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Water -- Philip Larkin

(Poem #178) Water
If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My litany would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.
-- Philip Larkin
Yesterday was O-bon, one of several Shinto festivals that grace the
Japanese calendar.

That, in itself, is not a particularly interesting fact, except insofar
as it motivated my choice of today's poem. You see, one of the motifs of
the O-bon celebration is the purity and power of water, and I got to
thinking about how so many religions do, in fact, use water as part of
their litany, as a 'furious devout drench'. From Holi in India to O-bon
to the Christian baptism ceremony, water (with all its attendant
symbolism) has a central role in many rituals and beliefs.

Interesting and thought-provoking, but what does it have to do with
poetry? Not much, I'm afraid :-)


PS. In case you thought this was free verse, do note the rhythm of the
stressesthe effect is to build up to a quiet yet
definite conclusion with wonderfully restrained elegance.

66 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bob Morrow said...

Is not one possible purpose of poetry to be thought provoking ?

The thoughts that this provokes in me are probably not remotely akin to
those of Larkin - so as well as being free-verse (for I am puzzled to
note any rhythm stresses) it is also a free-thought poem ?

My thoughts are that it is not pro-religion - but then it could be ? -
lucky that my thoughts are of little consequence to anyone but me.

Bob Morrow

Andrew Felton said...

This poem has puzzled me for years. Perhaps larkin is using water to symbolise a purity that he considers to be the perfect religion free of prejudice and politics. However, we have to remember the washing of Jesus' feet by his disciples and how he turned water into wine, and how he floated on water (thanks to Moses), and how he walked on it. I don't know, but raising a glass of water seems to symbolise the star of David followed by the Magi and perhaps this poem is really about Christianity after all.

Andrew Felton

David W. Ross said...

According to Huston Smith in "TheWorld's Religions," "The natural
phenomenon that the Taoists saw as bearing the closest resemblance to
Tao was water. They were struck by the way it would support objects
and carry them effortlessly on its tide."

"Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the
water is clear?"

Dave Ross

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