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Explain how Carol Ann Duffy conveys her feelings towards the subjects
of the two poems War Photographer and Stealing.
'War Photographer' and 'Stealing' by Carol Ann Duffy are both poems
about outsiders. She often uses dramatic monologues when writing
poems, and 'Stealing' is an effective example.
'War Photographer' was written after Duffy had a conversation with a
war photographer named Don McCullin. I believe that he must have
inspired her to write this laudable poem. 'Stealing' too is based on a
true event. When Duffy lived in Wimbledon her neighbours snowman was
The setting of this poem is established on the first line; this being
in a 'dark room' where 'he is finally alone'. Because the setting is
away from the action of the war, it describes the results indirectly
so that it is less graphic, whereas 'Stealing' explores the psychology
of an anonymous outsider with anti-social behaviour and feelings. Like
'War Photographer', 'Stealing' is about someone who is isolated from
society and shows evidence of being distressed. However, in this poem,
the narrator is the character and he is angry and resentful.
In both of the poems she uses the expressions and speech rhythms of an
everyday conversation. 'Stealing' starts with a question, 'The most
unusual thing I ever stole?', which I think, makes the poem more
interesting and intriguing for the readers as well as making it more
conversational. The question is then answered with 'A snowman'. This
is quite a shocking and unusual thing to steal and I believe this will
grab the reader's interest. By making the poem more conversational, it
makes it more personal and gets us more intrigued and makes us think
about the unusual question at the start of the poem. This is effective
as it makes the poem feel more realistic to the readers and conveys
her feelings to the poem in a more personal manner.
Both of the poems are about anonymous people. In 'War Photographer'
the main character is identified as a man. Duffy portrays this man as
an outsider. She refers to him as a 'priest preparing to intone a
mass'. 'All flesh is grass' is another effective example of religious
imagery. I believe it means that there was so much death where he was
photographing that the grass was covered in bodies. It is also linked
to the Bible as it is said to mean 'walking on death'. The use of
religion in this poem has a strong link to Duffy as she is said to be
a Catholic. This makes the poem more personal as it shows that
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softly glows'. In this line the use of the colour red is effective, as
it is commonly known as the colour for danger and is a symbolism for
blood. This adds fear to the poem and is a contrast of the
photographer's job and the danger of the area he is in, also the
amount of blood and lives that are being lost throughout his time
'Stealing' is also about an anonymous character. Duffy uses phrases
that help us picture the characters feelings about his life. He tells
us how he destroys the snowman by kicking it to bits, all because he
was 'bored' and 'sick of the world'. Although, he does admit that this
account of his actions sounds strange and that people 'don't
understand him'. I believe that Duffy could be using these phrases
because she may have felt like this before or knows some one that has
been in the same situation. As both of the poems are about anonymous
people, this could suggest that she cares more about the personality
of the people in the poems and that she is not as interested in the
looks, dress code or features.
'War Photographer' uses the present tense. I believe that this gives
it a sense of immediacy and significantly enhances their impact on the
reader. Because of this it makes the poems more personal and formal.
Between the two poems there are themed links; these being the
shallowness of modern society, motives behind theft and compassion for
fellow society members. I believe that Duffy has chosen two effective
ways that show the shallowness of our modern society: these being
theft and war dilemmas. Duffy portrays these as being erroneous and
matters that should not occur in our modern society. This shows her
compassion for our society and understanding of the world.
Duffy describes the two poem's subjects in a negative way. She uses
both negative and shallow words in them. In 'Stealing' she uses
downbeat phrases such as 'as cold as the slice of ice within my brain',
this is an effective simile and describes the cold and thoughtless
mind of the thief. It portrays the thief as a cold-hearted individual
and this gives them their persona in the poem. 'A hundred agonies' and
' a half-formed ghost' are both successful metaphors used in 'War
Photographer'. These portray depressing thoughts and feelings for the
reader showing the shallowness of our society. It gives us the feeling
of pain and 'suffering' which I think is what Duffy must have been
felling when she wrote this poem. I also believe it shows that Duffy
is against both of the related topics: theft and war.
Duffy describes all of the characters in the poem as if they are
always alone and secluded from the rest of the world. I believe that
she did this to portray a more vivid image of the characters and their
surroundings. I believe that Duffy wanted the readers to understand
the situations the characters were in to create a more effective image
of how they were at the time and how their surroundings influenced
their job, such as when the thief needed a quiet and secluded area so
that he could steal the items. In 'Stealing' Duffy explains that when
the snowman was stolen it was 'Midnight'. This being when there is
little noise and no people around. I believe that 'Midnight' means
dark and silent and when evil things take place, which in his case is
true. The darkness is also a contrast with the snow and makes the
reader get a feeling of coldness and eeriness.
I believe that 'War Photographer' shows Duffy's feelings in a more
compassionate way, this making them more obvious to the reader. This
is because I believe she pleads to the reader in some lines of the
poem, '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' and 'A hundred agonies in black-and-white // from
which is editor will pick out five or six // for Sunday's supplement'.
I believe that Duffy uses these emotive words to show her feelings of
anger and how we take things for granted. Duffy tells us in the poem
that the war photographer earns his living from the pain of other
people, that his job is very repetitive and that we are not a caring
society. I also consider the emotions in this poem to be a significant
amount stronger. I believe she does this by using visual imagery. This
is both strong and powerful. For example: 'running children in a
nightmare heat' is an influential image of pain and unhappiness. The
photographer in his 'darkroom' could suggest the darkness that fills
his mind after all of the terrible events that he has witnessed. I
believe that the sibilance of 'Spools of suffering set out in ordered
rows' is used to emphasise the link between the films and the pictures
they will reveal. The 'ordered rows' also reminds me of rows of body
bags, full of the victims of war.
The tone of this poem makes me assume that she is praising the war
photographer and sympathising with those suffering through war,
particularly women and children. In the final line, we are told that
the readers of the poem 'do not care // where' the photographer goes,
as if to say that we do not care 'where' war is occurring and 'where'
people suffer so much. This conveys Duffy's attitude to other people.
I believe she is saying that we live in a peaceful country that is
'rural England' and have no real idea of what true suffering is and we
are too complacent to find out.
The language of both poems is significantly different in many ways.
'War Photographer' is written in the third person, which I believe
adds to the effectiveness of the poem, making Duffy's feelings
particularly vivid. It is written in a colloquial style and uses no
complex words. It is my understanding that this is to make the poem
more straightforward to understand, therefore more realistic for the
reader. Although 'Stealing' is about 'I', it is not the poet herself
who is talking. The fact that we cannot tell whether the person
telling the poem is male or female makes it deliberately ambiguous as
it is a mystery voice and we have to make our own judgment.
'War Photographer' contains stark statements such as 'blood stained
into foreign dust' and 'the readers eyeballs pricked with tears'. This
adds to the deep emotion of the poem and makes the reader sympathize
with the photographer. I believe this shows Duffy's feelings for the
The language in 'Stealing' is completely dissimilar to that of 'War
Photographer'. It is set out in the form of a dramatic monologue and
has the persona of a thief. The speaker glamorises himself and his
actions, almost as if he is imagining himself as a true professional.
'I sigh like this - Aah', makes it seem that he has been stealing for
a long time and knows how and when to do it to make sure it goes
The poem opens with a question that seems to be the repetition of a
question some one has asked him; 'The most unusual thing I ever stole'.
He continues to talk to the readers throughout the poem and so the
language of the poem sounds like natural speech. The poem also
finishes with a question: 'You don't understand a word I'm saying, do
you?' which is particularly ambiguous and is an overt challenge. I
believe this forces us to reflect upon the poem, the feelings of the
anonymous thief and makes us feel directly involved.
Some of the language in 'Stealing' is violent and disparaging. 'My
breath ripped out in rags' and 'I'm so bored I could eat myself'. I
believe that this is meant to shock and surprise us to emphasise the
lack of order in the speaker's life and to also convey relatively
pessimistic feelings towards the subject.
The form of both the poems is entirely diverse from one another. 'War
Photographer' 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.
Although 'Stealing' is written in five different stanzas, there is no
regularity in the lines. 'I joy-ride cars // to nowhere' and 'My
breath ripped out // in rags' are examples of enjambment which help us
'act out' what is being described to us.
I believe that Duffy conveys a considerable amount of variety of her
feelings to us through both of the poems. In 'Stealing' she is
examining someone else's attitude to life; 'Better off dead than
giving in. I wasâ€¦sick of the world.' This is what I believe she wanted
to convey to us the most as she thinks that it is the most important.
I believe she is also trying to understand why anyone would want to
commit a senseless crime. We see the character's pessimistic attitude;
although he would like his life to be glamorous, he is reduced to
getting satisfaction from stealing a snowman and 'things I don't need'.
In 'War Photographer' I believe Duffy intended to convey to us that a
war photographer does an important and heroic job, yet he is not
appreciated and that a war photographer earns his living through
recording the pain of other people.