Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
- As the final stanza begins, the speaker suggests that the reason he keeps coming back to the church is because it's so "serious." This seems to be a shift from the earlier vision of future churches as haunted houses. Superstition can hardly be taken seriously, after all.
- Line 56 compares the church to a place where all human desires and drives blend together ("blent" is just another word for blended) and meet. Religion for the speaker is not just a set of rules or customs.
- It's an entire worldview that speaks to every corner of human life.
- Further, the church not only recognizes human desires, but makes them seem significant to the entire universe by dressing them up or "robing" them "as destinies" (57). In this line, the speaker is recognizing the serious work done by the church and religion—giving purpose and structure to human experience.
- Still, he also portrays this work as really superficial, too. The church "robe[s]" these feelings as destinies, which suggests that this is not truthfully what they are.
- This guy is really torn! On the one hand, he recognizes the importance of the work done by religion. But, on the other, he just can't bring himself to buy into that work fully.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
- Still, the speaker recognizes that the church's power to make human life meaningful will always be an important task. Even though he's wondering about what this church will look like at when all the believers have gone, he acknowledges that the work of the church in giving meaning to life never completely go away.
- Why is that? Because there will always be someone like speaker who will feel a "hunger in himself to be more serious" (60). Come again? In other words, people won't always be happy with just killing time and listening to the top singles on iTunes. It might not be everyone, but there will always be someone out there who looks for a deeper, more serious purpose to life. And the speaker recognizes that religion can provide that.
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.
- This desire for deeper meaning in the universe, the speaker concludes, will always make someone "gravitate" toward the holy ground of a church, even if this ground is only metaphorical, and not a physical place.
- Term alert! There is a lot of metonymy in this poem. That's when a something is referred to by using something else that's closely related to it. For example, you might hear someone say "the White House," when speaking about the president. In this poem, the speaker discusses the church as a building and the ground on which it's built. What he's really talking about, in a broader sense though, is religion itself. It's kind of hard to talk about churches or church grounds without thinking about belief in God, right? That's what's happening here.
- So, when the speaker imagines someone "gravitating […] to this ground," he's talking about the attraction of both the physical place where the church may once have stood, but also the attraction of belief in general. Got it? Good.
- The person will come to this place because he will find out what the church once stood for, that it was a "proper place to grow wise in" (62). But is there anything more to this claim than just hearsay? How do we know the church is a proper place to grow wise in?
- To answer that, the speaker says that the church grounds are meaningful because they're surrounded by dead folks. Nice. Here, the speaker is referring to the fact that the grounds surrounding churches are traditionally used as graveyards, meaning that a lot of dead bodies hang out nearby. He's saying that, even if there's not literally a God out there, there is still something to be said about this fact: for thousands of years, people have gone to their graves in the presence of a church—in other words, believing in God and heaven.
- For the speaker, whether it's a superstition or not, the church has to be respected for the impact it has had on human history. For atheists, it's not as easy as saying, "Well for thousands of years, all of those people wasted their lives on religious superstition." Rather, the poem in this moment suggests that, at the end of the day, people will always have a desire for finding a higher purpose in their lives—even if that can't be something that is grasped with any degree of certainty. So, there must be some significance to the fact that so many people over the millennia have satisfied this desire through religion.