Today’s edition of Poetry Sunday features the English poet and novelist Philip Larkin. Born in Coventry in 1922, Larkin received a degree in literature from Oxford in 1943. Though he worked for most of his life as a librarian at the University of Hull, he was well-known and widely acclaimed for his poetry and his work as a literary reviewer and jazz critic. He received numerous awards for his writing in his lifetime, including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the German Shakespeare Prize, an honorary doctorate from Oxford, and an honorary rank of Commander of the British Empire, one step below knighthood. He was also offered the title of England’s Poet Laureate late in life, but declined the honor. Nevertheless, Larkin was recently voted England’s best-loved poet of the last 50 years in a popular poll.
Larkin’s poetry is skeptical, plainspoken, down-to-earth, occasionally bleak and pessimistic but sometimes idyllic and hopeful. A confirmed agnostic, his work was praised as being “free from both mystical and logical compulsions” and “empirical in its attitude to all that comes”. Today’s poem, “Church Going”, comes from his 1955 book The Less Deceived. In it, the poet, standing in an empty church, looks forward to the dwindling and fading of religion and wonders what, if anything, human beings will take up in its place.
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.
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new –
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Read the rest.
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