Miners - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Miners

Sitting by his coal fire Owen hears the sounds the coals make. He imagines the coal seams are remembering their formation over geological epochs. However he realises that their whispers and moans are for the men and boys killed in the coal mines. This leads Owen on to compare their deaths with those of the men and boys at the Western front who have suffered and died mining Death in order to extract Peace. He sees a future comforted by the fires of the sacrifice ‘we’ made, thereby including himself.

Investigating Miners

  • Owen includes himself in the final verse of Miners. Within the year he too had been killed. Look for the points in the poem where Owen includes himself.
    • To what extent does Owen identify with both the dead miners and the dead soldiers?
    • How does Owen’s subsequent death add to the pity of this poem?

Commentary on Miners


Minnie Pit DisasterOwen says of this poem that it ‘wrote itself in half an hour’ whilst he was training in Ripon before returning to the Western Front. It was prompted by the colliery disaster at the Minnie Mine in Halmer End, a village in Staffordshire, which occurred on the 12th January 1918. Of the 155 killed, 144 died of gas poisoning and 44 were boys of sixteen years of age or under. The next day Owen wrote Miners and sent it to The Nation, a journal which published poems which were critical of war. The poem appeared in print on the 28th January 1918 and was the first of Owen’s poems to earn him money. His cousin Leslie Gunston, a conventional poet who didn’t go to war, wrote to Owen that the rhymes offended his musical ear. In response Owen said:

I suppose I am doing in poetry what the advanced composers are doing in music. I am not satisfied with either...

He may have been thinking of the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) which was creating a stir in conventional musical circles before WWI.

Investigating commentary on Miners

  • Owen saw parallels between the dead miners, men and boys, and the dead of the trenches. What are the most important points of comparison between the miners and the troops?
  • Look at the reference in Miners to ‘the boys that slept wry sleep’. How many of Owen’s other poems can you identify which are about the very young men who died on the Western Front?
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