The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Explosion” is a short poem of twenty-five lines made up of eight unrhymed tercets and a final, isolated one-line stanza. It is written in trochaic tetrameter with a number of metrical variations and substitutions. The speaker of the poem is an observer and commentator on the crucial event of the poem, an explosion at a mine. The language is clearly that of a speaker who is more highly educated than the working-class people that the poem represents. He is not involved in their lives but attempts to render their nature and experience as fully and truthfully as possible. The title of the poem announces the event and suggests its significance: It is “the” explosion rather than “an” explosion. The poem also begins with a description of the world surrounding the event. In the first tercet, the speaker describes how “On the day of the explosion/ Shadows pointed towards the pithead.” These “shadows” are an omen of the terrible event that is to follow, but they are balanced, to some degree, by the sun in which “the slagheap slept.” Both the sun and sleeping suggest the continuation of a peaceful world.

The next three tercets deal with the mine workers. They are defined as a group rather than singled out as individuals. Their “oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke” define them as men of the working class at ease with one another. One of them is more adventurous and active as he hunts some rabbits. The rabbits escape, but he finds a nest...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Explosion” is written in trochaic tetrameter without rhyme, both of which are very unusual in the poetry of Larkin, who used the iambic meter, usually pentameter and hexameter, and brilliant rhyme. There must have been something in the event and his treatment of it that insisted on this meter. Perhaps it was the transformation of very ordinary workers into people on a higher plane that demanded he abandon his usual metrical practice. Trochaic tetrameter does have a parallel in American literature: It is the meter that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used in The Song of Hiawatha (1855). Larkin does not fall into the monotone chant that Longfellow did, but the meter does have a propulsive effect as it moves from the announcement of the event to its occurrence and consequences. Larkin does use the traditional sound patterns such as alliteration: “In the sun the slagheap slept.” The miners are also portrayed predominantly through the use of verbs: “One chased after rabbits; lost them;/ Came back with a nest of lark’s eggs;/ Showed them; lodged them in the grasses.”

There is also some significant imagery in the poem. For example, the first tercet contrasts the shadows that “pointed” to the pithead with the sun that “slept” on the slagheap. The slagheap is also an indicator of the world with which the poem deals: a mining community with its own special landscape. The workers are also defined with a few class-specific images: They...

(The entire section is 547 words.)