Britain in Crisis: Many hearts with coal are charred

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The Independent Online
MINERS (1918)

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.

Wilfred Owen


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 Larkin