A continuation of the above:
The speaker comes back to churches despite everything because for a long time they held marriage, birth and death together which are now found only in separation as they are becoming more legal in nature. He calls the church an “accoutered frowsty barn” in an ambivalent tone, but then goes on to talk of the church as “a serious house on serious earth” where the natural human drives, desires and processes are acknowledged, sanctified and made into ones destiny.
The speaker starts off as cynical to begin with but he nullifies the negative ideas himself by saying that this sacramental aspect of the church will never be obsolete. It will never be archaic because there will always be someone like him who will have the hunger to become more serious and gain in wisdom. Thus the poet says that the reason why he always gravitates with that hunger to churches is because he once heard that they were the proper place to learn the essence of life and grow wise in, “If only that so many dead lie around.” This last line again could have two connotations, the first being that you gain in wisdom at churches despite the fact that so many dead lie around, and the second being that one grows wise in churches because that’s where all the wisdom of the generations of people who have died there is accumulated.
Philip Larkin, a contemporary poet, wrote ‘Church Going’ in the early 1950’s, after World War II, when the shattering influence of war was at its peak and there were constant social changes. Poet noticed the people’s dependence on the church was fading, which leads us to the two possible meanings of the title ‘Church Going’, the first being the weekly act of going to a church, or the fading away of the church. The poet himself wasn’t a believer in the church, he was agnostic and indifferent, and the speaker in the poem could be the poet himself or a persona adopted by him. The poem talks about the speaker’s thoughts as he enters a vast, empty church and wonders what will happen when the churches fall into disuse. At a deeper level the poem becomes an inquiry into the role of religion in our lives today.
The speaker stops at a church when he is on a cycling trip, entering it only after he has made sure that no prayer service is on. The church is just a convenient stop-off for the speaker and there is no sense of religiosity in him. The speaker sees the matting, seats and books much like any other church, and flowers from the Sunday mass which, “brownish now”, are dead. There is a “musty, unignorable silence” and a feeling of staleness in the church, and the lack of use and life in it is apparent. The speaker has no hat to take off as a mark of respect, so he takes off his cycle clips instead in “awkward reverence”, indicating that he poet feels a grudging respect for the church but is uncomfortable about it.
In a casual, detached tone the speaker moves around the church, running his hand around the receptacle of holy water and reading a few verses from the bible at the lectern, saying ‘Here endeth’ more loudly than he had intended too. The words echoed in the room, as though joining the mockery, tired of the same mechanical practice day after day. On his way out the speaker donated a worthless Irish sixpence, reflecting that the church was not worth stopping for.
Yet the speaker says that despite that he did stop at the church and he often does, each time feeling the same way; at a loss and wondering what will happen to the churches when they fall out of use completely. He wonders if a few will be forever on display like exhibition pieces while the rest are given to rain and sheep for use rent-free, or if we shall avoid them as unlucky places. He wonders if at night “dubious women” will come to make their children touch a stone with hearing powers, pick our herbs of medicinal value or whether they would be used as the haunts of dead people.
He goes on to say that while the church may not have religious power, it will continue to have some mysterious power. He says religion is already dead, soon superstition too will die, and when this too is dead then the physical building itself will fall to ruin. The speaker wonders that as the purpose of the church becomes more obscure with each passing week, who will be the very last person to seek the church out for its religious purpose it once served. He wonders if it’ll be a crew of archaeologists, a “ruin-bibber” lusting for antiques, a Christmas addict wanting to absorb like a sponge the atmosphere of yuletide or his “representative.” He wonders if it’ll be someone bored and uninformed like him who, aware that the last dregs of religiosity in church are dispersed, still takes the trouble of making his way through the vegetation to get there.
As found in the 'Church Going Study Guide' on this website... “Church Going,” a poem of seven nine-line stanzas, is a first-person description of a visit to an empty English country church. The narrator is apparently on a cycling tour (he stops to remove his bicycle clips), a popular activity for British workers on their summer holiday. He has come upon a church and stopped to look inside. Not wishing to participate in a worship service, the visitor checks first to make “sure there’s nothing going on.” He will eventually reveal that he is an agnostic.
From my own view;
I believe the poet believes that those who believe in a religion behave like 'sheep' in their means of all trying to behave appropriately, and thereby alike, for their religion. The poet makes it seem as though this causes a lack of individuality, and generalises people to an extent.
The poet makes clear that when you stop 'believing' and 'disbelieving', anything is possible, and everything is clear even though we are placed in ambiguous territory, "...belief, must die...what remains when disbelief has gone?/ Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky."
He suggests an acknowledgement that people like regularity, people like to know things and this is why they pertain to religion.
He focuses on the preoccupation- anything is possible. No speech should be made for/against, it is unknown.