Discuss the role of irony in Larkin's poems "Church Going" and "Mr. Bleaney."

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In "Church Going," Larkin employs irony in contrasting the common reverence ascribed to church going with the astute, tongue-in-cheek reflections of a non-believer. The poem begins with the persona expressing his/her indifference to the church’s usual sights and ceremonies. S/he then proceeds to reflect on both the concrete and abstract importance of the church—and its demise in the years to come:

Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.

The use of irony enables Larkin to dissect the church as a venerated institution in a cynical yet hopeful manner. The most powerful ironic fact of Church Going is that, though the persona professes to be a non-believer, s/he continues to go to church – and even recognizes it as a significant facet of human life:

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,

Meanwhile, in "Mr. Bleaney," Larkin’s persona utilizes ironic humor in expressing his feelings towards Mr. Bleaney, the tenant who had previously occupied his rented room. Throughout the poem, Larkin humorously substitutes words and expressions—such as “jabbering set” for television and “plugging at the four aways” for football gambling. Its effect, however, is less tongue-in-cheek and more morose. Through these mundane details, the reader gets a grasp of the predictable monotony of Mr. Bleaney’s life. As the persona falls in the same habits, s/he gains a deeper understanding of Mr. Bleaney’s character—even in his absolute absence. The poem ends on a rather pessimistic note, as the persona wonders if Mr. Bleaney himself knew that, considering the predictability of his days, his life amounts to no more than a “hired box”—the rented room itself:

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don’t know.

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