“Shooting stars” by Carol Anne Duffy is a troubling and tragically appealing poem. In the poem, Duffy creates an image of a heroic figure enduring life within a concentration camp, in the kind of the narrator. This exceptional figure tugs at the heart strings of the reader and leaves us surprised, advising us of the ruthless suffering of the Jews.
Duffy takes on the personality of a victim in a prisoner-of-war camp and produces a sense of impending death and violence throughout the poem.
She is subjected to torture, rape and witnesses horrific murders. Her very first person story is continuously in the female point of view and she explains how the soldiers dehumanise the Jews and reveal no feeling towards their victims. The poet deals with the reader and then the female reader near completion of the poem to surprise us into to a more profound awareness of the reality of what has happened, guaranteeing that we will never ever forget the catastrophic events of the holocaust.
Firstly we can see the method which Duffy explores the heroism of the storyteller by highlighting the violence which surrounds her. The threatening language used by Duffy represents a sense of imminent risk: “After I no longer speak they break our fingers to restore my wedding event ring” Duffy produces a strong picture of silence and death when her voice is completely stopped and in this method the heroism explored is that of a quiet type of heroism. This line is composed in today tense, bringing the events of the Holocaust closer to us and this deeply revolts us; this female’s fingers have actually been broken whilst she remained in fact still alive.
Here Duffy uses 2 conflicting images, one of everlasting love and the other of theft and therefore the underlying style of suffering is communicated since plainly no consideration or empathy is shown by the inhuman soldiers therefore the narrator’s heroism is deeply moving due to the fact that of the strength of the human spirits in such profound ugliness.
She is unnamed and consequently could be any of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, reminding us of the catastrophic amount of human suffering. The narrator is heroic because she strives to survive and Duffy is a deeply moving poet because she attempts to give the reader an intensely sad but important reminder. She then lists the names of Jews,”Rebecca Rachel Ruth Aaron Emmanuel David.” The lack of punctuation makes the list seem ‘endless’, and the people who died were not just statistics but real people who had lives and through this Duffy reminds us that there were so many millions of unsung heroes. The biblical Jewish names are bulked together relating to the bodies of the dead Jews and the way in which the bodies were heaped in a pile and they are not regarded as individuals. This contributes to the horrific realisation of the concentration camps and the narrator’s heroic status is tragic in effect.
Similarly, in stanza two Duffy shows the woman’s courage and heroism when faced with death when she talks about how the Jews confront it, “Mourn for the daughters upright as statues, brave.” This tells the reader it was not only men who were dying but woman and children too. It forces us to question ourselves: would I be so brave if I knew I was going to die? This makes their horrifying and unnecessary death, a waste of innocent life, even more terrible. Duffy acknowledges the bravery of the millions who died, not merely her narrator, who speaks for those millions. Duffy continues to intensify her message when she demands that the reader “Remember”; she repeats this and conveys her forceful opinion. She states the “world” is now “forever bad”. In this she then tells us that we need a new king of heroism, one modelled by the narrator.
Consequently, in stanza three Duffy’s blunt description of a child being shot as if used as a target, conveys the narrator’s heroism in the face of unimaginable horror, “They shot her in the eye.” This incomprehensive description is seen through a pile of “corpses”. This added detail makes the picture painted all the more ghastly and appalling because life has been rendered so meaningless.
In this context heroism of any sort is seemingly impossible and this is one of the ways in which the poem itself is ultimately uplifting; despite the horror, the narrator still retains strength of spirit in such nightmarish conditions. Also, the narrator is sexually assaulted by a German soldier, “One saw I was alive. Loosened his belt.” This repulsive and graphic description shocks us and also makes us sympathetic to the narrator because we feel her fear and humanity. The enjambment between “loosened” and “belt” draws attention to the horrifying fact that she is about to be raped. She closes stanza three with a warning that such cruelties still apply today, “only a matter of days separate this from acts of torture now.” The meaning is ambiguous here; Duffy hints at contemporary violence in the reference to ‘now’. The narrator sees her own fate, her death and indignity, and she has not become a monster as it would be so easy for her to do, and this is where her heroism lies.
In contrast, Duffy now redirects, and in stanza four she addresses the reader and refers to a “perfect April evening” implying springtime and a joyful time of year. However, the onomatopoeia “click” and “trick” mirrors the short sharp sounds of an empty gun and the effect of these contrasting images is to remind us of the frailty of human life and the way in which the narrator faces such unfeeling and unthinking violence. The final humiliation of the “trickled urine”, affects us greatly as now she loses dignity.
Thus the heroism described in the poem is the narrator’s ability to merely live through this, and not lose her humanity. The harsh reality of the soldiers toying with the lives of the innocent is emphasised; it is almost a game for them and this adds a powerful understanding in the reader; we see a world of cruelty which is so alien and unimaginable that we are forced to try and comprehend the incomprehensible; Duffy reminds us that even though the enormity of the Holocaust was vast it made little impact on the day to day lives of the human race.
Thus, in stanza five Duffy thus highlights the incomprehensible horror of the holocaust by contrasting it to our day to day lives by mentioning “tea on the lawn.” The contrast between the violence and the ordinary reminds us that it is ordinary people who committed these acts and that it could, in many ways, be us. Duffy wonders if we have forgotten the horrors and simply ‘gotten on’ with life, “After the history lesson children run to their toys the world turns in its sleep.” Children are mentioned again, and we are reminded that children suffer, and also that children grow up into the adults who commit such cruelties. She also reminds us that cruelty happens all the time, and we simply sleep through it. In this way Duffy asks for the heroic human spirit which survived the holocaust and to be awakened in us again.
Hence, in the final stanza Duffy again addresses the female reader, calling for the memory of the narrator’s heroism to be celebrated and honoured: Sister, if seas part us, do you not consider me?
Tell them I sang the ancient psalms at dusk
The language used here is religious and spiritual in connotation and thus contains a sense of the heroic plight of the Jews throughout history; songs and stories are recounted about heroes and this is what she asks us now to do and in doing so her heroism will live on. She also explains that the tragedy of the concentration camp was so horrific that even strong men wept, “Inside the wire strong men wept.”
She describes prisoners who are stereotypically thought of as heartless evil people, crying. This is the profound effect of her call to worship while in the concentration camp. This very act is a heroic act because it would be all too easy to lose faith in god and the human race but the narrator does not; she certainly suffers but does not lose her essential goodness of humanity.
In conclusion “Shooting stars” by Carol Ann Duffy is addressed from one heroic woman to contemporary woman. The violence we are able to inflict on others is clearly explored, and the poem convincingly depicts the narrator as a heroic and admirable figure. The narrator’s haunting words from the grave will never be forgotten and Duffy ensures this by her careful and poetic use of imagery, word choice and narrative voice.