Larkin: Church Going

Philip Larkin’s famous poem certainly provokes thought about the purpose of this blog. How long will parish churches survive? What do we look for when we go inside? Why do they attract tourists still? Why are all people silent and reverential inside, even if the building is empty? Larkin poses the problems and threats, but perhaps ends optimistically.

Dennington, Suffolk

Dennington, Suffolk

 

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.

Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few

Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce

‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.

The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door

I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,

Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

 

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,

And always end much at a loss like this,

Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,

When churches will 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.

Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

 

Or, after dark, will dubious women come

To make their children touch a particular stone;

Pick simples for a cancer; or on some

Advised night see walking a dead one?

Power of some sort will go on

In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;

But superstition, like belief, must die,

And what remains when disbelief has gone?

Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

 

A shape less recognisable each week,

A purpose more obscure. I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was; one of the crew

That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?

Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

Or will he be my representative,

 

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt

Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground

Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt

So long and equably what since is found

Only in separation – marriage, and birth,

And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built

This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea

What this accoutred frosty barn is worth,

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

 

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete,

Since someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious,

And gravitating with it to this ground,

Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.

St. Peter and St. Paul, Yalding

I visited the village of Yalding on the 22nd March to sing in a concert. It was a delightful spring day and the walk from the road to the north door of the church, though short, was spellbinding. Worn-out cobbles formed the path walled in by a high bank, in which is lodged the entrance to a family tomb.

Family tomb approaching the North door

Family tomb approaching the North door

The church itself dates from the 13th-15th centuries, is a grade I listed and is very much alive today. The interior feels dominated by pillars that divide the nave into a central, north and south aisle, although one can still peer through the gloom to the high altar in the chancel at the east end. An area in the northwest corner of the church, in between two pillars in the North Aisle, was concerted in 2003 into a choir room, toilet zone and kitchen/bar, and has been done with great taste. During my concert there is was a pleasure to see the church alive with people young and old, the bar being a very welcome feature for some, for whom the choral music was perhaps a little mesmerising.

DSCF0598

A singer from the Fieri Consort during rehearsal

 

A walk around the church afforded much pleasure. Spring was starting to show itself in between the grade II listed tombs, and the blossom on the two magnolia trees, whilst not an extraordinary sight in mid-March, provided a delightful contrast with the grey headstones and flourishing greenery. The prospect from the south side of the churchyard over the River Beult was truly a sight to behold, thankfully now flowing normally after the terrible floods that blighted the residents of Yalding over the recent festive season.

 

DSCF0607

Magnolia bloom in the churchyard

DSCF0604

Panorama of the southern prospect

Yalding is a delightful village with two pubs, Indian restaurant, library and post office, and I encountered many hikers exploring the Medway valley during my time there. The community was as friendly as one could ever wish and the view of such history, greenery and a blue sky brushed my the tops of many Kentish oast houses bade for a delightful afternoon and evening.

DSCF0618