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The Explosion by Philip Larkin
Transcript of The Explosion by Philip Larkin
Eight Stanzas, three lines each + one additional closing line
Meter: unrhymed trochaic tetrameter (metrically accented syllable followed by a metrically unaccented one) ending in a falling rhythm
Elegy written to honor the victims of a mining accident that took place in 1968
Stanzas 1 - 5 describe the setting, conditions and day of the event (The Explosion)
Stanzas 6 - 8 focus on the church services for the victims
Within this stanza Larkin describes the scene of mine workers arriving to start their day’s work.
The men gradually broke the fresh morning’s silence with comments that soon grew into conversations.
Larkin states their conversation contained curses, some of the men smoked pipes.
Larkin describes one young miner who chased rabbits but lost it (foreshadowing the fate of their fellow mates) and returned with a nest of lark’s eggs that he found and left in the grass after showing them to his mates.
Larkin presents random details of the scene of the workers arriving, their beards and the toughened material their mining clothes were made from.
There are strong family connections between the men, with two generations of the males of many families employed in the mine.
Many are known by nicknames and seem to enjoy each other’s sense of humour.
They all enter the mine area through tall gates. These gates are ominous, with the suggestion of entering the gates of heaven or hell.
They hint at the deaths to come, like the word ‘shadows’.
Larkin refers to the man event, the explosion of the title. It happened at midday.
First cows noticed a vibration in the ground and stopped grazing for a moment, though only a moment.
The sun, slightly covered by a haze of summer heat, lost its bright shine. Perhaps the explosion created a dust haze that partly blocked out the sun.
Larkin does not tell us directly about the underground explosion, but the title and how it is repeated in the first line, the use of describing the details of how the atmosphere was corrupted it makes sense .
Larkin avoids describing the violence or grief, the predictable aspects of the event.
This stanza tells us that the miners that are now dead and that are now resting in peace.
Is an attempt to comfort family members with a reference to heaven as ‘God’s house of comfort'
Larkin imagines the widows visualising their husbands, seeing them more intensely in their mind than they ever did during their lives together.
Eighth Stanza & Ninth Stanza
The wives saw their men like figureheads stamped on a gold coin or imagined them walking that sunny morning of the explosion towards them in the golden sunlight.
Perhaps the wife of the young miner who chased the rabbits has a vision of him walking towards her with the nest of lark’s eggs unbroken, as if the miner returned unharmed.
Written in 1970
Belongs to the anthology "High Windows"
Based on a coalmine explosion that took place in 1969 in Britain
Tone and speaker
Larkin shows how death comes unexpectedly but does not destroy all life. "One showing the eggs unbroken". They represent the young spirits that are never lost nor forgotten. Death came unexpectedly to the miners who went to work with their normal morning laughter. "Fathers and brothers nicknames laughter" The energy of chasing after rabbits and the displaying of the nest of eggs point to the idea of rebirth and resurrection contrasting with death. In the eyes of society, death marks the entry of the dead miners into ‘God’s house of comfort’. Death does not defeat the living or put a stop to the community, however everyone is in line to face it. "The dead go on before us they". However Larkin shows the paradox as we know we are going to die but not when. "Shadows pointed at the pithead."
Emotionally detached, impersonal. Not connected to what happens to the victims (Miners) of the explosion.
The speaker presents itself as an observer that witnesses the facts that take place and reports them
Larking informs the reader of the explosion. Repetition of the title in the first line.
Style and Imagery
Language and Diction
Generally conversational and casual.
There are hidden meanings throughout e.g. ‘shadows’, ‘slept’, ‘dimmed’ etc.
He is deliberately matter-of-fact about a tragic event for which he must feel strongly.
Larkin uses understatement in the first line and in the fifth stanza.
Larkin creates an unusual list of words to portray the miners who died in the explosion: ‘fathers, brothers, nicknames, laughter’.
He creates a fresh and effective compound word to show the tough nature of the men’s banter, laced with curses: ‘oath-edged’.
The use of five verbs in the third stanza is striking and shows the energy of the miners: ‘chased…lost…came…showed…lodged’.
Larkin gives us a initial insight of how the day of the explosion was firstly conceived two images.
The first one of how the "shadows pointed the pithead" foreshadowing the fatal fate.
The second one illustrates that there was no light illuminating the atmosphere as it was covered by the slagheap, suggesting that it was dawning and also foreshadowing.
Our fate is to die. This is exposed in the poem as Larkin explores the idea of an unavoidable future that is set since birth, and even the shadows where pointing at it, the slagheap shows the refuse of the earth symbolizing the miners fate as they dig their own tombs. However human beings are the only ones that cannot see this. The explosion itself is a symbol of an unexpected event and Larkin uses the chromatic image of gold to highlight how human ambition in excess leads to destruction (flames). This is humanity's fate.
Despite the fact that the poem's main theme is death, Larkin uses images to create a contrast he also uses symbols to evoke positiveness within the poem. The eggs are an example the chasing rabbits exposes the human desire to live and to achieve happiness. He mentions families "Fathers brothers..." connoting love and companionship, also the wives. The gold could also mean the value of life and love and how it is the most precious thing in the world, it can overcome anything. Even death, although the person is not here anymore we can still love them and remember them. Also the eggs contribute to this rebirth of hope and love since they are "unbroken" even if death has taken our loved ones.
"Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke"
"shouldering off the freshened silence"
"One showing eggs unbroken"
Metaphors and Similes
"sun/ Scarfed as in a heat-hazed dimmed"
"Gold as a coin or walking"
"In the sun the slagheap slept"
Other key resources
Paradox: The eggs
Allusion: Stanza 6
Repetition of images