Voices in the Coalshed: Philip Larkin
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Voices in the Coalshed: Philip Larkin

As many of our young people are heading off to university, we thought we might look at a work by the former librarian at Hull University, Philip Larkin, who was a poet and novelist.

In his 1974 collection, ‘High Windows’, he published The Explosion, which tells the story of a mining incident in which a number of men are killed. This poem is gentler than many of his poems and shows the sadness of what happened.

In this poem, there are references to light and dark telling us of the importance of light in mining. This could be hinting at the importance of the safety lamp also.

“At noon there came a tremor; cows
Stopped chewing for a second; sun
Scarfed as in a heat-haze dimmed.”

The idea of the light of the sun being “dimmed” by the explosion underground is an interesting one. This is a good way of describing the explosion as it would be felt above the ground. It makes you think of things happening deep in the mine which the people above have no idea about.

He also writes:

Shadows pointed towards the pithead:
In the sun the slagheap slept.

Again, light is being used to point us to the sadness to come for many families.

NCMME; Haig Pit 1910 explosion

Interested in finding out more about the safety lamp? Visit the ‘A Light in the Darkness’ display in the Museum’s Technology Gallery and find out more about the work of Sir Humphry Davy

You can read the rest of this poem at allpoetry.com.

Voices in the Coalshed is a volunteer-led project that explores the language and literature inspired by coal mining. Discover more here!