There was a whispering in my hearth,
A sigh of the coal,
Grown wistful of a former earth
It might recall.
I listened for a tale of leaves
And smothered ferns;
Frond-forests; and the low, sly lives
Before the fawns.
My fire might show steam-phantoms simmer
From Time's old cauldron,
Before the birds made nests in summer,
Or men had children.
But the coals were murmuring of their mine,
And moans down there
Of boys that slept wry sleep and men
Writhing for air.
And I saw white bones in the cinder-shard.
Bones without number;
For many hearts with coal are charred
And few remember.
I thought of some who worked dark pits
Of war, and died
Digging the rock where Death reputes
Peace lies indeed.
Comforted years will sit soft-chaired
In rooms of amber;
The years will stretch their hands, well-cheered
By our lives' ember.
The centuries will burn rich loads
With which we groaned,
Whose warmth shall lull their dreaming lids
While songs are crooned.
But they will not dream of us poor lads
Lost in the ground.
THE EXPLOSION (1970)
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.
Philip LarkinReuse content