don't really relate here. However, we can guess that, again, this is a bit of derogatory term, used to look down on the folks who might, some day in the distant future, come digging around the ruins of a church with a lustful gleam in their eye.
- Or, maybe it'll be someone who's addicted to the idea of Christmas, just wanting a whiff of the smells that come from a church during that time of year—even if those smells happen to come from priests' clothing, organ pipes, or that spice that one of the three wise men brought to Jesus when he was a baby. Interesting smell combo!\
- The significance of lines 40 to 44 lies in the fact that these "religious" folks—the architects, antique-ers, and sniffers—all have really superficial relationships to the church, and do not actually appreciate the deep spiritual questions that the church tries to provide answers for.
Or will he be my representative,
- Aha! Here we have a turn from these superficial folks to something a bit more meaningful.
- The speaker wonders if the person who might visit a future-church might be just… like… him.
- Now, there are two ways to think about that line (thanks for making it complicated, Phil). One is that the speaker's future-representative (the person who, by definition, represents the speaker) is as superficial as the rest of the organ-sniffers he talks about. Therefore, the speaker himself is a bit silly in coming to the church in the first place.
- Perhaps, though, this is a different kind of option for our speaker. In other words, maybe his future-rep. is more serious than these others, and so the speaker is more serious, too.
- Looks like we'll have to keep reading to find out.
- Luckily, there's more to read! As with every other stanza, the final thought of stanza 5 sets up the subject of the following stanza…