A Diminished Thing: The Changing Role of Religion in the Post-WWII Poetry of Smith, Hughes, and Larkin

Lauren Capaccio


Many historians have concluded the decades between the two world wars to be a time of great social restructuring around Europe. Besides recovering from the unprecedented loss of human life, the wake of political and economic tensions precipitated a general sense of disillusionment around Europe, especially with regards to established systems of influence such as government or the church. The role of religion in British society in particular was being reevaluated for the better half of the century, and the commercial markets’ push for products guaranteeing instant gratification only aggravated the discrepancy between belief and the quickly secularizing world. Although devotion still lingered in the background for many, the people of Britain’s approach to Christianity became increasingly more interactive, often even scrutinizing the primary tenets of the faith. Three poets in particular, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and Stevie Smith, highlight this dialogue in their writing to determine the necessity of religion and find new ways to adapt it to the changing world they were living in. By comparing Smith’s nonsensical musings in “Our Bog is Dood” and “Sunt Leones” to the pithy rhymes of Ted Hughes’s “Theology” or Larkin’s wry, emotional rhtetoric in “High Windows,” it is clear that by challenging the fundamentals of Christianity, the poets ultimately conclude that religion is irrelevant to modern life.  . . .

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