Faith Healing

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

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—

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.

Philip Larkin, "Faith Healing" from Whitsun Weddings. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.  Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.
Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)
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