Miners - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery in Miners


Throughout Miners Owen uses the image of being underground. This was one of the horrors of war he had himself experienced in 1917 and his discomfort surfaces in many of his poems. Owen’s early interest in geology gave him the picture of the coal being formed over millennia from prehistoric leaves and ferns. He uses the image as a metaphor for the way in which the dead of the war provide warm and security for the future when they, like the plants which formed the coal, are ‘left in the ground’ l.34.


The personification of the coal (see above) is continued with the idea that the ancient forests from which the coal was created have a ‘tale of leaves’ to tell. However Owen realises that the coals are not being nostalgic for the past, rather their ‘murmuring’ is unrest about ‘their mines’ l.13 where miners ‘moan’ l.14.

In lines 23 and 24 Owen personifies Death and Peace, with Death believing that Peace will emerge from ‘the dark pits of war’. Owen puns on the two meanings of ‘lies’: Peace does not lie (rest) in the rock of war where the men dig, it lies (deceives) to the troops.

Time is also given the attributes of a person, who warms his hands on the burnt sacrifice of the men l.27-8 and will carry on burning up ‘loads’ of such precious ‘fossil fuel’ l.29.

Symbolism in Miners

Both the miners and the soldiers symbolise sacrifice. The mines and the dark pits of war also represent Owen’s ongoing dreams of hell. Owen’s and Time’s fires, fed by the coal miners who risk their lives, are examples of the home fires which a popular song of the time exhorted those on the Home front to ‘keep burning’ while the boys on the Western front ‘dream of home.’

Investigating imagery and symbolism in Miners

  • Owen had repeated dreams about being underground. He was familiar with the idea of hell being a place of torture and this can be seen in many poems. Compare Miners to The Sentry and Strange Meeting
    • Look at the similarities between each poem regarding the way Owen creates the sense of horror.

Themes in Miners

In Miners Owen visits many of the key themes he explores in other poems. The concept of the sacrifice of the lives of men and boys to ensure the unacknowledged safety and comfort of those at home is particularly to the forefront. Pain and suffering, dying and death are all explicit. Owen pays great attention to the details of the insensitivities of those on the home front who benefit from the war. They are warmed by the soldiers’ sacrifice in the same way as they are warmed by the coal for which the miners died. They will remember neither.

Investigating themes in Miners

  • Owen began Miners as a poem about a mining disaster, yet the resulting theme is of war. What ideas are common to both tragedies?
  • Does Owen concentrate on the war dead at the expense of the dead miners, as some critics have suggested?
  • Do you agree that this poem is out of place in a selection of anti-war poems, which is the view of some critics?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.