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In The Explosion, Philip Larkin portrays many ideas, about life and death, through telling the story of an explosion, and the surroundings, as well as their response. He portrays his ideas that there may possibly be an afterlife through the events in the church, and also that death is an event that affect everyone in the surroundings, and that death may possibly be an everyday occurrence, in his opinion.
Larkin writes that the vicar says ‘we shall see them face to face’. This suggests that these people are still living, but the fact that they are said to be ‘living in God’s house’ suggests that although they are not ‘living’ on Earth, they are still alive, but instead, in heaven. In addition, in the final stanza, the ‘eggs’ are said to be ‘unbroken’. Eggs are normally symbols of new life, and the fact that they are ‘unbroken’ despite being ‘lodged in the grasses’ during the explosion essentially ensures that there will be a ‘new life’ or ‘afterlife’ for those killed in the explosion.
The fact that this stanza is separated from the rest of the poem, with caesura at the end, emphasises this line, possibly suggesting that Larkin feels strongly about this subject, and wants to convey this message especially to the reader. In addition, it is said that ‘wives saw men of the explosion’, possibly further conveying how these people are still alive in the afterlife, and how the ‘wives’ perceive them to still be alive and present on this Earth, possibly disillusioned by despair.
Larkin possibly also believes that death has a profound effect on everything in the surroundings. The fact that the stanza which contains the details of the explosion is isolated from the other stanzas, and that the entire fifth stanza is one sentence, further emphasises this moment. In addition, the cows are said to stop ‘chewing for a second’, and the sun is said to have ‘dimmed’. These suggest that the event of death has a profound effect on the surroundings, and the the metaphor of the sun having ‘dimmed’ shows how even inanimate objects, millions of miles away still respond to death. Furthermore, this stanza is in distinct contrast to the ‘laughter’ of this previous stanza, further showcasing this idea of isolation and the effect the event of death has.
However, Larkin possibly also proposes the idea that death is a natural occurrence; a part of everyday life. Larkin writes how the cows stopped chewing for ‘a second. The fact that this occurred for only a second could suggest that the cows did not dwell on the matter, and simply acknowledged its happening. This behaviour could be symbolic of most people’s reaction, and possibly, Larkin is trying to suggest that we do not pay enough attention or respect to death.
Furthermore, the fact that only one stanza is devoted to the explosion, and the deaths, as well as this stanza being only one sentence, further conveys how little attention is paid to the explosion, and how everyone continues with their daily activities afterwards. The strong use of enjambment in the poem and the lack of caesura is possibly used to signify a sense of constant progression, to symbolise how time stops for no one, and even after death, the poem continues, not dwelling on the event for too long.
Overall, Larkin portrays a variety of messages about his views on life and death in the poem, and some of these views are possibly religious, such as ‘sitting in God’s house’, in the afterlife, and he also comments on the society’s views on death, and how it has become an everyday occurrence, and so is no longer paid much attention, but can still have a profound effect.