Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

(The entire section is 426 words.)