“I’ve no idea what this acoutered frowsty barn is worth”

~ by Philip Larkin

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 fall completely out of use
What shall we 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 or other 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 recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
The 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 gowns 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 whom was built
This special shell? For though I’ve no idea
What this acoutered frowsty 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.


This is very much Philip Larkin’s own Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard for the mid-twentieth century, a pivotal masterpiece lamenting the loss of simple faith. Faith had once defined our communities, and it’s now replaced by science, also by social science, and by the use of secular powers, corporate and governmental.


Author: MDM

Michael Dennis Mooney is a student of humor and witticism in verse. At this site he is compiling a selection of the best works using extended metaphor in poetry, with a special interest in satire, parody, and humor. Suggestions are welcome. Send your citations of favorites, by email, to mike.mooney.home@gmail.com He has a site "New Writings" at http://jcbcast.blogspot.com And a site for essays, 'His Epistles To The Philistines" at http://tothephilistines.wordpress.com

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