Cracow, The Pedagogical University
English literature prides itself on a splendid tradition of religious verse, starting with the medieval Dream of the Rood, through its flourishing in the Baroque (John Donne, George Herbert) to include eminent modernists (T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden) in the 20th century. Unfortunately, the progress of secularisation in Western Europe has led to a considerable decline of religious verse. Despite these inauspicious conditions, however, one may still encounter poets for whom the problems of religion are of primary importance. One of them was the Welsh priest-poet Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913–2000). One of the main issues of his large oeuvre was the problem of God’s apophatic nature and the difficulties the believers must face in their attempts to probe the mysteries of transcendence. This essay sets out to examine just one poem by Thomas which touches upon the above-mentioned questions. Its lyrical “I” is a solitary man in an empty church, who is grappling with the most fundamental questions of faith.
At times, even the least likely writers find they are drawn to religion, and Philip Larkin’s Church Going (1922–1986) is a case in point. Although the poet called himself an agnostic, he did write about religious matters quite frequently. The speaker in this famous poem is an alter ego of the poet himself, while the ambivalence in his views on religion reflects Larkin’s own. It is true that the poet regarded religion as an obsolete relict of the past, but at the same time he recognized its importance both for the individual and for the community. The following analysis of the two poems will briefly present two very different points of view on the question of sacred space.
Keywords: Larkin, Thomas, poetry, church, space, faith
This article aims to investigate two poems which investigate the question of sacred spaces in a strikingly different manner, and whose overall tenor is also very divergent. What brings them together is a provocatively unorthodox approach to the problem of the place of sacrum in a post-Christian world; they also share another common characteristic in that neither has any proselytising ambitions. The first is a famous, widely anthologised, and frequently discussed poem by Philip Larkin Church Going, which was published in his second collection of verse The Less Deceived (1955). Although the title of the poem seems to suggest otherwise, the poet himself never went to church, and when pressed about his religious views, he would answer with a characteristic wit that he was an agnostic, but an Anglican one. This slightly ironic confession shows both Larkin’s sense of humour and his close attachment to the idea of tradition represented by the Church of England. We know that Larkin went to church at least once; in 1983, with Monica Jones, his partner of many years, he attended an evening service at St Stephen’s Church in Hull. This is how he described the event in a letter to a friend: “I’m far from being a church-taster, so I suppose it was just curiosity. However we were much impressed! Congregation numbered 7, but the service was as splendid as if there were 70. Of course I was pretty lost – no churchgoer he – but I tried to be devout, and really quite enjoyed it.” This visit to church, at least during a service, turned out to be a “one-off”, but it inspired Larkin to write one of his most recognisable poems, a poem which speaks about going to church, which is not in any way bound up with participation in religious rituals, while the speaker assumes the pose of an observer, which is so typical of Larkin’s poetry. Here is the poem in its entirety:
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 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 in 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 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 deaths, and thoughts of these — for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred 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.
Although the title of the poem is remarkable in its simplicity, the two words it contains turn out to be unexpectedly pregnant with meaning, especially when, following the tenets of the hermeneutic circle, after having read the whole poem, we return to the title with a better grasp of the poem’s constituent parts. This seemingly straightforward “church going” is also a play on words as it may denote both the action of going to church, but may also imply the disintegration and disappearance of churches, and the twilight of Christianity itself, which, in turn, exhibits modern man’s atrophying ability to assume a religious point of view.
Larkin’s juvenile ambition was to become a novelist and he always deemed fiction as superior to poetry. This unrealised aspiration left its mark on his poems, which hardly ever begin with abstract philosophical notions, but instead are firmly grounded in a concrete, tangible situation. This is also true about the poem under scrutiny here: it is after all a description of one specific building, which has an obvious symbolic relevance of a more general nature, while the speaker himself is a specific individual, and not some incorporeal cogito indulging in vaguely abstract musings on religion in the nebulous space of philosophical discourse. Like Virgil in Dante’s Comedia, the speaker plays a double role: he shows the reader around the interior of a derelict church, but his function is not limited to pure description as it comes with a commentary. One might say that the guide shows us both round the specific building and his own reflections about its significance.
The first stanza implies that the speaker will enter the church only after making sure that he will not be forced to participate in a religious ceremony of any sort. The foremost Polish expert on Larkin, Jerzy Jarniewicz, has pointed out that the speaker does not so much go to church as goes into it. One might say that, like some ecclesiastical flaneur, the speaker goes (or rather cycles) from one church to another, which is evidenced by the phrase “church like any other” in the third stanza. At the same time, the opening part of the poem implies that he is not a particularly religious person, and he does not enter the church in order to take part in service or pray in solitude. Nor is he driven by the purely aesthetic allure of the building as the description makes it abundantly clear that the temple is very average, and the speaker himself is baffled by this overwhelming desire to step inside. At the same time, Larkin writes about “tense, musty, unignorable silence”, i.e. a silence which cannot, and will not, be ignored. One characteristic feature of the poem is an interpenetration of the local and individual with the universal and abstract, which is to say that just like this derelict building is symbolic of the general erosion of religion in Western Europe, its various characteristics need to be interpreted as pointing to something more universal. One is tempted to say that the above-mentioned “unignorable silence” may be understood as the silence filling the universe, which Pascal found so terrifying, but it may equally point to the silence of the world in which God has ceased to speak, or man can no longer discern his voice.
Although it has been suggested that the poet is a species of ecclesiastical tourist, he still feels ill at ease in the sacred interior of the church. Larkin brilliantly indicates his discomfort in the last lines of the first stanza. Vaguely aware that the place should command one’s respect, the “hatless” speaker removes his cycle-clips in an awkward attempt to show reverence. Larkin feels obliged to deflate the potential loftiness of the poem lest the reader should mistake it for an objective acknowledgement of the church’s sacrality. He is at pains to stress his position of an uninvolved spectator, i.e. someone who knows very little about churches and ecclesiastical architecture in general. That is why, on examining the ceiling, he wonders whether it has been “cleaned, or restored”, and adds: “Someone would know: I don’t”. This stanza also features a colloquially off-hand description of the altarpiece: “some brass and stuff / Up at the holy end”, while the following one includes the disrespectful “special shell” and “frowsty barn”, once again accentuating the speaker’s casual indifference. This is also visible in his gestures: he genuflects only to take off the cycle-clips, and when he dips his hand in holy water, he does so following some unclear instinct.
But such scornful phrases are suspiciously frequent and self-consciously belligerent, as if the poet himself wanted to deny some obscure urge in himself, which compels him onward in his church going, some inexplicable, but at the same time “unignorable”, metaphysical thirst, to which he confesses more openly only towards the end of the poem. Perhaps one should see such flagrant trivialisations as an attempt to deny the “temptation towards the sublime”? Interestingly, in stanza three, Larkin reaches for fairly specialised jargon with words like “parchment, plate and pyx”, which somehow undermines his earlier protestations of his ignorance of clerical argot.
Let us return briefly to the second stanza which shows the speaker “[m]ounting the lectern” (which in itself is an irreverent thing to do), to take a better look at the text, and stops to read aloud “Here endeth”, much more loudly than [he]’d meant”. In reply to this catastrophically eschatological declaration, the symbolism of which is only too transparent, “[t]he echoes snigger briefly”. This scene is in fact quite bizarre with an agnostic tourist taking the place of the celebrant and proclaiming ex cathedra (to whom? God? humanity?) the end of a certain era of European civilisation. Before leaving, he donates “an Irish sixpence”, which is a long invalid currency, “a counter with no value, a sign with no meaning, a nothing.” The last line is a curt appraisal of the visit: “the place was not worth stopping for”.
If that was the end of the poem, it would be yet another melancholy and slightly derisive anecdote about the atrophy of faith in the post-Christian era. Fortunately, Larkin complicates matters as the description and the short narrative are followed up by the poet’s taking a closer look at himself with a view to probing the real motives behind his actions. At the same time, he admits that church going has become a compulsive habit for him. Larkin confesses that he himself is puzzled by the visits as they are motivated neither by his wish to take part in service, nor the need for solitary prayer, nor the hope of experiencing aesthetic delight. At the same time, in this section of the poem, he assumes the voice of a prophet – not in the biblical sense of a man speaking on God’s behalf, but in a more colloquial sense of a man able to foresee the future. His vision is rather bleak as the question posed by him is not: will churches ever “fall completely out of use” since their abandonment seems a foregone conclusion. The question is: what will happen to them once they are deserted for good? In Larkin’s opinion, the slow erosion of Christianity is an incontestable fact. In an ironically prophetic voice, Larkin tries to envisage the future of faith – its gradual atrophy and final demise. Most probably we will have “A few cathedrals chronically on show / And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep”. Such purely physical degradation will be accompanied by the process of gradual coarsening of faith, which will eventually degenerate into witchcraft and superstition: “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?”
In fact, the future may be even bleaker than that since Larkin implies that the ultimate terminus of European civilisation is geared at the total eradication of the metaphysical, whether in the form of grand traditions of metaphysical reflection, or in more vulgar varieties of spirituality, i.e. the afore-mentioned superstition, which is, after all, an infantile expression of a genuine metaphysical hunger. Eventually, however, all such impulses will die of inanition and give way to a new era, in which all of reality will be “flattened” by being reduced solely to its material and scientifically verifiable qualities. A Richard Dawkins would certainly applaud such a prospect, but Larkin finds it profoundly melancholy. Once all the great metaphors of religion have disappeared, they will leave behind a reality of bland triviality, deprived of any vertical ambitions, a world of desolate metonymy, in which everything is identical and interchangeable. Larkin brings home this trivialisation by means of a brief catalogue: “And what remains when disbelief has gone? Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky”, a short list of random objects dispersed in space, which are not united by some higher purpose. The poet predicts that future generations will look at our churches in the same way we look at the ruins of Greek temples or pagan places of worship. Today, however, we may add that Larkin failed to make allowances for the forces of ruthless pragmatism and rampant hedonism so typical of our epoch. The churches deserted by their parishioners have been “saved” from falling into complete desuetude by being converted into restaurants, museums, gyms or even apartments.
In the final verses, the poet once again endeavours to define the force which continues to draw him, often in spite of himself, to the sites which were once considered sacred, the force which urges him to tend “to this cross of ground / Through suburb scrub” even though he knows very well that what awaits him is another disappointment. As he is looking for an answer, the tone of the poem changes; although there are still occasional derogatory phrases such as “frowsty barn”, they are tangibly counterpointed by the clear and elevated tone which emerges in this part, while its scarcity in Larkin’s entire work makes it more striking.
As has been previously stated, this mystifying attraction of abandoned churches has nothing to do with their architectural valour or historical interest. The churches the speaker has visited on his agnostic pilgrimage are hardly imposing edifices, or sites of history-making events, revelations or miracles. The reason for visiting them is different as for the speaker they are like scattered pockets where a serious reflection on the meaning of life and death is still possible. As such they are surrounded by a drastically trivialised culture, which is no longer capable of posing such questions. In a way, Larkin paradoxically secularises religion, stripping it of its doctrinal vestments, theological speculations, solemn ceremonies, etc., thus reducing it to the status of “social glue”, which prevents life from degenerating into the chaos of random events, because churches “held unspilt / So long and equably what since is found / Only in separation – marriage, and birth, / And death, and thoughts of these”. Having lost their sacred character, such events have become random experiences of an individual, which are haphazardly scattered across his (or her) biography. Once they used to take place in a certain community, which was strengthened by common participation in rituals. Nowadays, while weddings are still communal (but no longer liturgical) events in the most trivial sense of the word, death has become an agonisingly private and solitary experience. According to Larkin, religion is precious because it imposes a certain structure on the otherwise shapeless flow of life. It transmutes into an intelligible narrative what would otherwise be a meaningless tale told by an idiot. In the sacred space of the church those events are “recognized, and robed as destinies.”
Larkin rejects all theological and metaphysical aspects of religion, but at the same time he locates it at the very centre of things, around which life may unfold as a coherent story. Interestingly, the poet leaves aside one facet of religion which people find most appealing, i.e. its promises of immortality. As we know from his entire work, for Philip Larkin death was the inescapable end of existence, but it is exactly its inexorable finality that calls for reflection. Such reflection is still possible in places which are naturally destined for it even though they have been pushed to the margins of life. One might object that it amounts to very little, but facing this tragic truth is a way of preserving one’s humanity without which life falls prey to the insufferable triviality of random events. Adroitly juggling disdainful mockery and respectful solemnity, the poem can be read not only as an elegy for the bygone ages of faith but also as a contemplation of a decadent culture which has chosen to escape into infantilism, and, consequently, can no longer inscribe itself into the overarching narrative of religion.
For the poet, the churches are not primarily places where one may undergo ritual cleansing, strengthen one’s bond with the community or encounter transcendence. Larkin’s protagonists may wistfully look up at the sky, but they will never take off into a mystical flight. At the end of the day, churches can be compared to an armada of ships drifting on the ocean of unfaith after a lost battle. On the other hand, however, they are the only places where man can be saved from drowning in the sea of amorphous reality of today’s world.
The second poem I would like to discuss briefly is very different. First of all, its speaker is not a mere observer of religion and its rituals, as its author Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913–2000) was himself a priest, and in his forty plus years of ministry served with devotion in small towns and villages of Wales. One might be excused for thinking that a poem written by a priest-poet is going to be more devotional and apologetic than a poem written by an indifferent observer. It is not so, however, and from a certain perspective Thomas’s poem is even more disturbing, if not shocking, than Larkin’s detached reflections on the state of religion in today’s world. Empty Church was first published in the collection Frequencies (1978):
They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illuminated walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?
As we can see this bleak and sombre poem could not be further away from the cloyingly sugary poems praising the beauty of roadside chapels or country churches which mar so much devotional poetry. Thomas poses uncompromising questions, and, in the spirit of uncompromising honesty, denies himself the right to find any definitive answers, perhaps bearing in mind Heidegger’s famous dictum that the very act of formulating questions demonstrates the supreme piety of the spirit.
Even the very beginning of the poem is fairly disturbing as the poet questions the purity of motives behind church building; although the poem speaks of one particular church, its scope is far more universal. The Empty Church gets under way with the poet pointing an accusing finger at the otherwise unidentified builders of the place of worship. He seems to imply that they were driven by the misguided belief that creating an ecclesiastical building somehow warrants a direct contact with the transcendent. In order to bring this point home, Thomas employs a curious metaphor which compares God to a huge moth, and the sacred space to a trap laid with a view to catching it (Him). Consequently, the church is no longer a site where a genuine relationship between the human and the divine can be achieved, but a space of appropriation. Thomas appears to scoff indirectly at the human desire to capture and possess God (who, by the very definition of the term, will always remain incommensurably larger than our thoughts) in a web of stones and stained glass windows, but also in the less tangible web of dogmatic pronouncements, as if the infinite could be contained in a finite language. In his opinion, not only theologians but also builders of cathedrals should assume a more apophatic approach to the mysteries of faith. The title itself – especially if re-examined after having read the whole poem – may prove singularly disquieting. To be sure, there is nothing particularly disturbing in the fact that churches are sometimes empty, on the other hand, however, since churches are frequently referred to as “houses of God”, such emptiness may appear alarming. Perhaps what Thomas has in mind here is not a church empty of congregation or individual pleaders, but a far more dramatic absence of God from the place whose only raison d’être is His existence and presence in it.
Thomas blames this absence on a specific historical event, a bitter lesson for God, who “burned himself / before in the human flame” in His one attempt at establishing a more intimate bond with man in the act of the Incarnation. In spite of the later miracle of the Resurrection (of which Thomas says nothing), His death on the cross proved such a traumatic experience for the incarnate God that it has positively ruled out the possibility of Parousia, which is, after all, the cornerstone of Christian faith. In the lines: “[He] escaped, leaving the reason / torn”, both meanings of the noun “reason” are relevant. The text implies that the union of the eternal and the temporal, which were brought together in the Incarnation, and the tragedy of the crucifixion radically transcend our intellectual capabilities. As a result, it is impossible to grasp them “cognitively”, but it is not impossible to relate to them through faith, which, from this perspective, may remind one of Kierkegaardian “leap of faith”. It may also suggest that the main reason behind the Incarnation, namely raising man and God to a higher union, was “torn” in the tragedy of the crucifixion, which apparently took the incarnate God by surprise, and estranged him from man forever. In this way, Thomas paints a very bitter picture of a religion in which God’s kenotic self-denudation proves a tragic mistake, which is ruthlessly exploited by man.
In the face of these tragic truths, Thomas asks himself hard questions concerning the purpose of prayer. The tentative answers he arrives at, a trait characteristic of his entire poetic oeuvre, are not, strictly speaking, answers as such, but an expression of his most intimate needs and innermost fears. Thomas may be suggesting here that modern man has lost the ability to relate in an unmediated manner to the transcendent, whether in the form of a mystical experience or in some other way, but he may still hope to recover some trace of divinity, a trace of “someone greater than [he] can understand”. In this way Thomas returns to the afore-mentioned issue of apophatic faith – today faith is anchored not in orthodox credentia, those unshakable foundations of belief, but in the hope that some form of contact with the transcendent is possible after all, that some trace of divinity can be found in the material reality and that man’s hope of recovering it is more than a mere projection of deeply seated psychological needs, but a genuine longing for metaphysical certainty. At the same time, it must be noted that this hope is to be found in solitary prayer rather than in participation in communal rituals as if such solitary contemplation of the dramatic paradoxes of faith was the spark which “will ignite yet and throw / on its illuminated walls the shadow / of someone greater than [he] can understand”.
The tone of ambiguity pervading both poems may seem surprising at first. After all, one of them was written by an out-and-out agnostic, who thought himself incapable of cherishing any form of religious belief, while the other one was written by a priest, i.e. a man who might be expected to mount a spirited defence of faith, or at least give a personal testimony of its significance. Surprisingly, a few derisive phrases notwithstanding, it is Larkin’s poem that accentuates the importance of faith as a shrinking enclave of gravitas which saves man from falling into the banality of unreflective existence. Thomas, by contrast, provokingly calls the interior of the church “a trap for God”. On the other hand, however, one should take into consideration the degree of urgency of both poems. Larkin might be stereotypically labelled as one of the most “English” poets – if Englishness can be identified with keeping one’s distance and remaining calm at all times. He also draws on the eminent tradition of English empiricism, which tells him to approach the problem in the most objective manner. Consequently, he approaches the question of church going as if it was a purely theoretical and philosophical issue, but one in which he is hardly involved personally. Thomas’s speaker is very different in this respect even though his voice also remains calm throughout.
This difference may be also noted in the conduct and the body language of both speakers. In Church Going he is an anxiety-ridden and agnostic homo viator, which feature displays itself not only in his pilgrimages from one deserted place of worship to another, but also in his behaviour once he has entered them – he goes up to the font and the altarpiece, mounts the lectern, leafs through the Bible, and eventually leaves without quite realizing what made him enter it in the first place. In the other poem, the speaker remains “still”, deep in prayer (providing that such heterodox contemplation of God’s nature and the role of church in today’s world qualify as prayer). In spite of the semi-blasphemous nature of the questions he asks (or even because of it), there is no doubt that for Thomas these questions are of utmost importance. While the speaker in Church Going takes off his cycling-clips in an awkward attempt to show reverence, one might easily imagine him kneeling down for the same reason on entering the building. But this gesture is merely an atavistic response, a culturally conditioned genuflexio, which only shows that the poet has retained a residuum of religious reflexes. But the difference between the two is significant: while Larkin kneels down for a moment, Thomas, despite his honest scepticism as to the possibility of bridging the gap separating him from transcendence, remains down on his knees. This demonstrates not only a deep respect for the sanctity of the church itself but also his ardent involvement in the paradoxes of faith.
 Ph. Larkin, The Less Deceived, Hessle 1955.
 cf. J. Jarniewicz, Larkin. Odsłuchiwanie wierszy, Kraków 2006, p. 97.
 A. Motion, Philip Larkin. A Writer’s Life, London 1993, p. 485.
 As William H. Pritchard notes: “ (…) his poems typically have »plots«, are narratives with beginning, middle, and end (…)”, W.H. Pritchard, „Larkin’s Presence”. Playing it by Ear. Literary Essays and Reviews, Amherst 1994, p. 136.
 J. Jarniewicz, Larkin. Odsłuchiwanie wierszy, Kraków 2006, p. 99.
 Therry Whalen makes some insightful remarks about this slightly schizophrenic split into a jaded and cynical tourist and a philosophical, serious-minded pilgrim, cf. Therry Whalen in: Philip Larkin & English Poetry, London 1986, pp. 14–16.
 Jarniewicz 2006 (fn. 5), p. 104.
 It is worth bearing in mind that the poem was written sixty years ago. What used to be only a gloomy prognostication of the future back then has since become flesh in most countries of Western Europe, including England.
 Lolette Kuby has perceptibly remarked that the slightly Freudian term “compulsions” is raised to the level of the tragic through Larkin’s using the idea of “destinies”, L. Kuby, An Uncommon Poet for the Common Man, the Hague 1974, pp. 111–112. Andrew Swarbrick points out that this passage is disturbingly ambiguous as it only points to the human desire to confer meaning on the chaos of life without asserting the existence of objective warrants thereof. This is where the true worth of religion lies – in its ability to “robe as destinies” what is only accidental and random; cf. Andrew Swarbrick, Out of Reach. The Poetry of Philip Larkin, London 1995, pp. 66–67.
 According to Lolette Kuby, the poem is not pessimistic as Larkin implies that “seriousness” will remain after religion has disappeared. I disagree with this reading as Larkin makes it very clear that in the thoroughly secular world religion – or the church to be precise – remains the only place where such seriousness is possible, cf. Kuby 1974 (fn. 9), p. 109.
 R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems, 1945–1990, London 2000, p. 349.
 The same is true about the word “still” which functions both as an adjective and adverb.
 Cf. W.V. Davis, Poetry and Theology, Waco 2007, p. 50.
 As William McGill has pointed out: “[T]he silence he encounters is both his own failure to find words and the absence of any still small voice from God. Yet answers come, wordlessly perhaps, in sounds, in images, in some ineffable sense, in the persistence of questions that will not go away”, William J. McGill, Poets’ Meeting, Jefferson 2003, p. 74.
 There is a similar difference in Gabriel Marcel’s famous distinction between “problem”, which may be solved through application of intellect, and “mystery” which requires the involvement of the whole person in a more existential manner.