The Explosion by Philip Larkin and Six Young Men by Ted Hughes
Compare and contrast the evolution of the poets’ feelings in these poems, looking carefully at the language and poetic effects which communicate most effectively.
The poems “The Explosion” by Philip Larkin and “Six Young Men” by Ted Hughes are both about death. Philip Larkin’s poem is about a mining explosion which occurred in 1969, and Ted Hughes deals with men killed during the Great War. We could as well say that “Six Young Men” is about war because the poet exposes the horrors of war in the way that the men died.
Firstly, both poems also have a relevant title. Philip Larkin informs us immediately of the tragedy by giving “The Explosion” as a title to his poem and as well as by repeating it in the first line. Ted Hughes chose to adapt the title to the language of his poem, by using three monosyllabic words : “Six Young Men”.
Secondly, as said previously, both of these poems have a main theme in common : death. However, they express it through completely opposite techniques. Indeed, “The Explosion” hasn’t any rhyming pattern and, as rhyme is usually used to show a flow of events or words, it can be seen as if the explosion actually interrupts this flow. On the contrary, “Six Young Men” is composed of rhymes and this brings structure and symmetry to the poem.
The language in “The Explosion” is casual and conversational, whereas “Six Young Men” is rather based on rhythm, with its numerous monosyllabic and simple words. They are both regularly structured ; Ted Hughes wrote five stanzas all composed of nine verses, and Philip Larkin wrote eight stanzas each of them composed of three verses, except that he added a concluding line, by the way very significant : the fact that this last line is isolated highlights the positive image of “the eggs unbroken”, which emphasises the optimistic tone of the end. It offers hope, optimism for the future, and proves that life goes on.
This last statement is actually the opposite of what Ted Hughes tells the reader through his poem. Indeed, its key object, the photograph, is a reminder of those who have died and that all of us will also die ; there isn’t any escape from that “horror”. The smiling from a photograph is the fearful image of what will be left of us. So this photograph is central to the poem because it generates the thoughts and feelings expressed.
“The Explosion” is divided into two. The first five stanzas –which, by the way, are the only ones to end up with a full stop- talk about what happened, and the rest of the poem deals with what is currently happening. Ted Hughes chose to end each of his stanzas by a shocking and abrupt statement ; these lines always remind the fact, the reality : “Six months after this picture they were all dead.”, “Closer than their hope; all were killed.” are two of them.
Another similarity between the poems is the reference to nature. In “The Explosion” there are the “lark’s eggs” or the sun dimmed as in a heat-haze for example, and in “Six Young Men” there is especially a contrast between human life and nature, with “that valley has not changed its sound”. This contrast emphasises the brevity of human life compared with the landscape. It also shows that the length of human life has no impact on nature.
To conclude, these poems have a few similarities such as their relevant title, their main theme death, their regular structure and the imagery of nature, but also a striking difference, which is the message the poet communicates to the reader. Indeed, Philip Larkin’s message, through this elegy, is much more positive and gives hope for life, while Ted Hughes clearly states that we will all die and that there isn’t any escape from death.