Faith Healing Analysis

Analysis of Faith Healing by Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin was an English writer well known for his verse and prose most of which he published as he was working as a librarian at the University of Hull. He explores a scene of faith healing in his poem Faith Healing, describing vividly the moods ad expressions of the congregation as they walk towards the preacher to receive grace and what happens afterwards.

This poem hits home in this time and age where irresponsible faith healers claimed the lives of many even during the pandemic claiming to be able to heal people through the television. People routinely forego treatment and professional care believing the words of these preachers leading to disastrous consequences. Following a rhyme scheme of abcabdabcabd, the poem also follows iambic pentameter. The poet depicts a congregation waiting to be blessed and follows them as they are taken to the preacher and blessed and healed constantly broadening the scope of the description. The first stanza happens close to the preacher and with every subsequent stanza, we move away until in the last stanza we take a generalized global view of the phenomenon before we return back to the confines of the church.

Faith Healing  | Summary and Analysis

Faith Healing | Analysis, Stanza 1

Slowly the women file to where he stands

Upright in rimless glasses, silver hair,

Dark suit, white collar. Stewards tirelessly

Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands,

Within whose warm spring rain of loving care

Each dwells some twenty seconds. Now, dear child,

What’s wrong, the deep American voice demands,

And, scarcely pausing, goes into a prayer

Directing God about this eye, that knee.

Their heads are clasped abruptly; then, exiled

The first stanza depicts the faithful flocking towards the preacher to receive gods grace through him, and their queue is slowly directed by the guards. Each believer gets to spend about twenty seconds with the man before they are “exiled”. The poet describes the women “file” towards the preacher, this gives a sense of calm methodological movement as it is guided by the stewards. The preacher and his presence is described twice the former being his appearance, in a dark coat and white collar wearing rimless glasses that do not obstruct his face, and later the ambience he gives off. His hands and voice shower the believers with love and care like the warm spring rain. He is described in this stanza so as to encapsulate the believers’ view of the event, and the nature metaphors used to describe his presence compliment the appearance of divinity the faithful has come to seek refuge in. The preacher seems to be from a big congregation or even a mega-church from the time each person gets to spend with the preacher.

Compared to the rest of the stanza, the last line seems to take an outsider’s perspective into the situation, the poet using words like “ abrupt” and “exiled” to paint what happens to the ladies after they reach near the preacher. The preacher seems to perform with great efficiency, quickly going into a prayer clasping the head and sending the women away removing any chance of personal connection between what is ought to be the sheep and the shepherd. The word exiled also seems express how now that the healing is over the devotees are left alone and all the choices they make in the wake of this event are theirs alone: the church does not have any responsibility over the actions they take, like refusing treatment, and the ramifications of the same.

Faith Healing | Analysis, Stanza 2

Like losing thoughts, they go in silence; some

Sheepishly stray, not back into their lives

Just yet; but some stay stiff, twitching and loud

With deep hoarse tears, as if a kind of dumb

And idiot child within them still survives

To re-awake at kindness, thinking a voice

At last calls them alone, that hands have come

To lift and lighten; and such joy arrives

Their thick tongues blort, their eyes squeeze grief, a crowd

Of huge unheard answers jam and rejoice—


The stanza describes the effect that the short time with the preacher had on the people. Some of them slip into silence as others sheepishly stray, lost in their own world as some others turn stiff as some others are overwhelmed into tears. The crowd very supportive of their congregation cheers as each individual gets blessed by the preacher. The poet comments that it’s as if a dumb child is still alive in each of these grown adults longing for the touch of this preacher, for his voice to uplift them from their misery. The poet’s true emotions over faith healing are revealed here as unlike the first stanza this one dwells mostly on the poet’s outside perspective. The first few lines depict how the people in the congregation seem to be deeply moved by the few seconds they spend with the preacher.

The poet criticises the women when he says they seem to have a child still alive inside their adult selves that is making them susceptible to such trickery, making them think they are being called alone into the presence of the preacher to be blessed and uplifted from their troubles even as they stand in the midst of hundreds that are waiting for the same, taking part in this mass distribution of blessings. But to them, none of that matters, as pure joy fills their mind as they are being blessed by the preacher and those spiritual experiences drown out any thoughts of scepticism and doubt

Faith Healing | Analysis, Stanza 3

What’s wrong! Moustached in flowered frocks they shake:

By now, all’s wrong. In everyone there sleeps

A sense of life lived according to love.

To some it means the difference they could make

By loving others, but across most it sweeps

As all they might have done had they been loved.

That nothing cures. An immense slackening ache,

As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps,

Spreads slowly through them—that, and the voice above

Saying Dear child, and all time has disproved.


The poet ends the poem by explaining his views on the whole matter uninterrupted by the faith healing. Stanza begins with an exclamation, which is used as a rhetorical question, the word “ moustached” could be a classist pejorative, implying that most of the people who have come to attend the service from the poorer sections of the society, thus are more desperate and exploitable. Many people turn to the preacher for the solution to a chronic health condition because they can’t afford other means of treatment or because they think treatment is a hassle they want to avoid. This raises questions about the ethical implications of using such people as means of income knowing there are more trustworthy and proven means to heal them medically.

The speaker says how love is a very important thing, integral to one’s self in many cases as many people structure their lives around this concept. And everyone has an idea of “ life lived according to love.” inside them but for most people, it remains an idea as they live in this world sorely lacking in love and most people live with an idea of what they could have been and what they might have done if they were loved. It is this ache caused by the lack of intimate relationships that melts down in front of the preacher as they are susceptible to the all-too-human feeling of the need to feel loved. Perhaps it is because it is drilled into every Christian as they grow up that god is love and only from there can one get true unconditional love and through it they hope to be healed of ailments and pains making themselves submit to the church and the preacher.








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