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A Study Of War Poetry English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2400 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This poem presents war through the experience of the war photographer. We learn about war through the way that he acts and through his emotions. We learn that war must be mentally disturbing and distressing and how it can emotionally damage someone. The atmosphere in the darkroom is solemn and cold. It is almost like a church with ‘softly glowing red light’. The photographer sees himself like a priest ‘preparing to intone a mass’ since he’s taking this process of developing these photos very seriously. These are special photos to him so he has no other choice but to treat them with reverence. He needs to act appropriately because they are so very harrowing. He places an importance in these photos and because he is treating them with so much seriousness, it is almost like a priest preparing a church service. The photographer’s reaction to the developing photos is that of shock. He is now feeling what he should have felt before – delayed stress. As the ‘half-formed ghost’ appears, sounds come back to him and it’s as if he is haunted by the images of the man’s death and he’ll never forget those violent events. He is lumbered with the flashbacks of war. In ‘War Photographer’ it is not essential to have great detail about the photographic images, simply because the poem is not about the photos. We don’t need to know about them because we only learn about war through the photographer’s reactions to the images and also his thoughts on them. Carol describes the public’s reaction to the photographs very differently to the photographer’s reaction to highlight the contrast between the two. ‘Between bath and pre-lunch beers’ means that readers will only scan through the article as something extra to do in their free time, and they’ll forget about it straight after putting the paper down. This implies that no-one cares about what’s happening in the world, and no-one understands what the photographer understands. Duffy shows her irony at the end of the poem ‘prick with tears’. It only just touches the readers, but they won’t weep and weep for the thousands of lives lost, because that’s what’s supposed to happen in war. The photographer looks down on the public for this reason, and he feels frustrated and bitter that no-one understands or cares about the reality. I think he feels annoyed that he’s the only person to understand war, and everyone else in ‘Rural England’ have their problems of their own. The photographer has been condemned into anger and distress through his job, which is why I feel extreme pity for him. I feel sympathetic towards the photographer because no-one else apprehends him and so he can’t share his feelings with anybody. No-one else appreciates the reality of war.

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Carol Ann Duffy has thought meticulously about the words and phrases she uses in order to communicate the suffering of the war photographer effectively. It seems as if the photographer has looked forward to being able to release his emotions because he his ‘finally alone’. We know this because his hands start to tremble and he gets flashbacks and feels anger. Also he may be dreading being alone since he now has to be confronted with his sick souvenirs. It doesn’t matter how you interpret the meaning, either way the photos are unavoidable. Duffy has utilised the alliterative phrase ‘spools of suffering set out in ordered rows’ to illustrate the point that the photographer is attempting to contain his pain. He doesn’t want his emotions to take hold of him so he tries to organise everything to keep himself focused. She displays the contrast between our ‘Rural England’ and ‘Belfast, Beirut and Phnom Penh’ by highlighting the fact that our ‘ordinary pain’ can be cured by ‘simple weather’. But what about the pain of those who get dragged into war and suffer? What about the ‘exploding fields’ and ‘nightmare heat’. Simple weather can’t cure that! Duffy turns sarcastic and makes the comment; at least our children don’t blow up. I think that the key message behind this poem is how we take everything for granted, and we don’t appreciate what has been given. Carol uses the image of ‘running children’ to set before us the idea of fear and vulnerability. She has done this to reveal the contrast between children of Britain and children of war. How children in England are so protected and free from worries, and given everything to live life to the full in comparison to the vulnerable, weak children in war. In this poem graphic images are rapidly brought up, and the language used is also very dramatic (blood). The idea of ‘blood stained’ gives the impression that it is unnatural and it shouldn’t be there. Again the atmosphere of a church and of a funeral service is felt because of the line from the bible ‘all flesh is grass’, basically we all return to dust. The whole poem is about death and it feels very depressing to read it. But Carol has done this deliberately to make the poem thought-provoking and to give it a tone of discomfort. ‘The cries of a man’s wife’ is a very specific and immediate memory that will stay with the photographer forever. It is also a personal experience that he will never forget and will probably suffer from for the rest of his life.

‘The Man He Killed’ by Thomas Hardy is the second poem that I shall look at. Hardy makes a general point about war. The main idea of the poem is the cruelty and absurdity of it. Hardy looks at the pointless reasons of war and how normal men begin to call each other foes and see each other as enemies. The key message of the poem is the tragedy of war. Throughout the poem, Hardy makes a joke of war and emphasises just how silly and ridiculous it really is. The author uses language effectively and one way is in the title. Although the poem is written in the first poem, the title is in the third ‘The Man He Killed’. Hardy has deliberately done this to relate the poem to everyone to highlight the fact that this could happen to any ordinary person. In the final stanza, the soldier implies that everyone would do the same thing by saying ‘you’ and ‘you’d’. This makes the readers feel as if the soldier is talking directly at them. The poem tells us how things could have been different and how war changes all relationships; how it prohibits friendship and distorts feelings. It troubles the soldier when he thinks about how he could have been friends with the man he killed if it hadn’t been for war. Although this poem was written long after the war we can see how the soldier still can’t forget what he’s done and that he’s still struggling to come to terms with his actions. Hardy is showing us how war can affect a soldier, even until now. After such a long period of time it is still difficult for the soldier to think of a suitable reason as to why he killed the man. Repetition of ‘because’ shows that he’s stumbling to think of a reason why. Hardy has chosen a very gentle way of telling us his main message: ‘yes; quaint and curious war is!’ This line is worded almost like it’s a joke – but there’s a lot of bitterness in it. The exclamation mark makes it seem more than just a joke. At an objective distance war looks a bit more than ‘quaint and curious’, it seems absurd. The tone through the poem is very thought-provoking. You are constantly thinking about each and every point the soldier makes and questions are automatically being raised as to why!

This poem says a lot about war through the experience of the protagonist soldier. He is brainwashed into thinking that this man; this stranger is his enemy. He considers friendship and what friendship involves. He thinks about how he could have been friends with that stranger and how they could have got drunk together: ‘we should have sat us down to wet’. The poem explains that just because they met in war, they had no other choice but to shoot at one another. The soldier describes how he had no choice but to save his own life, ‘I shot at him, and he at me’. He feels a sense of frustration because he can’t understand war. He tries to justify why he did it; why he killed someone for whom he shared no feelings. The whole poem gives a sense of guilt and shame from the soldier. He empathises with the man he killed, and thinks quite deeply about what he has done. The soldier contains a sense of irony about the situation; he’s killed a man who he hadn’t had a thought about. He’s killed a man who was just like him. There is also a tone of puzzlement in the poem, ‘that’s clear enough; although’, because it troubles the soldier that the man he killed was probably quite like himself: ‘off-hand like – just as I’. He thinks about how they both probably joined the army for the same reasons; unemployment and curiosity. The man he killed wasn’t even evil, he was just an unemployed man who joined the army because he needed a job, ‘No other reason why’. We don’t know what the soldier’s name is, and we don’t know anything about his ordinary life, other than what he’s written. Hardy has deliberately done this to make the poem apply to everyone. This could be any soldier talking about any other soldier. The author’s very simple point is the absurdity of war. There are a lot of questions raised by this poem. Why kill someone for whom you share no feeling? What is war after all? And should you kill a person you don’t know? Should you go to the extent of killing a being, without a solid reason behind the actions you are taking?

Hardy communicates his view of war in ‘The Man He Killed’ through the structure and the language of the poem. The first and last stanza is like a dream for the soldier; what if they had met in a pub? What if they had known each other before? The beginning describes how the two men could have shared a different relationship, and how it would have been ever so different. This is contrasted with the cruel truth; the truth that the soldier is finding so difficult to accept. The language in the second stanza, for example ‘face to face’ and ‘shot at him as he at me’ is unusually blunt. The soldier uses fairly matter of fact, down to earth language to describe killing the man. It is a very simple, straightforward description of a dramatic event. He gives the facts as they are, and says it how it is. This separate language contrasts with the serious message behind the poem, and helps to highlight the soldier’s sense of bitterness. Also the language is working class, which makes it accessible to the ordinary man such as the soldier. In the third stanza, the repetition of ‘foe’ and ‘because’ plus the broken rhythm tells us that the soldier isn’t confident, so he’s trying to convince himself that what he’s saying is right. That stranger was his enemy. ‘Just so: my foe of course he was’. In this line the soldier is trying to reassure himself that he was right to kill the man although he doesn’t believe it. In the latter part of the poem the soldier uses the word ‘fellow’ to make the man seem more like a friend than an enemy. It almost seems as if he’s calling him a ‘chap’; as if they have an understanding between each other and something in common. The entire poem is in speech marks to make you imagine someone speaking out loud. The style of it feels like a casual conversation. The informal, friendly language, for example ‘nipperkin’ contrasts greatly with the description of the battle in the second verse. The colloquial language makes the poem sound like an everyday speech. The ironic understatement ‘quaint and curious’, as mentioned before makes the soldier sound puzzled by war.

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The general theme of war is presented in the two poems: ‘The Man He Killed’, and ‘War Photographer’ however the views and thoughts of war differ. They are both antiwar poems because on one hand Thomas Hardy shows through a soldier his confusion for war, and his irony at it. And on the other hand Carol Ann Duffy shows through a photographer her sympathy for the innocent victims who get caught up in war. Even though they are written about one hundred years apart, we realise the same thing from both poems, the sense of war. The clearly stated message from ‘The Man He Killed’ is that war is senseless, pointless and absurd but Duffy implies that war is inevitable. Hardy has chosen to write his poem in the first person to make it seem like a calm reflection, however ‘War Photographer’ is written in the third person to create traumatic images. From ‘The Man He Killed’ we do not feel revolted and shocked by war, it just doesn’t make sense. But in the ‘War Photographer’ we see how the horrors of war can affect people, and since it’s in the third person it is almost as if we are watching someone suffer. It shows more stress, fright, and the damage war creates. Carol Ann Duffy has purposely not included any rhythm to make ‘War Photographer’ contain a grave and solemn tone. ‘The Man He Killed’ however, has an upbeat since it is not such a serious matter. The single worded technique that Carol utilises, ‘Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh’, makes it feel as if the names of the famous war scenes will continue to arise, and we ask ourselves how many more? As the photographer ‘stares impassively’ from the aeroplane window showing no emotion, bitter feelings must be within him. I think he feels ready to face the truth that his work is nothing but forlorn. And it will have no effect on anyone other than himself. He is resigned to the futility of his work, and also to the futility of war!


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