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What is the meaning  of the first stanza of "Church Going" by Philip Larkin?  

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santanu2 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted July 21, 2012 at 9:50 AM via web

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What is the meaning  of the first stanza of "Church Going" by Philip Larkin?

 

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vmoriarity | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted July 21, 2012 at 10:43 AM (Answer #1)

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The speaker of Philip Larkin's poem "Church Going" is stopping at a church during a bicycle ride.  He looks in to make "sure there's nothing going on" before "stepping inside".  The speaker then describes "another church" - these words seem to indicate that, to the speaker, this church is like many others or that he may visit churches in this way regularly.  He points out the "little books" which are probably hymnals or Bible.  The speaker also describes the dying flowers from the Sunday services; therefore, the speaker is probably visiting this church midweek or later in the week.  The speaker describes the pulpit area as having brass ornamentation and other "stuff," indicating an ignorance of the purpose of those items.  While the speaker seems to know something about church, this phrase suggests he doesn't attend regularly.  The speaker describes the silence in the church as "tense", "musty", and "unignorable."  These words are interesting choices.  "Tense" indicates anxiety and musty brings images of mold to mind.  The silence dominates the church. Then the speaker says the silence has been "brewed God knows how long".  Coffee and tea are brewed and when brewed too long become very, very strong. This is powerful imagery helping the reader understand how strong and overpowering the silence is, which may be causing awkward discomfort for the speaker.  As a result the speaker removes his bicycle clips out of respect since he has no hat to remove. 

 

 

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 22, 2012 at 6:35 AM (Answer #2)

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In Church Going by Philip Larkin, a narrator has been bicycling through the English countryside and encounters a small church, still in use but at the moment empty. He enters into the church. His use of the term "another church" and additional information in subsequent stanzas suggests that he visits churches like this often. His description of the church at first seems almost irreverent, especially as he describes it containing "some brass and stuff" and refers to the sanctuary as "the holy end". Bu the end of the stanza, though, we notice that his attitude is not mocking or irreverent, as he describes:


… a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.



Thus we have a sense that the rest of the poem will explicate the tension between the secular viewpoint the narrator prefers and the reverence nonetheless felt by the narrator.

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