Conflict is expressed throughout the poems. The poems ‘War Photographer’, ‘Mother In A Refugee Camp’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ are all about the anguish of conflict. In ‘The Right Word’ and ‘Prayer Before Birth’, they discuss how an innocent child can become stained and tainted. Lastly ‘Who’s for the Game?’ talks about the war in more of a positive propaganda way to persuade others to join the war.
In War Photographer, the narrator risked his life and travelled to war zones to take pictures of the death, demise, and destruction. This offers citizens a great insight of what truly happens in war. Governments paint a heroic image of war through propaganda and advertisements. However, it’s the photographs that show the realities of the bloodshed, injustice, and suffering. These pictures are not for people to be forgotten or repeated. In the poem ‘War Photographer’ Duffy creates an eerie atmosphere, especially in the first stanza ‘in his darkroom he is finally alone’. This quote gives a sombre, melancholy tone to the poem, giving the readers a concept of what the overall theme will be about. The poet hints at how his ‘darkroom’ could also be a reference to the dark corners of his mind where the memories of war could hide.
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The word ‘finally’ could suggest that he wasn’t alone earlier, and was confined to chaos. Duffy used alliteration in ‘spools of suffering set out’ in this quote she used alliteration and personification as the harsh ‘S’ sound in ‘spools’ and ‘suffering’ reminds us of the harsh world he works or lives in and he compared the suffering of humans to the spools. Finally, internal conflict is expressed when the poet talks about how he is desensitised to the agonies he witnessed ‘he has a job to do’. He tries to distance himself from the pain and stress by looking at is just a job as it is easier to just avoid the harsh reality and not cope with guilt and grief. He also mentions on how desensitised the readers are as the ‘readers eyeballs prick with tears between bath and pre-lunched beers’ the word ‘pick’ implies how the readers feel quick pain, however, it lasts almost instantly which shows ignorance towards the severity of war and showing a callous disregard for human life. The phrases ‘bath’ and ‘pre-lunched beers’ indicates how the readers will go back to their Sunday routine, not showing any empathy as they haven’t seen the real horrors as the narrator has seen. It could also suggest how privileged they are to live a comfortable life where you are safe unlike the victims behind the photos. ‘War Photographer’ and ‘Mother in A Refugee Camp’ are similar as they both talk about the suffering of victims.
However, ‘War Photographer’ talks more on the outsiders/witness point of view while the ‘Mother in A Refugee Camp’ talks in a first-hand point of view. In ‘Mother in A Refugee Camp’ the poet paints a picture of a mother who’s witnessing her first son’s death, yet refuses to acknowledge it like all the other mothers in the refugee camp as she simply recalls all the little things she did for him like brushing his hair before school. The intense grief and mourning of the mother are evident in ‘humming in her eyes’ suggesting that the pain was too overwhelming for her that her eyes would cry or ‘hum’ without her realising it, which creates a sympathetic tone for the readers and make them think about their families. The poet compared ‘putting flowers to a tiny grave’ to grooming his hair as they are not able to have a proper coffin due to the heavy poverty so she grooms his hair as a mark of respect and love as it will be her last duty as a mother. The internal conflict was expressed clearly when the mother was hesitant to be like the other mothers and lose faith for her innocent son or still have blind hope that he isn’t dead and she won’t lose him.’Mother In A Refugee Camp’ and ‘The Right Word’ are all about children in war and how they are affected. Some evolve to be victims like “Mother in A Refugee Camp’ while others emerge to be soldiers like ‘The Right Word’.
They also discuss the power of maternal instinct. It was clear when the mother in ”Mother In A Refugee Camp’ was holding her dying son in her arms, and when the narrator in ‘The Right Word’ invited the little boy to her home. ‘The Right Word’ focuses on a figure that is ‘the shadow’ outside the narrator’s house. It was labelled ‘the shadow’ due to the difficulty to understand who or what it is.
Throughout the poem, the poet, Imtiaz, explores the appropriate word to identify it. The poem also talks about how the same person can be called a ‘terrorist’ or a ‘freedom fighter’ relying on the perspective of the individual. This gets the readers to realise how they blindly decide others on who is innocent or guilty The poet highlighted conflict between the hatred behind terrorism and the love behind the maternal instinct – this is clear in the first stanza,’ lurking in the shadows is a terrorist’. The word ‘lurking’ implies the figure is ominous and dishonest. The terrorist in the shadow is excluded from the narrator’s home and the poet isolates him due to a human desire to ignore or fear what we don’t fully understand. Near the end of the poem she calls the figure ‘lost in the shadows, a child who looks like mine’ this contrasts the idea of him being a terrorist as this time he isn’t waiting to attack but he is vulnerable behind the shadows. Now he is not isolated but is invited into the narrator’s home like he is a part of a family and is loved.
This provokes sympathy and guilt in the readers for ignorantly assuming the worst. The structure of the poem reflects confusion and doubt of the poet. Each stanza varies in length from 3-5 lines and ends in abrupt words, which could reflect the difficulty of finding ‘the right word’ for this figure as each stanza has a different description of it.
The poet also has no rhyme scheme which could portray the lack of pattern of the post 9/11 era. As previously, people would have been open to anything new or unfamiliar however after the unfortunate event, it created a chaotic, disorganized atmosphere where people are always quick to judge recklessly thus causing people to be anxious about anything different. The image of the door is repeated throughout the poem. It is a metaphorical barrier that represents security as when you are inside, you are safe and shielded from anything unfamiliar, though ‘outside the door’ offers no shelters and the ‘shadows’ represents the unknown, which emphasizes our sense of fear as we have to protect ourselves hence why metaphorically we always stay in the inside within our comfort zone. The repetition of this image reinforces the readers to think about the world we live in and how we are alienated from the unfamiliar. The poet is arguing about how we need to break down the barrier (the door) and change our perceptions.
‘The Right Word’ and ‘Prayer Before Birth’ are both about how this world is ‘unpredictable’ and ‘corrupt’. ‘Prayer Before Birth’ is about a father who is expressing his fear for his unborn child, who is pure and innocent to be protected from all the corruption and harm this world gives, in a form of a prayer to a god or a higher power however it is to be from the point of view of a new-born baby. Each stanza has repetition. It is clear in ‘I’m not yet born’. This is to emphasise to the reader how he is still innocent and hasn’t been exposed to the horrors of the world. As a consequence, it gets the readers to feel remorseful for knowing what world the child be born into. Alternatively, the repetition could also imply incantations relating to the idea of a prayer and it could illustrate the desperation in the child’s plea.
This also gives a tone of hopelessness and gloomy as the child is not yet born however is conscious of the poisonous world. The phrase ‘with water to dandle me’ is used by the poet. The effect of personification with ‘water’ to a friend refers to how he feels isolated in the mother’s womb. The water surrounding him is the only way for him to feel safe and content.
The fact that the ‘water’ is never still, and is always moving around suggests that no matter how many sins occur in his life the world will always continue to move on. Furthermore, the unborn baby sees the element of water as it is their parent to play with. Secondly, in the third stanza the unborn child is frightened of how he will get infected from that toxic world thus he begs god or a higher power for guidance through evil times in the world, where he will be tested to choose between good and evil.
It is evident in ‘a white light in the back of my mind to guide me’ that this suggests the white light is pure and almost in a religious sense of tone. It is clear the unborn child only wants to surround and be provided with the company of nature. It is clear in ‘grass to grow for me, trees to talk, sky to sing’ the personification could indicate how the child sees nature more human and loving then actual humans as he believes humans are corrupted and he lost faith in humanity. However, in the next stanza, the poet uses personification with ‘mountains frown at me’ which paints a picture that even nature is caught up in this monstrous polluted world and deserted him. Thirdly, the child moves from asking guidance to be seeking forgiveness. He pleads to be forgiven for ‘the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me’ This indicate how the unborn baby fears he will lose himself, that the world’s sins become his sins, that he will yield and drowned in the evil around him.
This creates an image for the readers of the child being defenceless and weak as the child is unable to speak his words or think his thoughts; instead the world will speak and think him, which shows how powerful this world can be to completely control humanity as if they are a ‘cog in a machine’. ‘Prayer Before Birth’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ are both about the horrors of the cruel world. However, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is about fighting WWI and how the soldiers are affected.
It is clear in ‘all my dreams before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning’. This phrase talks about how the narrator imagines his soldier friend’s last moment of death. The word ‘dream’ could indicate how his friend’s death continuously haunts the narrator and plague his mind with scarred memories and experiences of the war.
The word ‘helpless’ suggest how he was in misery as even though they had powerful weapons like guns, they were still helpless from all the agony and despair, or they were helpless from escaping his nightmares which indicate he might have PTSD. ‘guttering, choking, drowning’ accentuates the suffering and the excruciating pain his friend experienced before his death. The poet uses parataxis after every word to get the reader to pause and understand the meaning behind every word. ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ and ‘Who’s For The Game’ both convey important and diverse messages. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ discusses the negative effect of war whilst the other discusses the positive effect of war. Conflict is portrayed between encouraging others to go war and encouraging others to stop the war.
In ‘who’s For The Game’ the poet said, ‘who’s for the game, the biggest that played’ this displays the war as a game or a match. The word ‘game’ could suggest how the war will be exciting and in form of play, which could persuade many young men to join and have fun in the game. The phrase ‘biggest that played’ highlights how important and significant the event will be, which lures even young boys to play and be the champions of the biggest game.To conclude, the poems I have explored, all portrayed all different types of conflict whether it was internal conflicts; for example: ‘War Photographer’ as he was conflicted between his job and remorse of the victims. ‘Mother in the Refugee Camp’ as she did not know whether to lose her faith or have hope for her son. Conflicts between two ideas such as: ‘Who’s For the Game’ and ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ for encouraging joining war and for disapproving the continuance of war. ‘The Right Word’ conflicts the love in maternal instinct and hate in terrorism, and finally conflicts between two characters.
For example, ‘Prayer Before Birth’ is about the conflict between the pure and innocent child and the corrupt and tainted world.