Summary of the poem…
The poem details the inner conflict within a war photographer as he returns home to rural England after an assignment. Throughout the poem the photographer struggles to contain his feelings as the horrors he has witnessed resurface in his everyday life. The purpose of the poem is to demonstrate the suffering anddevastation, both physically and emotionally, caused by war.
In her poem Duffy deals with various themes, however the two which are most prominent are:
* Effects of War
Duffy uses a wide range of techniques in her poem in order to demonstrate these themes. She uses the main character of the photographer to convey the trauma caused by witnessing such intense human suffering.Character – The Photographer
The main character in Duffy’s poem is anonymous; he is an observer of his surroundings. He is not so much a particular individual as, like the poet, an observer and recorder of others' lives. He is an outsider ("alone/With spools of suffering") who moves between two worlds but is comfortable in neither.
The "ordered rows" of film spools may suggest how thephotographer tries to bring order to what he records, to interpret or make sense of it. He clearly takes his job very seriously and feels he has a duty to stand up for those who cannot help themselves.
Stanza 1 – Key Quotes
“In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows”
This quotation conveys the photographer’s awkwardness. The word choice of “finallyalone” shows he prefers this and feels more comfortable in his own company.
The metaphor 'spools of suffering' conveys the effects of war. It is an effective technique as Duffy is subverting the connotation of camera spools. Camera spools are ordinarily filled with occasions filled with happiness. In this instance these photographs show the grim reality of war.
Stanza 1 – Key Quotes continued…“ with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows”
“spools of suffering” also suggests the importance of these photographs. Duffy is suggesting that these spools contain a reality of war which should be shared. She is suggesting that these people should not be left to suffer alone, however unfortunately that is exactly what happens.
The repetition of the 's' sound is like the camera windingon, mirroring the photographer’s memories “winding on” as he recalls them. The spools are set out in 'ordered rows' this goes back to the idea of death as the spools are laid out in the same way that coffins would be.
“The only light is red and softly glows”
The red light is used by Duffy to symbolise many things. Firstly, the red may symbolise the blood which is lost in war. As thephotographer develops the film he compares himself to a Priest. This continues the idea of death which is present throughout the poem.
“All flesh is grass”
This metaphor is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible. In the Bible Isaiah compares how short human life is with The Word of the Lord which lasts forever. Before this line Duffy lists cities which have been affected by War.
In doing thisDuffy is reinforcing that living in a war zone human life is more fragile and even shorter.
Stanza 2 – Key Quotes
“He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now.”
Duffy’s use of sentence structure through the short sentence reinforces how seriously the photographer takes his job.
The second stanza contrasts the photographer'scalmness when taking pictures with his attitude as he develops them. If his hands shake when he takes pictures, they won't be any good, but in the darkroom he can allow his hands to tremble. The darkroom allows him to release his emotions.
Stanza 2 – Key Quotes cont.
“Solutions slop in trays”
"Solutions“ here has a double meaning. It refers literally to the developing fluid in the trays, but...