Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

“The Explosion” is about the lives of British working-class people. Larkin portrays them in all of their ordinariness in the first part of the poem. He describes their walk to work, their dress, and, above all, their interaction with one another. A few words and significant gestures define the closeness of the men to each other and to their world of work. The origins of the poem can be found in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television program that Larkin saw in 1969; the natural lives of these people gave him a subject on which he had not often written.

The theme of the poem is made clear by the symbol of the unbroken eggs. The lives and deaths of the miners form an unbroken whole, a harmonious and organic life that seems almost to come from another century. A possible influence for Larkin’s theme is the early novels and stories of D. H. Lawrence, who portrayed the lives of miners as harsh but in touch with the primal earth. Larkin softens the romanticism of Lawrence, but his attitude is similar in many ways. Another important theme is that of transformation. After the miners’ deaths, the survivors are given the usual comfort of the church. They are told that their men are not suffering but “sitting in God’s house in comfort” and that they will one day see them “face to face.” However, Larkin then offers a very different and more convincing transformation and consolation by having these wives see their men as larger than they were in life but still rooted to that organic world they inhabited. They are “walking/ Somehow from the sun” toward their wives and now exist on a different plane, “Gold as on a coin.” They are not in a Christian heaven but remain closely connected to the living.

“The Explosion” is the last poem in High Windows (1974), even though it was written earlier than a number of other poems in the collection. The poem gives a very different view of death than nearly all of the poems in the book. Larkin’s view of his inevitable death was filled with terror and horror. The union of the dead and the living seen in the conclusion of “The Explosion” gives a more hopeful and human perspective. There have been relatively few poems written about the working class, since poetry seems to be written and supported by people of a more educated class. However, Larkin provides both an insight into that world and a sympathetic and realistic view of its wholeness.

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