Explore the presentation of powerful emotions related to conflict in Poppies and War Photographer



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Explore the presentation of powerful emotions related to conflict in Poppies and War Photographer.

Powerful emotions are shown in both poems: Poppies and War Photographer through the perspective of people outside of the conflict, but who experience a form of conflict themselves. In Poppies the persona appears to be a mother, who is experiencing feelings of loss as a result of her son growing up and going to war. War Photographer depicts the outsider’s perspective in a different way to Poppies: it is seen more vividly and visually through the eyes of someone experiencing the conflict, photographing the conflict but not being able to do anything to help those injured by the conflict. In this way the conflict and powerful emotions, while different are equally powerful. Memory, visual representation and the power of touch is presented in both poems to reinforce the way powerful emotions are created by the experiences of conflict.


Both poets use memory to reinforce the powerful emotions evident in the poems. Memory, in Poppies is from a mother, who appears to remember her son leaving for school or leaving for the war. The mother “pinned one onto your lapel” with the past tense implying that this was something that happened and a memory that is sharply remembered, as a result of the imminence of “Armistice Sunday”. The significance of the proper nouns and use of “Armistice” is important as it has symbolic meaning as a time when we all get together to remember those who fell in war, a time for reminiscing and a time to reflect on the human sacrifices that were made. The ambiguity over whether the jacket was a school blazer, or an army jacket increases the poignancy. Irrespective of when the poppy was “pinned” onto the “lapel” the tactile action is maternal and loving and shows the bond between mother and child, that grows from when they are little and remains even when they are grown up. Memory is differently explored in War Photographer and the memory is from the perspective of a persona, who was in the conflict, but as a bystander and observer, rather than as an active participant. Their memory is sharply painful “the cries of this man’s wife” with the enjambment reinforcing the powerful jolt of remembrance, when the “half formed ghost” appears as it is revealed in his darkroom. The photographer appears to have compartmentalised what he saw and refers to the memories using emotive language “a hundred agonies in black and white” which almost dehumanises the powerful emotions linked to the conflict that was seen by the war photographer, as the vast array of “agonies” reflects the habitual suffering that humanity experiences during conflict. However, Duffy may have been influenced to write about the powerful emotions in the poem in a detached way to show the outside world the horror that her friends had to catalogue and photograph, while not being able to help or do anything, as that was not what they were there to do. This dehumanisation of the people depicted in the poem is further reinforced by the next step of removal from the horror when the fact is used that “the editor will pick out five or six”, which is completely different from the first-person perspective in Poppies. The mother in Poppies seems to live and breathe the pain and suffering, whereas the photographer is once removed from the suffering.
Furthermore, both poets use visual representations to emphasise the powerful emotions that are evident in the poems. In poppies the imagery of “poppies…placed on individual war graves.” Is an incredibly strong visual, as most people have experienced the sight of poppies on graves as a form of memorial, so this is familiar and significant. Unlike this public visual display, in War Photographer, he is “finally alone” creating imagery of a relief that the photographer is able to hide away in his darkroom surrounded by the ironic “spools of suffering” as the old-fashioned camera’s had “spools” of film that captured the images. The sibilance here perhaps reinforces the visual representation of the sheer amount of powerful emotions contained in the film that has yet to be developed. As well as the actual poppies creating vivid visual imagery and the as yet undeveloped film from War Photographer, in Poppies the setting is visually represented. Duffy has the persona “skirting the church yard walls,” with the verb “skirting” implying that she does not want to be there or does not want to be seen, as if she wants to fade into the background, but the visual imagery of a churchyard is very commonplace and familiar to British people. Whereas, in War Photographer the setting and visual representation of areas is listed with the proper nouns naming places that are far away and unfamiliar to the reader “Belfast. Beruit. Phnom Penh.”. All these places are known to be places that have suffered from conflict and the removal of the familiar by Duffy to the less familiar name only settings could show another removal from the powerful emotions that ordinary people feel when they see images in the newspapers. As Duffy reflects the “reader’s eyeballs prick with tears” which is a recognition of the powerful emotions reflected in the photographs taken of the conflict but the juxtaposition of the familiar comfort of everyday life shows that this is a fleeting moment of empathy for most people “between the bath and pre-lunch beers”. Both poems use visual representations as a way of familiarising and defamiliarising the conflict and the powerful emotions felt as a result of the conflict.
Finally, both poems use the power of touch through the tactile acts inherent in the poems. As a seamstress, Weir uses imagery of keeping the hands busy and using touch to make the persona seem closer to their lost loved one. The verbs “traced”, “leaned” and “pulled” in the final stanza show the powerful emotions of the persona missing her son and using touch as a way to keep her with her son. Although, it isn’t touch, the senses are important to and she “hoping to hear your playground voice” implying she misses a time when her son was young, free and innocent and wants to remember this. Powerful emotions of loss are shown in the way she continually references caring touches “smoothed down your shirt’s” which are clearly memories of what she did when her son was with her. Duffy, meanwhile, uses the actions of the people suffering in the conflict to create the feeling of how futile the conflict was “running children in a nightmare heat.” These images are only possible due to the developing of these with hands that “tremble” even though they “did not tremble then” which implies that while undertaking the job of taking photographs of the conflict the photographer is fine, but not after the event, when he has time to reflect and think about it. Both Poppies and War Photographer show the power of touch in bringing powerful memories to the surface. In Poppies this is done through the memory of tactile acts of care between the mother and the son and in War Photographer through the developing of the film and the release of the memories as a result of the pictures that were taken.
Both poets reflect powerful emotions in different ways. The powerful emotions in Poppies appear to be reflected through the relationship of a mother and a son and this leads to a very personal reflection, which one could be forgiven for thinking is Weir’s own experience but is not. Whereas, in War Photographer the experience is that of a third-party bystander, who was employed to take pictures of the conflicts and sell these, but Duffy shows that the powerful emotions evoked by the pictures mean that the persona is not able to see this as a purely business and unemotional transaction. Both poets show the powerful emotions through the persona’s and although they are very different in many ways, the suffering of humanity is evident in both poems.
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