War Photographer is an emotional poem, designed to move, but also inform the reader. Carol Ann Duffy tries to reflect the views of a photographer conveying the pictures of suffering and grief back home- England. The structure of the poem allows the second and third as well as the last two lines of every stanza to rhyme and have equal syllables.
The poet uses many contrasts in the second stanza, describing the troubles of normal life to the distresses of war. There are also many metaphors related to the whole idea of drawing, somewhat ironic and ambiguous, disparities between religious reconciliation and violent conflict. Yet, the stem of the poem remains loyal to the spectacle of the photographer. There are lot of complex ideas floating from the writing but the poet does well in trying to anchor them, whilst allowing a certain volume of economical ambiguity to fill the readers’ mind. Perhaps the poem is about pictures- and not any other aspect of reporting war- because images capture the moment, capture the passion and capture the reader…and are a constant reminder of the sorrow they snapped.
Something is happening. A stranger’s features faintly start to twist b4 his eyes, a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries of this man’s wife…
These are the first lines of the third paragraph. They carry a powerful message about a simple perception, allied to the whole idea of photography. The poet employs a short, palpable but subtle sentence to intrigue the reader as a way to initiate the stanza. She is describing the developing photograph, whose image is not yet clear, but tangible enough to relate to the photographer’s deep emotion and his broad awareness of the meaning in the picture.
…how he sought approval without words to do what someone must and how the blood stained into foreign dust.
Carol Ann Duffy instigates another chapter of a photographer’s ethic- guilt. The guilt of exploiting the bereavement and misery of war- and how he chooses to justify that. Her choice of language adds further vagueness and almost a double meaning. In my view, she tries to emphasise how ‘he sought approval without words to do what someone must.’
The vagueness resides in how he seeks approval- maybe he is in a foreign country and they communicate another language, or maybe he cannot bear to speak with the woman because of the overwhelming grief over her dead husband. Yet he must ‘do what someone must’ because it is his compulsion- he is a war photographer.
‘A hundred agonies in black-and white from which his editor will pick out 5 or 6 for Sunday’s supplement.’
A passage of time has passed and his pictures are published. This paragraph is existent to make a direct comparison with the pain of war and the effort of the photographer with the views of the readers. Carol uses the term ‘5 or 6’ in this derisive manner and in direct contrast with her previous statement about agonies in black and white. Then she goes on to say
‘The readers eyeballs prick with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
Again, the poet lays on the idea of how readers are moved but still unappreciative. She scorns at how they can just calmly fit in some time to view this material.
‘From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where he earns his living and they do not care’
‘where he earns his living’ are carefully chosen words that give a real spine to the sentence. Because of this phrase, the poet can, quite cleverly, give two explanations or make two assumptions with one ambiguous sentence. This aspect gives the line layers of meaning and also hints at the uneasy situation….that is- being a war photographer.
In one scenario, the photographer may be snapping shots on the battlefield, and the people will not care because they will be so embroiled in waging war. On the other hand, the people in England may not care, although they feel moved, because the war over there does not directly or consequently affect them.