War Photographer By Carol Ann Duffy (Poem Analysis) Essay, Research Paper
By Carol Ann Duffy (Poem Analysis)
“In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.
He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.
Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how blood stained into foreign dust.
A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns his living and they do not care.”
A war photographer has returned from his latest job to his quiet home in England.
He develops the spools of film he took in the front line. As the pictures appear, he remembers the horror of the
situations he was in. He sends them off to the Sunday newspaper for which he works, and the editor chooses the ones he wants to print.
As he goes on his next job, he knows that his pictures may not do any lasting good because people who see them in
newspapers do not care.
If you looked closely at the way language is used in the poem, you might notice:
The way the poem is written in the present tense, as if it is happening now, to make the events more real and more shocking.
The use of photographic terms – darkroom, spools – and the poem is clearly set in a photographic studio – The only light
is red. What associations are there?
The man is in his darkroom. This could suggest the darkness that fills his mind after all the terrible events he’s witnessed.
spools of suffering set out in ordered rows. The “s” sounds (alliteration) emphasise the link between the films and the pictures they will reveal.
The ordered rows remind us of rows of bodybags, full of the victims of war. The red light is a reminder of the blood shed in war.
There is a contrast between the situation the photographer is in now he is home in peaceful, simple, rural England and the
nightmare heat of the country he was working in. There, fields were full of landmines and exploded beneath the feet of anyone who passed over them – not the feet of the enemy
soldiers, but of innocent running children. The poem is written in a plain, matter-of-fact style, with no complex vocabulary.
There are many stark statements – He has a job to do. Something is happening. …they do not care.
There is some rhyme in the poem. How does it help emphasise the poet’s message? Try these:
In stanza one, alone is alone at the end of a line, to illustrate the photographer’s isolation in his darkroom.
In stanza two, eyes rhymes with cries, so we can see what the photographer sees and hear what he hears.
In the final line, we are told that the readers do not care / where the photographer goes, as if to say that they do not
care where war is happening and where people suffer so much.
Look closely at the order of other key words and phrases and see if you can work out why the poet chose to write them in that order.
The poem is written in four regular stanzas, which helps to emphasise the regular, monotonous pattern of the photographer’s
job. It starts with him arriving home from one job and ends with him leaving for the next one, as if his life runs in a cycle.
Ideas and Attitudes:
Now that you have looked at the poem in detail, you should be able to say what the poet intended to convey in her work. All the
following ideas are contained in the poem. It is up to you to place them in the order that you think best reflects the poet’s thoughts.
We, in a peaceful country, have no real idea of what true suffering is and are too complacent to find out.
A war photographer does an important and heroic job, yet he is not appreciated.
A war photographer earns his living through recording the pain of other people.
You need to decide whether the poet is: condemning us, the people who read the Sunday magazines
and do nothing, in a bitter and cutting way. Sympathising with those suffering through war (particularly
innocent women and children). Praising the war photographer.
It is possible that all these feelings are present in the poem. Which do you think is the most important?