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September 17, 2012 by Brendan Stoodley in Essays Philip Larkin was an acknowledged agnostic, but also a poet seemingly fascinated by the Christian faith. Larkin is quoted as saying, after reading the bible: Its absolutely bloody amazing to think that anyone ever believed any of that. Really, its absolute balls. Beautiful, of course. But balls. The very contradiction in terms of describing something as beautiful, yet also balls indicates a man who, although not of faith, found the subject of religion very interesting, and an irresistible creative influence. Larkins intriguing view on religion is apparent throughout his poem, Water, which itself is a beautiful and multi-faceted piece. The poem is, at first, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek account of how Larkin would adjust the religious institution to better suit his views. Upon deeper analysis, however, the poet seems somewhat mocking of his subject. This essay will explore Larkins underlying message and identify the literary devices employed in the poem which serve to emote it so exquisitely.

Larkin is very quick to reveal his non-religious standpoint in Water. The very idea that one could construct a religion (Line 2) immediately implies religion to be a mere fabrication a man made concept. This could be considered a rather firm dig at the church, reducing it to fiction and fantasy. This is very indicative of Larkins position of non-faith and his intention to encourage his reader to question their religious beliefs. The use of fording (Line 5), however, is much gentler, although highly significant. The word is carefully chosen, as it leads the reader to view religion as escapism. In effect Larkin suggests that the church offers safe passage, perhaps to death, and helps one to accept the facts of life. The author is appreciating that religion is a pleasant comfort for some, although he, himself, does not appreciate it. Larkin is imparting his very strong opinions on religion by his selection of words with distinct connotations. The reception of these opinions could vary depending on the beliefs of the reader, but Larkins tone could easily be considered controversial and this was likely his intent. The poem is aimed to challenge religion and its followers. It is interesting to note that in one breath Larkin seems to strike at religion, yet in the next he seems to soften the blow with a certain air of understanding. He seems to say, Religion is nonsense, but I appreciate what its uses are.

The poem has an atmosphere throughout, which is rather aloof and disdainful. Larkin seems to scoff at religion as an institution. The grand, ever contentious subject of religion is briefly and whimsically mused over for a mere thirteen lines, as if it warranted no more of his time. This is compounded by the gentle, blas and lazy rhythm, which flows like water itself, somewhat irregularly, but in a manner which seems to make perfect scientific sense. The first three lines seem to gush quite freely, yet the allite rative dry, different (Line 6) and devout drench (Line 9) seem to imitate, almost onomatopoeically, the slow drip dripping of a tap, allowing the reader longer to dwell on these lines.

Larkin makes direct reference to science with Where any-angled light/Would congregate endlessly.(Lines 12-13) This is seemingly a reference to the theory of refraction appearing to capture light within the glass of water. Science is often coined as an opponent to religion and Larkin is aligning himself and his own religion alongside it. This is another strong anti-religious statement, yet the religious reference of congregate (Line 13) indicates Larkin is pulling his punches again somewhat. He seems to suggest that it is acceptable for science and spirituality to coexist peacefully, both in the world and within a persons mind.

Larkins utilisation of the first person perspective is a highly charged tool which has a distinct effect. To speak of recreating religion in the first person and in such a matter-of-fact way seems to elevate the author to godlike status. The arrogant and conceited idea is supported by the seeming honesty of the message. The perspective leads to a feeling of real sincerity, as if the reader is being spoken to personally. Larkin seems to laugh at religion and really means it. The effect of this upon a religious reader could be of real shock and outrage. The very fact that Larkin is seeking to change religion rather than abolish it altogether, though, suggests that his attack is against Christianity or organised religion, as opposed to the idea of a god or spirituality itself.

The use of water throughout the poem is a powerful symbolism. Larkin parallels religion and water in: And I should raise in the east/A glass of water (Lines 10 11). He substitutes the blood of Christ, as presented during Holy Communion, for water. By replacing blood or wine with water, Larkin removes religions colour, potency and flavour. This is a very potent message, which suggests that religion is impure. Larkin is hinting that religion should perhaps be more transparent. The message being expressed is that religion is inherently corrupt due to it being man made. Water, being the pure, natural, life giving substance that it is, would be a cleansing force to rid religion of its many flaws and downfalls. A furious devout drench (Line 9) is supportive of the idea of cleansing. The line is representative of a baptism, but the word furious is of particular significance. The suggestion is that Larkin is angry at the state of religion, but he feels that vigorous washing with water could purify it. Larkin is suggesting that organised religion is no longer truly spiritual due to it being so strict and controlled by men. If it were given the freedom, purity and clarity of natures power, water, then perhaps it would be more useful and godly.

The depth of this poem is disguised somewhat by its brevity. Some other interpreters have seemed to allow as short a time for their analysis as it takes to read Water. It is easy for one to hastily and flippantly describe the work as a comment on religion (Anderson 2004), yet it somehow falls far short of doing justice to the piece. More than simply being a comment, it is a distinct expression of an ideology. The poem gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of the poet.

To conclude, Water is an intentionally enigmatic piece. Larkin seems to toy with his reader, whether they are religious or not. The underlying message is that religion seems a foolish fancy, yet one cannot dismiss

or ridicule it fully, due to the power it holds over so many people and the fact that one can never be absolutely certain whether or not God exists. Larkin seems at ease with the idea of there being a God, but not with the way organised religions manipulate this idea. A deeply religious audience may find much at fault with Larkins egotistical opinions of their church. An atheist reader of this poem may feel slightly disappointed that Larkin seems to hold back from a knockout blow on occasion. It is Larkins uncertainty , however, which makes the poem so beautiful. The lack of a totally clear-cut message mirrors the beliefs of the poet. As an agnostic, Larkin had not dismissed spirituality completely, even though he did not embrace Christianity.