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The
theme of suffering is often a sensitive subject to most people. This is because
the word itself may invoke negative thoughts or memories which people would
usually want to ignore. Poetry frequently utilises the theme of suffering to
give a voice to the voiceless as while the theme is sensitive, it also forces
people to perceive the true reality that they often ignore. The poems ‘War
Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Prayer Before Birth’ by Louis MacNeice and
‘Mother in a Refugee Camp’ by Chinua Achebe present this theme conscientiously
through the eyes of a person who is not suffering themselves but is a witness
to it.

 

In War Photographer the protagonist is
forced to bear witness to the pain of the people around him, but he cannot
express his own agony as it is his job to only spectate not commiserate. One
way that the poem does this is through its language; the line “The only light
is red and softly glows” contains religious imagery which is used to portray
suffering. The “red light” could allude to the red light used in confession
chambers, enlightening the reader of the fact that the photographer feels
guilty of not being able to help the victims and also going so far as to take
pictures of their corpses. Additionally, the stanza ends with the line “All
flesh is grass” which is taken from the New Testament. The line informs the
reader of how gruesome the war zone actually is as the sight of “flesh” or
bodies layering the earth is as common as seeing grass.

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The
structure of War Photographer presents
suffering through the stanza length. There are four stanzas with each having
six lines. The stanza lines in the poem are about the same length which could
represent the pictures that the photographer takes. The lines being similar in
length could symbolize the pictures being in “ordered rows” or it could also illustrate
how alike the contents of each photograph is, with each depicting suffering in
different situations. This could also be reflective of pews in church, thus
emphasising the religious theme. Duffy’s intention when planning out the
structure may have been to also show that the photographer tries to establish
order in the pandemonium of the society that seems to crumble to pieces around
him.

 

The
poem also characterises the idea of suffering through its form. To convey this,
Duffy uses Enjambment to emphasise the poem’s form as it improves the flow of
the poem and makes it seem more story-like. This technique is also used to
contrast the peace felt by the photographer with the pain felt by the millions
of dying people. Another technique used is Caesura particularly in the line “.
Rural England.” The periods before and after Rural England almost seem to
separate England from the rest of the poem, representing how ‘protected’
England is from all the chaos that takes place in other countries.

 

Similarly,
the poem Nettles expresses the agony
of a father when he sees his child injured due to falling into a Nettle bed. He
eventually then cuts down and burns the nettles as he seeks vengeance. The line
“And went outside and slashed in fury with it. Till not a nettle in that fierce
parade, Stood upright anymore.” effectively depicts the father’s rage and
hatred towards the nettles, as he sees himself as the only person who can
‘save’ or ‘avenge’ his son. The line is also an extended metaphor alluding to
the theme of war, where the phrase “fierce parade” may symbolise a battlefield,
hence comparing the father’s violent actions to that of a soldier fighting for
his country. The line “But in two weeks the busy sun and rain. Had called up
tall recruits behind the shed” uses the extended metaphor to inform the reader
of the fact that conflict is never resolved and soon another “war” will begin
again. It makes the reader think about how no matter how many soldiers are
killed more will eventually take their place, hence any action taken against
them is rendered futile. This is similar to the war photographer never being
able to stop taking photographs as there will always be war and suffering in
another place.

 

The
language used in Prayer before Birth
portrays suffering to be a fear in the mind of an unborn foetus who begs for a
life without misery and torment. The poem also portrays the theme of suffering through the
contrast of imagery in each stanza. The imagery depicted in phrases such as “in
blood baths roll me” and “when they murder by means of my hands” have very
negative and gruesome connotations and the imagery helps to present the idea of
not having any freedom and hence being controlled by society. On the other
hand, stanza 2 contains phrases such as “sky to sing to me” and “birds and a
white light”. These lines have very positive connotations and also depict some
religious imagery, with the phrases creating the idea of heaven and words like
“white” referring to purity and “water” may refer to baptism which is a process
that in which people are absolved of their
sins. The juxtaposition between these two types of imagery adds emphasis
to the contrast of reality and a paradise. This in turn enhances the theme of
suffering, as the contrast tells the reader how terrible the real world is, and
how people are forced to do things against their will. Another way in which
suffering is presented in Prayer before birth is through the phrase “would make
me a cog in a machine, a thing with one face” in which the foetus is compared
to an insignificant object such as a cog. The symbolism used further emphasises
how the narrator is controlled by society where he is seen as unimportant and
irrelevant.

 

Suffering is also effectively portrayed
particularly through the structure in the poem Prayer Before Birth. This is evidently done through the use of
imperatives such as “console”, “guide”, “forgive” and “kill”. This is done to
support or reinforce the idea of the poem being a prayer and the imperatives
used are pleas. Another important element in the structure of the poem is the
repetition of the phrase “I am not yet born” except in the last stanza. The
phrase establishes the concept of the narrator being an unborn foetus hence it compels
the audience to think of the innocence of the foetus contrasting with its
thoughts and prayers to be free of corruption, which in turn emphasises the
theme of the poem. The sentence being excluded in the last stanza which is also
the shortest stanza adds particular significance to the notion of its contents.
The last stanza ends the poem abruptly perhaps in a last plea to the higher
being. It adds emphasis to the word “kill” which is also the most powerful and
grim imperative in the poem.

 

The
form that Louis MacNeice utilises in his poem Prayer before Birth is that of a psalm. A psalm is hymn which is
also used while praying. MacNeice writes in this form to portray the poem as a
prayer which is also blatant in its title. Suffering is presented this way as in
reality people often pray when they are suffering in a dilemma of some sort, hence
writing the poem as a prayer has a large effect on the audience, who are
obliged to take a look at the prayers of someone other than themselves. Prayer Before Birth’s form also depicts
suffering through the layout of each stanza. The lines in each stanza slowly
descend with the contents of each line being more horrific the lower the line
is. This could connote to slowly going down the steps to hell, which would be
another form of religious imagery. This helps the audience visualise how righteousness
slowly turns into immorality, and makes them thoroughly reflect on the world we
live in today which is also the poet’s intention.

 

 

The
poem Manhunt by Simon Armitage also
portrays suffering through several comparisons of the human body to inanimate
objects creating a lexical field. One clear example of this is the line “Only
then could I bind the struts, and climb the rungs of his broken ribs”. In this
case, the man’s ribs are compared to a ladder and each rung on the ladder could
represent the steps the woman takes to return to their normal life. This shows
the reader that even though they are partners, the man’s new self seems
unfamiliar and the wife is hesitant to take each step, which is also implied
through the phrase “Only then”. Furthermore, the comparison of the man’s body
to artificial objects characterises him to seem less human or entirely depict
him to have lost his humanity and he is now more like an object that is
lifeless. The word “bind” is used to portray how the wife is trying to slowly
heal him and help him return to their prior life by mending his ribs.

 

Suffering
is also depicted extensively in Mother in
a Refugee Camp where a mother slowly comes to terms with her child’s eventual
death, while other mothers in the camp are apathetic towards the death of their
own children. One way that this is shown is through the language that Achebe
uses to elevate the protagonist over the other mothers in the line “Other
mothers there had long ceased to care, but not this one.” Achebe uses emotive
language to depict suffering through familial love to place emphasis on the
fact that the other mothers in the camp do not care about the survival of their
children and have perhaps accepted and have gotten used to the idea of their
children dying. However, the protagonist in the poem is portrayed to have only
one concern: her child. The phrase “ghost smile” uses an oxymoron which
provides a contrast between life and death, and helps to place particular
significance on the little happiness the mother has left. This phrase also
foreshadows the bittersweet end to the poem where the child passes away, and is
therefore a representation of the mother’s feelings of despair towards the
son’s spirit or ‘ghost’.

 

Mother in a Refugee Camp has a very
unique structure which contributes to the theme of suffering illustrated in the
poem. Achebe structures the poem in one continuous stanza to portray and symbolise
the idea of the refugee camp being a place where suffering is continuous. This could
also have been done intentionally so that the reader is forced to focus on the
message of the poem as the poem slowly delves into the death of the child.
Another technique used to emphasise suffering in the structure of the poem is
the powerful use of juxtaposition in their life before with their current life.
For example, the line: “In their former life this was perhaps, a little daily
act of no consequence” is used to remind the reader that all the refugees in
the camp had normal lives once and weren’t condemned to live in their current
situation. This in turn makes the reader imagine themselves in this situation
more clearly, highlighting the Pathos element in the poem as they feel
sympathetic towards the refugees particularly the mother who was forced to live
in such terrible conditions despite doing nothing wrong.

 

The
form in Mother in a Refugee Camp
presents suffering through Achebe’s use of free verse. The poem being written
in free verse has the effect of having a story-like structure which in turn
absorbs the reader into the poem’s plot and setting. Free verse is also known
to sound similar to natural speech and hence suggests the notion of freedom. In
this way, Achebe portrays the refugees in the poem as wanting to be free which
heavily contrasts against the strong theme of suffering also presented in the
poem.

 

The
poem Kamikaze written by Beatrice
Garland presents similar themes to that of Mother in a Refugee Camp such as
suffering through Familial Love, although the poem presents this is a different
way. While Mother in a Refugee Camps portrays this type of suffering through
the death of a loved one, Kamikaze on the other hand illustrates this kind of
suffering through the Familial rejection, due to cowardice. The last line “he
must have wondered which had been the better way to die.” effectively conveys
this to the reader. This tells the reader how poorly the father or ‘Kamikaze’
was treated when he returned, enough to make him contemplate death. To
highlight the theme of suffering Garland also uses emotive language. The line “only
we children still chattered and laughed” is immediately contrasted by the line
“to live as though he had never returned, that this was no longer the father we
loved.” in the next stanza. This tells the reader that even though the children
loved their father they need to act as if he never existed, similar to the
other mothers in the refugee camp.

 

In
conclusion, the theme of suffering is effectively utilised by poets in order to
illustrate the true reality to a society that is shielded. The theme is often
complemented by language techniques such as emotive language to convey the
overall moral of the poem. 

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