Philip Larkin was born in the north of England in 1922. He spent most of his life there, working as a librarian.
The poem, The Explosion is a reflection of a disastrous day in a northern mining town. The story unfolds in eight stanzas with three lines and one final stanza of one line. The Explosion is a story told in the third person. In the first stanza the impression is of a fairly detached observer, almost as if a camera is recording the events.
The poem begins with a casual observation of an everyday event. The miners come down “the lane in pitboots coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke”. (Line 4-5) Underneath the normality of morning, we get a sense of something sinister and foreboding as “Shadows pointed towards the pithead: In the sun the slagheap slept” (lines 2-3). The use of alliteration and repeated “S” sounds creates a sensation of deathly anticipation as if some sinister creature is sleeping.
As the poem progresses we become aware of a mining catastrophe and the poet is trying to covey an empathy with the minor’s wives.
In stanzas two to four the poet sets the scene. The reader is drawn into the carefree everyday lives of the pitmen as they tramp to work. We are drawn into the men’s energy and strength as they “Shoulder off the freshened silence” (line 6) We are then led a little closer to the men’s personalities. ” Fathers brothers nicknames laughter” (line 11) In the air of vitality and joviality the feeling of imminent danger is forgotten as “one chased after rabbits”(line 7),
However, the hidden menace is again to remind us of the danger as the men walk “through the tall gates standing open” (line12) Again, we are invited to invoke the image of a menacing monster with a large open gaping mouth. The men are walking unawares into the mouth of the creature that will seal their fate.
In Stanza 5 the mood of the poem changes as the men are delivered to their fate. The reader is not shocked by the poet’s delivery of the news. We knew there would be an explosion from the title. The news is delivered without melodrama and even the cows are unmoved as they paused and only “stopped chewing for a second” (Line 14) The impact
of The Explosion is felt as “at noon there came a tremor” (line 13) and the coal dust erupts to dim the sun as if it is “Scarfed in a heat haze” (line 15)
The second half of the poem the mood and focus has changed. The wives are now central and the mood is solemn. Stanza six is the funeral service and it has a biblical feel. During this service the wives have a vision of their men “Somehow from the sun walking towards them,” (line 24) In their religious imaginations the men have been transformed into “larger than life” “gold” images. The women will forever remember the men in this pure and whole form. Solemnity is replaced by a sense of hope.
“One showing the eggs unbroken” is the final and most symbolic line. The eggs represent life and renewal. In the face of death we have the choice of either except death and move forwards with life or to slide into oblivion. The image of the eggs surviving the explosion is a symbol of optimism. The wives must move on and cope with life and death.
The eggs may also represent the memory and strength of the women’s bonds and love.
Wystan Hugh Auden was born in New York in 1907. He spent his childhood in Birmingham in the north of England.
Stop All The Clocks has four stanzas with a traditional abab end rhyme scheme throughout. The poem opens in the first stanza in an overdramatic and even comical way. The poet is demanding absolute silence and respect from the world. His grief is so intense that he commands respect from everything even the “dog barking with a juicy bone”.
The second stanza uses hyperboles to scream out the raw pain of his grief. “He Is Dead” is written in capitals as if the person is indeed screaming the words. The absurd image of “aeroplanes scribbling on the sky” is justified as the intensity of his grief. The ridiculousness of putting “crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves” balances and compliments the rawness of the emotion.
The third stanza expresses the poet’s disbelief and feeling of abandonment. He conveys this by describing how his loved one spanned all directions in his life. The lover filled every aspect of his life “My noon my midnight my talk and my song” The poet’s shock and disbelief is apparent as he says, “I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong” The language in this stanza, although unrestrained, does not use the overdramatic images of the other stanza’s. The poet is merely saying that this person filled every aspect of his life. The language makes the reader aware that they were very close.
In the final stanza the poet conveys his sense of bewilderment and hopelessness. “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun” because light has no place in his misery.
Although both of these poems are about death, The Explosion lacks the intensity of Stop All The Clocks. Auden is trying, unashamedly, to convey to the reader the intense pain and raw emotions. He does this in an exaggerated and melodramatic way. The overstatements are appropriate and very moving. The use of tragic comical images balances the poems extreme emotions. The poet does not appear as self-indulgent, but heart-rending and tragic.
Conversely, Larkin’s poem deals with death and the roughness of humanity in a down to earth way. Unlike the speaker in the Stop All The Clocks, this speaker is distanced from the action and emotions of death. There is an absence of dramatic intensity. Notice how in the aftermath of The Explosion rescue and grief are unmentioned.
Both poems are trying to convey a sense of empathy. The speaker in The Explosion shows sympathy toward the wives. He tries to give the wives a sense of optimism and transform a sad and pointless accident into an occasion of hope and beauty. The speaker of Stop All The Clocks seeks the sympathy of the reader. He needs to transfer to the reader the feelings of his loss, despair and his sense of injustice that death brings. In contrast to the end of The Explosion this final stanza tells us that he has no optimism “for nothing now can ever come to any good” (line 16)