This is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says "No rational being Can fear a thing it will not feel," not seeing That this is what we fear--no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anaesthetic from which none come round.
Yes, you're right. We've bitten off a pretty big piece of the poem here. But there's a reason we're going to look at this stanza as one big chunk. And don't worry, you've got a nice tall glass of Shmoop to make sure it all goes down smooth.
This stanza starts off with a fairly ominous statement. The speaker tells us that this fear of death is "special" because there is no way to get rid of it, to "dispel" it. Bad news, indeed.
This statement brings us to the middle of line 22 and concludes with a full-stop, a period. We don't find another period until the end of the stanza. This is the only stanza in the poem that goes 8 lines without a period.
We know what you're thinking. So what? Well, that's actually a good question. We'd love to answer it for you, but we'd be getting ahead of ourselves. That's better than being behind ourselves, but still, let's come back to the no period thing at the end of this section. Agreed? Good.
In the rest of this stanza, Larkin tells us about those useless "trick[s]" people use in attempts to dispel the fear of death. The first of these is religion.
Larkin doesn't paint a very flattering picture of organized religion. He describes it as a kind of beautiful, lyrical tapestry (a "musical brocade") but it is old and tattered ("moth-eaten").
But Phil doesn't leave it there. He goes on to say that religion was just created to help people "pretend we never die." It's safe to say that this speaker doesn't find any comfort in religion.
Larkin also mocks the secular notion that there is nothing to fear in death since, in death, there will be nothing to feel. Our speaker calls this "specious stuff" (false, of no real value) and says the fact that there will be nothing is precisely what should be feared.
The stanza continues with a catalog of what will be missing in death: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, thought, emotion, connection. What's more, it is a nothingness from which we never wake.
Line 29 is another example of a line that looks and sounds different. Larkin deviates again from regular iambic pentameter, adding some extra emphasis to the line. It's another important moment in the poem, one of the key reasons the speaker has such an all-consuming fear of death: that there will be nothing to love or connect with.
So, why did we look at this stanza in one big chunk? Well, it kind of feels like that's how Larkin wants us to look at it. Without anything to stop us (like a period) from line 22 to line 30, this thing just kind of keeps building momentum until it feels like a rant on the part of the speaker. This part builds and builds in terms of sound and intensity—the lack of periods seems to do the trick.