What are the themes of "The Explosion"? What do you understand about the poem? What is Larkin trying to get through to the reader?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Explosion" by Philip Larkin was written in response to accounts of mining disasters. There are actually two sources Larking used, a BBC documentary on mining aired in December 1969 and a song, “The Trimdon Grange Explosion” by Thomas “Tommy” Armstrong, about a disaster at Trimdon, a coal mine near Durham, England on 15 February 1882, in which 74 people were killed.

The main theme of the poem is the contrast between everyday life and disaster. The instant before the disaster, there is no sense, as there would be in a heroic epic, of impending doom. Instead, the miners are going about their ordinary business, mainly concerned with foraging for extra food. The environment surrounding the mine appears cheerfully pastoral, with larks and cows. 

The explosion occurs in a single, almost transcendent instant, connecting the ordinary with tragic grandeur. At such moments, the poem suggests, only religion contains the necessary iconography and language to respond to the situation. Larkin imagines the scene of the explosion as almost transfigurative with the surviving wives seeing the miners as almost portrayed like the saints of stained glass windows or Byzantine mosaics:

Larger than in life they managed –

Gold as on a coin, or walking

Somehow from the sun towards them,

The tremor of the explosion only momentarily affects the cows, and the lark's eggs that a miner had gathered remained unbroken, suggesting that what appears to us to be great tragedies are only momentary disturbances from the point of view of the natural world or of eternity. 

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