Summary of the poem…
The poem details the inner conflict within a war photographer as he returns home to rural England after an assignment. Throughout the poem the photographer struggles to contain his feelings as the horrors he has witnessed resurface in his everyday life. The purpose of the poem is to demonstrate the suffering and devastation, both physically and emotionally, caused by war.
In her poem Duffy deals with various themes, however the two which are most prominent are: Effects of War Death
Duffy uses a wide range of techniques in her poem in order to demonstrate these themes. She uses the main character of the photographer to convey the trauma caused by witnessing such intense human suffering.
Character – The Photographer
The main character in Duffy’s poem is anonymous; he is an observer of his surroundings. He is not so much a particular individual as, like the poet, an observer and recorder of others' lives. He is an outsider ("alone/With spools of suffering") who moves between two worlds but is comfortable in neither.
The "ordered rows" of film spools may suggest how the photographer tries to bring order to what he records, to interpret or make sense of it. He clearly takes his job very seriously and feels he has a duty to stand up for those who cannot help themselves.
Stanza 1 – Key Quotes “In his darkroom he is finally alone with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows”
This quotation conveys the photographer’s awkwardness. The word choice of “finally alone” shows he prefers this and feels more comfortable in his own company.
The metaphor 'spools of suffering' conveys the effects of war. It is an effective technique as Duffy is subverting the connotation of camera spools. Camera spools are ordinarily filled with occasions filled with happiness. In this instance these photographs show the grim reality of war.
Stanza 1 – Key Quotes continued… “