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Carol Ann Duffys Poem Shooting Stars English Literature Essay

The poem’s title ‘Shooting Stars’ creates a sense of ambiguity.  The general connotations applied to this phrase are that of a falling star or perhaps the beauty and brightness of fireworks.  However it is not until we reach the actual content of the poem that we realise that the stars in question are those Stars of David, sewn on to the garments of Jews on the order of the Nazi regime.  Duffy establishes the darkness and horror of the Holocaust immediately in the first line of the poem in the phrase ‘After I no longer speak’.  Here Duffy creates an incredibly strong image of silence and death when the voice has been stilled permanently.   The horror is continued in the image created by ‘they break our fingers’ and there is in this the onomatopoeia of the sound of snapping bones as ‘wedding rings’ are ‘salvaged’ for profit.  Here again the poet uses the two conflicting images of the wedding band, a symbol of eternal love and theft and profit through death in juxtaposition.

The first two lines create a vivid picture of man’s inhumanity to man, the unthinking, uncaring cruelty with which one race imposes on another.

As the first stanza develops Duffy uses traditional Jewish names, all unpunctuated to remove the idea of them being individuals, but a huge collective dead.  Yet despite this she reveals the courage with which these woman faced death ‘upright as statues’, individuals who looked straight ahead waiting for death with calmness.  The poet intensifies her images in her demand of the reader and to the wider world to ‘Remember’.   This demand is repeated least the world forget for the narrator of the poem states that the ‘world’ is now ‘for ever bad’.  

Duffy’s word choice within the poem effectively introduces an impersonal note. The narrative given from the point of view of one of the suffering allows the reader, however, to appreciate the scale that inhumanity can inflict and in turn the scale of this suffering. As the poem progresses Duffy personalises the horror of the holocaust. The child seen between a gap in ‘corpses’ is shot, her ‘eye’. She used as a target.  The narrator too whilst still alive is seen as little more than a sexual object as one soldier seeing she was ‘alive…loosened his belt.’   The detail in stanzas two and three appal the reader and force him or her to recoil at the bestiality that is conveyed so bluntly in the poem.  She closes the third stanza again with a warning note that such cruelty still applies in the world today – she states that ‘only a matter of days separate/this from acts of torture now.’  The adverb ‘now’ brings us to the present day and the poet asks us to consider just how little mankind has changed, perhaps implying that humans as a species are ignorant to their transgressions and fail to learn from the past. 

 

In stanza four Duffy uses contrast to emphasise the monstrosity of the time further. The reference to ‘April evening’ with its connotations of springtime, Easter and beauty is set against the ‘gossiping and smoking by the graves’ and the deplorable image of the soldiers tormenting those already wounded, or those who escaped death by feigning the bullet shot, by using an empty chamber.  The onomatopoeia of ‘click’, ‘trick’ and trickled’ mirrors the short sharp sounds of the empty gun, the harshness and inhumanity of the trick and the final humiliation of the ‘trickled urine’, the last indignity.  Perhaps this more than anything, this ‘trick’ of pretending to shoot but using an empty bullet chamber, the toying with the lives of those already suffering is the most dreadful of all.  The waiting for death is lengthened and so suffering is also elongated.

 

In the closing section of the poem the poet’s description of the suffering of the Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1944 is made even more dreadful when Duffy reminds us that the enormity of the Holocaust has made little impact, for the human race is still intent on inflicting human suffering.In the closing stanzas of the poem Duffy once again highlights the immensity of the horror of those events by contrasting them with the civilised activities of the human being i.e. the ‘tea on the lawn’ and the ‘boy washing his uniform’.   And these activities apply to the reader, as they read of such events and yet return to their everyday lives, they ‘run to our toys’ to the oblivion that forgetfulness brings.  She uses ellipsis once more, only this time the ‘soil’ of time is shovelled over ‘Sara Ezra’…We forget all too quickly. 

 

The final lines end on a note of tragedy for the poet returns us to the inside of the concentration camp where ‘inside the wire …strong men wept’.  The poet again emphasises the extent, the immensity of this event, when strong men are unable to

tolerate this. This return back to the concentration camps also shows the cyclic nature of suffering in Duffy’s message to the reader, humans inflict suffering unto other humans and then when the events have been forgotten they are repeated.  The closing lines of the poem ‘Turn thee/unto me with mercy for I am desolate and lost’ is a reworking of verse six-teen Psalm twenty five which is a prayer from King David to God in which David places his absolute trust in God. Extending this idea in that the Jews themselves ask the rest of the world to be merciful and this request has not been granted.

 

 The poet is an address from woman to woman for men are seen to be the inflictors of the inhumane actions that are the centre of the poem and perhaps she sees the possibility of salvation through women.  Yet the poem ends on a sense of desolation and loss for nothing seems to have changed in the world.  The holocaust is repeated all over the world constantly and the voices raised in protest do not seem to be heard. Duffy’s verse is extremely powerful and we wonder why the world does not listen to the lessons of the past for today in the 21stcentury we constantly read and see of human suffering on a similar if not a greater scale than that of the Holocaust.

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