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Philip Larkin Essay, Research Paper
?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.?
This proves that Larkin is very much firmly attached to the ground. He is unable to believe in something because he cannot place it in a category, cannot find it in the same place every time. The poem starts off by concentrating on defying religion, seeing fornication as a positive thing and not having God in your life as a burden lifted:-
?That?ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark
About hell and that,?
It then ends with Larkin unable to cope with this concept and trying to justify it through religion in some way maybe because he doesn?t believe that there is nothing there apart from deep blue air. He finds it hard to see the sky and believe that is where everything ends, that it goes on for infinity as blue nothingness. This is a hard concept for anyone to understand and Larkin does not want to have to understand it. He wants to believe that there is a god beyond what we can see with heaven and everything that goes with it or just a more simple answer which leaves behind all the
clutter associated with spirituality. If this is true then it would seem that Larkin?s real problem is not with religion but with death and a fear of it.
?Water? is an obvious attempt to simplify matters. It is as though he would like to construct a religion for himself but hasn?t quite sorted out what he wants from it. In the poem he is talking about using water as a religion, which would be completely new and different, but he still compares it to religion as we know it using the same terminology:-
?My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,?
The ferocity in this stanza of using the water in such a way shows irritation, perhaps with people, so to rid himself of this he would soak them daily to make them wake up or perhaps to cleanse them. It is a beautiful image which he paints. By using water everything would be very simple, pure and clear so there would be no more problems. According to Larkin the whole world would follow this religion:-
?And I should raise in the east
A glass of water?
He uses this line because the sun rises in the east and everyone worships it and people raise their glass in agreement. The water would catch the light and water and light are both sources of life. He is trying to convey the message that the beauty lies in simplicity so we should follow that. The extent of his confusion is realised here but also his logic. If everyone did worship water there would be so many fewer problems because water is so neutral and simple and everyone would also agree with everyone else. From this it is easier to understand why Larkin has such a problem with religion, spirituality and trusting something no-one can truly promise is there at all.
Larkin does not deny that spirituality exists. He would very much like to find it in the real world so that he could use it to cling to. This is what is portrayed by many of his poems although he may realise it and dislike it. In the poem ?Aubade? which is a poem about fear of death he sneers at how religion is used to calm that fear:-
?Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,?
Whether or not he knows it, in all three of these poems, Larkin comes across as wanting exactly that – religion or something similar that he could use as security to protect himself from fear. He simply has trouble in believing in it because he has a cynical and logical mind. He would like to become part of a religion but would have to see it to believe and that would never happen. He cannot simply believe what people tell him because he thinks so much. He is a troubled man but not a narrow minded one. He does not judge people for their beliefs, merely comments on them. He also does not say things are not there because he does not believe in them because he does not know for sure and is still trying to find out although he would like them to be there for him to find.
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