The Explosion ~ Philip Larkin
On the day of the explosion
Shadows pointed towards the pithead:
In the sun the slagheap slept.
Down the lane came men in pitboots
Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke,
Shouldering off the freshened silence.
One chased after rabbits; lost them;
Came back with a nest of lark's eggs;
Showed them; lodged them in the grasses.
So they passed in beards and moleskins,
Fathers, brothers, nicknames, laughter,
Through the tall gates standing open.
At noon, there came a tremor; cows
Stopped chewing for a second; sun,
Scarfed as in a heat-haze, dimmed.
The dead go on before us, they
Are sitting in God's house in comfort,
We shall see them face to face -
Plain as lettering in the chapels
It was said, and for a second
Wives saw men of the explosion
Larger than in life they managed -
Gold as on a coin, or walking
Somehow from the sun towards them,
One showing the eggs unbroken.
Whether in the fields of fashion, economics, sciences and social life, we all need its certain language to communicate. Likewise, the literature also owns its language of systematized combination of signs governed by rules. In structuralism, as some structuralists believed, the structure (system) and value of a text can be discovered through analyzing the binary oppositions. Therefore, I chose a poem by Philip Arthur Larkin, The Explosion , as a text to criticize from this perspective. Assessing this poem in terms of structuralism, I found the major binary opposition is composed from the relationship between the explosion and men, which is interrelated with two minor binary oppositions (shadow - sun, oath-edged talk - freshened silence). In addition, according to Roland Barthes' theory, the significations of two words (rabbits & eggs) are suggestive of the theme of this poem.
The primary opposition in the poem is that the sacrifice of men in explosion is opposed to their apotheosis (a form of resurrection) after their death. In the beginning, it depicts the scene around the shaft and the miners' usual talking and behaviors. In the middle (the 5th stanza), the explosion occurs, and then the miners who died for explosion (the dead) were transformed to the sublime figure in the end since they were the apotheosis of sacrificing their lives for mining. In a word, the dominant meaning the poem conveys is that those men are highly esteemed and their spirits are still alive regardless of their death. That's why their wives could see their husbands who are bright and holy (sitting in God's house) though they died. This kind of apotheosis can be thought of the resurrection of the dead. As a result, the most obvious binary opposition is exposed in the sacrifice (death) and apotheosis (resurrection).
In the 1st stanza, the first minor opposition can be seen from the hints of 'shadow' and 'sun', which generates the tension in the beginning. Describing the pithead, it mentions the shadow, which implies the darkness or the negative outcome. On the other hand, the scene of the slagheap includes the sunlight (sun), which accentuates the concept of the lightness and optimism. The contrast here corresponds to the major binary opposition. The pithead is as the passage to sacrifice for miners and the slagheap is as the symbol of death. Likewise, the shadow of the pithead (sacrifice) is opposed to the sun of the slagheap (death). It is like the two sides of the death. The two viewpoints about death are built from two different angles. One can deem the death a tragedy or the epitome of honor respectively.
Furthermore, the 2nd binary opposition is also connected to the major one and contributes to the loom of another tension on the mood. Apparently, in second stanza, the 'talk' is opposite to the 'silence.' Their difference is decided by the sound. One is with sounds and the other is without sounds. The opposition they achieve is as the sound of the explosion and the silence after the explosion. Besides, the silence could suggest the peaceful state in which the men are after death. As for the oath-edged (talk) to the freshened (silence), the opposition explains well the transformation of the miners. The men's casual talks filled with the oath underscore the social status of the miners, however, 'the freshened' silence they shouldered off is attached to them in the end. Since they were transformed to apotheosis, 'the freshened' implies the purified state of the dead with sacred status, which is different form the previous status. Briefly, the three binary oppositions are as three different frames surrounding the same core.
The signification plays an important role in manifestation of a text's theme. The interesting signification I found is on two signs: rabbits and lark's eggs. The third stanza depicts one of the men chased after rabbits but lost them. The rabbits' (signifier) combination with vitality (signified) results in a sign (the men). Consequently, the loss of the rabbits reflects the loss of the miners' lives. After losing the rabbits, the one brings back to a nest of lark's eggs. The change from rabbits to eggs alludes the shift of the men's shape. In particular, the last line of the poem emphasizes that the eggs are unbroken. The eggs (signifier) and its unbroken shape (signified) become a sign that underlines the completeness of the miners' soul. During explosion, the body of the men could break into pieces, but their spirits never break like the unbroken eggs.
At last, through analyzing the structure, I found the relationship and interactions among the three binary oppositions unveil the message the poem wants to convey. They are interwoven with each part of the poem and echo with each other. In my opinion, it is true that a lot of people risk their lives to work for mankind's well-being. Whatever class they belong to, we should respect them and thank for their contributions. Thus, we ought to cherish what we have now and learn to improve the society to be better one.