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Church Going | Study Guide

Philip Larkin

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Church Going | Quotes


Once I am sure there's nothing going on / I step inside.


The poem opens as the speaker steps into a church—but only after he makes sure there is nothing going on. This shows that he does not want to take part in religious services or rites but prefers an empty church. It also suggests that the speaker thinks nothing much goes on in churches. This attitude is in line with his overall tone of disdain toward church and religion throughout the first half of the poem.


Another church: matting, seats, and stone.


The speaker notes here that this is "another" church, suggesting this is not the first time he has stopped at an empty church along his way. This tendency to stop by churches despite his own nonreligious nature is the main source of tension in the poem.


I peruse a few ... verses, and pronounce / 'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.


As the speaker moves about the church, he reads the Bible lesson displayed on the lectern, concluding with at least part of the customary phrase "Here endeth the lesson." The use of "endeth" emphasizes the church's age and commitment to tradition, while also suggesting religion is nearing its end.


Reflect the place was not worth stopping for. / Yet stop I did: in fact I often do.


These lines again state the inner conflict of the speaker: He feels on the one hand that the church, probably like many churches in his opinion, was not worth stopping for. Yet, he continues to stop at them. The speaker will answer his own question about why he feels drawn to churches at the end of the poem as he recognizes a universal "hunger ... to be more serious."


Power of some sort or other will go on.


As the speaker speculates on the future of the church, he imagines that it might be a place where superstitious people will come. He observes that whether from religious belief or superstition, power will be associated with the church for a long time. He begins to entertain the idea that though the church will eventually be gone, there is something lasting about whatever power it holds.


The ghostly silt / Dispersed.


The silt, or soil deposited as if by a river, represents the dust of the believers who have passed through the church. Critic R.N. Parkinson discusses this phrase with the metaphor of a "river of faith" that deposits this silt "unvalued in human consciousness." That the silt is "dispersed" can mean both that it has been scattered, losing its power, or that it might be far-reaching. The phrase supports the poem's tension between the speaker's unbelief and his ultimate realization of the church's value.


It held unsplit / So long and equably what since is found / Only in separation.


As the speaker begins to change his tone toward the church, he observes that it has fulfilled an important function for people, holding records of births, deaths, and marriages. Now, he says, such rituals are found "only in separation"—suggesting, for instance, that a birth separates a child from the mother; that marriages often end in divorce; and that without the belief in an afterlife, death is the final ending.


It pleases me to stand in silence here.


The final line of stanza 6 contains the admission that the speaker feels pleased to stand in the "special shell." This is a long way from stanza 2's declaration that "the place was not worth stopping for." This line leads into the final stanza, in which the speaker praises the church and observes that there is something about its purpose or function that will never be obsolete.


A serious house on serious earth it is.


The speaker calls the church a serious house on serious earth, taking a tone of somber appreciation for its presence. The word serious suggests the "big picture" matters of life, death, and meaning.


Someone will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious.


The speaker begins speaking in the third person, suggesting that he sees his own experience as a common human one. Someone like himself will always be looking within and discovering, as he did, a hunger for seriousness. And this someone may come into empty churches or other places of "power" seeking wisdom.

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