Philip Larkin Essay

This essay has a total of 1585 words and 8 pages.


Philip Larkin





“In his poems Larkin denies the possibility of spirituality in the real world.” Discuss.

Philip Larkin writes in a style which is that of a realist, if a slightly pessimistic one.
He does not refer to spirituality directly but in many of his poems there are undertones
that suggest it is something that troubles him and to which he gives a lot of thought. In
poems such as ‘Water’, ‘High Windows’ and ‘Church Going’ there are many metaphors for
religion or using religion. It is a common occurrence in many of his poems and although
he is not a religious man I think he finds the idea of believing in something like
religion appealing but he simply cannot come to terms with it.

The poem ‘Church Going’ paints a portrait of a very confused person. The author appears
to want to treat the church with flippancy:-


‘Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

However, there is something that draws him near them. A curiosity, maybe that this time
he will find what he is looking for. He seems to realise the importance a church holds
for some people and he has respect for this which is shown by the act of removing his
bicycle clips as he does not have a hat which he can take off. It is a strange gesture
which he says is done with ‘awkward reverence’. Awkward because he does not believe he
belongs in a church or because he wants to and can not. He would appear to feel awe when
stepping inside a church although it is more likely he wants to feel this way as many
people do. However he is induced to show that he is not ignorantly opposed to the idea of
religion and has an open mind. In fact, he is searching to find the same meaning:-


‘Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for;’

He never does find what it is he is looking for and he dismisses the fact by moving on to
view his visit to the church in another way.

It appears to be Larkin’s belief that one day religion will no longer hold a place in our
society and that churches will fall out of use. Instead of also believing that churches
will stop having any spiritual importance he wonders instead how it will be expressed as
the church will no longer be a place of worship. Superstition is brought in as an
alternative to the spiritual side of religion ‘Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?’.
He feels that the ground a church is built on is special and that even when people have
forgotten all about the church and its significance, it will never quite die:-


‘Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,’

I believe here he is talking about himself and his own experiences because he often finds
himself in a church, which is surprising because of his apparent aversion to religion. I
think he is saying that even if religion dies out he will still always be searching for
what it meant or for something similar and that there will always be people like him.

In the poem ‘High Windows’ the religious message is not quite as obvious. The poem is
about youth and happiness and the two going together due to the changes in modern society
and each generation being freer than the last. He talks about a slide down to happiness.
This is unusual because generally happiness is associated with going up. The slide is a
metaphor for hell and the fact that these young, carefree people will pay for their
happiness. For himself looking at the next generation he is talking about the sexual
revolution. When he talks about the freedom he had he means the freedom of choice in
religion. When he was young it was a relatively new concept that young people were not
forced to follow a faith:-


‘I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more,’

He says that when he thinks about it all he immediately gets the image of high windows.
This conjures up the image of church windows, especially when he mentions the
‘sun-comprehending glass’. He is saying when he sees happy, free people his thoughts turn
religion. It is as if he believes religion would sort it all out for him, it would be
something he could place up high away from the mundane that he can see and believe in.
Larkin cannot do this because he cannot see religion beyond what is solid, such as a
church:-


‘And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.’

Continues for 4 more pages >>




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