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Religion In E. Sitwell’s Still Falls The Rain And P. Larkin’s Church Going

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“Still Falls the Rain” by Dame Edith Sitwell and Philip Larkin’s “Church Going” are two poems that, when analyzed, reveal different versification, themes, and poetic devices. The works are written fourteen years apart; however, the avant-garde poetess and the movement poet still manage to put across their personal attitudes towards religion.

Sitwell’s 1941 poem commences with a reference to the German raids on London during the Second World War, thus the titular rain symbolizes the bombs still falling upon England. The theme of suffering is omnipresent, and the stanzas are permeated with various Biblical allusions. The poetess alludes to the loss of innocence through sin and enumerates the sins of humanity committed every year since the birth of Christ, as nails used in his crucifixion. Sitwell touches upon the first fratricide case – of Cain, the bloody “Potter’s Field” bought with the pieces of silver Judas was given for his betrayal, and the parable of Dives and Lazarus . The rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus are seen as the two social opposites whose blinkered and ferocious opposition brought about the impasse of violence miraculously resolved by Christ – by the reassertion of human unity on a new level (Lindsay, 1968). Furthermore, Sitwell’s religious vocation is best depicted in her concluding line “Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee” (1941). She still believes in renewed faith in the Saviour who can redeem humans if they truly want to change; their social class is not important, neither to the bombs, nor to the Saviour. She implies that although we have not learned our lesson yet, the “self-murdered heart” of Jesus will still be his sacrifice for humanity. In spite of the fact that Edith Sitwell was considered “a shock trooper of the poetic avant-garde, a champion of modernity who reveled in the use of shock tactics to push the boundaries of poetry”, she realized that “the liberating power of orthodoxy could transfuse tradition with the dynamism of truth” (Pearce, 2005).

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Larkin’s solitary speaker in “Church Going”, published in The Less Deceived in 1955, is a persona who goes to church only when he is sure that it is empty, and with no specific purpose in mind. He describes the place with an evident lack of knowledge. After somewhat mocking the church and ironically donating an Irish sixpence upon exiting, the speaker finds that “the place was not worth stopping for” (Larkin, 1995). Upon visiting churches, the narrator is puzzled and wonders what will happen to the churches once faith becomes obsolete. Whether some beautiful cathedrals will become museums while others decay, concluding that nature will eventually prevail. He also speculates who will be the last person to visit the church – experts keen on antiques, or thieves of artifacts, or maybe superficial people who love the holidays. Perhaps, even someone bored and ignorant like him. He confesses that when he is fed up with the world, he goes to churches not to pray, but to find solace and escape from society.

According to Steinberg (2010, p. 126), “the tone is alternately read as irreverent and respectful, atheistic and religious, hopeless and hopeful”. Even though he is not a believer, the narrator regards the church as “a serious house on serious earth” (Larkin, 1955) that is intended for serious questions. Humanity will always have the hunger to ask existential questions, and the church will be there to offer consolation to those in need. Through metonymy, Larkin uses the church to channel his views on religion. Organized religion gives a structure and purpose to human experience and life, albeit doing it in a superficial manner. So much as being a graveyard, the church grounds still unite people in their belief in God and Heaven. Booth notes that “Larkin remains a secular rather than an atheist poet. He is unreligious rather than anti-religious”, and concludes that “Larkin is not only not anti-religious, he is, in some ways, pro-religious both in its superficialities and in its bigger questions, and he is particularly interested in what makes religion meaningful to others” (as cited in Steinberg, 2010, p.125).

The two creative architects still find a certain relief in religion, even though Larkin’s speaker torn between faith and skepticism cannot come close to Sitwell’s unshakeable faith in Jesus. Both “Still Falls the Rain” and “Church Going” evoke a certain feeling in the common bookworm, as well as in the religious reader, which is the reason why they continue to live on in Sitwell’s and Larkin’s individual legacies.

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