Study Guide

Central Heating Themes

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    The speaker of "Central Heating" has a lot of doubts about just what he's doing in this world, and just what the heck this whole life thing is, anyway. He explores his doubts through imagery and metaphors, but (spoiler alert) never really resolves them. He seems to have serious questions about the reality of the world: What is artificial? What is genuine? What is the correct way to use a semicolon? Okay, okay—he's not so interested in that last question. Instead, he's into big picture issues. He doubts what makes him tick, and whether or not his heart is leading him in the right direction.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. What role do you think love has in the speaker's views on life, consciousness, and existence? What parts of the poem give you your ideas? 
    2. What do you think is the speaker's definition of "artificial?" Why? 
    3. What do you think the speaker means by having no "faith," as he expresses in line 18?
    4. What do you think the "electromagnet" in line 9 is a metaphor for? Why?

    Chew on This

    The speaker's love is so passionate that it ultimately restores his belief in the reality of the world. Aww.

    Irony alert, gang. The intensity of the speaker's love is the reason why he is doubting his life, consciousness, and existence.

  • Love

    Though the speaker in "Central Heating" seems uncertain about whether or not his love is good for him, it's pretty clear that there's a woman whom he is passionate about. He has reservations about his love, perhaps based in his uncertainty about the nature of the world he lives in. Yet this love is intense, and even a memory of an unhappy night with his lover leads him to a revelation about her and his intense feelings for her. In the end, he's got it bad for her. Even if that means doubting every facet of reality, that's a sign of just how totally he's fallen.

    Questions About Love

    1. Do you think that the women in the first stanza of this poem are the same as the woman who is referred to as "you?" Why, or why not? 
    2. What do you think the speaker's feelings towards the person referred to as "you" are? What parts of the poem support your answer? 
    3. What do you think the speaker means in line 9? What would be the wrong road? 
    4. What do you think the significance of the last line is for the relationship between the speaker and "you?" Why?

    Chew on This


    The speaker is passionate about his lover, but there's something making their love impossible to fulfill. Nope—not gonna happen.

    Love conquers all, y'all. The speaker draws heat and comfort from his love for the woman he refers to as "you."

  • Dissatisfaction

    Our speaker is passionately in love, but he struggles to have a positive view of this love and the world he lives in. Let's face it: dude has issues. He doubts the reality of the world, and the rightness of his love. Though he sees beauty all around him, he just can't quite force himself to believe that all of these beautiful things are, you know, real. Published in the middle of World War I, "Central Heating" expresses feelings typical of Europeans in its age—in the face of tragedy, can feelings like love still exist? What is life if it can be ended so quickly and massively in combat? While the poem doesn't mention anything specifically about the war, we can read here about the type of dissatisfaction that might result from a world being shaken by widespread violence and death.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. What do you think the source of the speaker's dissatisfaction is? Why?
    2. How does the speaker tie in the ideas of central heating with his dissatisfaction with life? 
    3. How does the speaker's dissatisfaction affect his love, and vice versa? 
    4. How do the details in the poem add to the mood of dissatisfaction? What parts of the poem support your ideas?

    Chew on This

    Face it: the speaker is dissatisfied because there is something amiss in his love life.

    Love's not the problem, gang. The speaker's doubts about the reality of the world are what leave him unable to find satisfaction.

  • Versions of Reality

    Along with the speaker's musings about the world and his place in it comes his version of reality—or the lack thereof. In "Central Heating," he feels that everything he can see is fake. Even the face of his lover isn't quite real enough for him to have faith in it. Harsh. This is kind of mind-stretching, but it's fun to think about different kinds of reality. (Why do you think the movie "The Matrix" was so popular? It wasn't just all Keanu.) We're dealing with the same kind of philosophical craziness here. We explore exactly what kind of force is running the speaker's thoughts, emotions, and his world as we read the poem. Though we don't get a clear answer (that would be too easy, wouldn't it?), exploring the question is enough to intrigue us.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. If the speaker believes what he states in line 14, "essentially everything visible is artificial," then what, for him, would be real? 
    2. How do the speaker's physical interactions with women affect his version of reality? 
    3. How does the metaphor of central heating relate to the speaker's distrust of reality? 
    4. How do ideas of light in the poem relate to the speaker's concept of reality?

    Chew on This

    The speaker of this poem does not believe his own claim that everything visible is artificial. Love shows him the way back to reality.

    The speaker of this poem believes that there is a more real, important world behind the visible (like in The Matrix, only with fewer fight scenes).