Carol Anne Duffy is probably one of Britain’s more famous poets at the present time. Her poems are easy to read, straight forward, fairly simple and many people can relate to the things she writes about; love, loneliness and isolation to name a few. Two of her more famous poems, “War Photographer” and “Stealing” both deal with isolation, but in different ways. “War Photographer” is about a man who “has a job to do” and who sees things that most wouldn’t. The other is about a thief who’s “sick of the world” and probably does not have any friends.
The first verse of “War Photographer” immediately gives the impression that this man is alone. “In his darkroom he is finally alone” to develop his pictures after taking them in faraway, worn torn worlds; “Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh”. “Stealing” also starts in a way that can easily give the impression that this person is alone and done or seen things that you shouldn’t. When he saw the snowman the thief “wanted him, a mate” who he could relate to because the snowman has “a mind as cold as the slice of ice within my own brain.” The thief also admits to doing many things other people don’t when he rhetorically asks, “The most unusual thing I ever stole?” as this implies that he has stolen things.
However, whereas the first verse in both poems shows a few obvious similarities between the two characters, the second verse in both poems reveals how different they are. The war photographer merely “has a job to do.” As he arrives back in England, Duffy describes it as “home again to ordinary pain which simple weather can expel” showing that the war photographer is just an ordinary man, doing his job, but who has grown used to seeing more violent pain, which cannot be relieved by a change in the weather. On the other hand, the thief in “Stealing” takes the view that you are “better off than giving in, not taking what you want.” And feels that “part of the thrill [of stealing the snowman] was knowing the children would cry in the morning. Life’s tough.” This gives the impression that the thief enjoys the suffering of others and has probably led a very hard life himself.
The third verse in “War Photographer” and the last three in “Stealing” further demonstrate differences between the two characters. As “a stranger’s features faintly start to twist before his eyes” the war photographer “remembers the cries of this man’s wife, how he sought approval to do what someone must” and took the picture that he now has before him. However, the thief in “Stealing” takes a far more relaxed attitude towards things; “sometimes I steal things I don’t need.” Then tries to give some sort of twisted meaning to what he does by giving himself a mental script; “I sigh like this – Aah.”
The fourth verse, and the final verse for both poems show both differences and similarities between the two characters and what they do. The War Photographer gives “A hundred agonies in black-and-white” to his editor who “will pick out five or six for Sunday’s supplement.” Meaning that there is a point to what he does and that he takes the pictures to show everybody what wars in other places are like. However, in “Stealing”, after the snowman was “reassembled in the yard, he didn’t look right” and the thief “booted him. Again. Again.” So he had basically just wasted his time stealing the snowman. Because the snowman was stolen he didn’t look right, and it is because of this that although the thief can steal anything he wants, nothing he stills will be right and anything he does is ultimately pointless.
But then the last few lines reveal one ultimate similarity between the two poems… nobody cares, and nobody understands. The thief, who seems to be talking to somebody, rather than being described like in “War Photographer”, says, “You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” showing that the thief in “Stealing” does not feel like he’s connected with the main stream, and feels that nobody understands him, or will take the time to understand him because he’s different from everybody else. Then, in “War Photographer” as the photographer is leaving England “he stares impassively at where he earns his living and they do not care.” Meaning that he also believes that nobody cares what about what he’s had to go through and what he’s had to do, and that they probably wouldn’t understand his need to do what he does when he shows them pictures of what the world outside their homes is really like.
So, although the two poems are very different in many different ways; how they are written, whom they are about, what the characters do and who they are… they are actually both very similar in the theme of isolation, because both poems are about two people who feel and who are alone and isolated from other people by what they do.