“After I no longer speak”; A Message on the Impact of the Holocaust in “Shooting Stars”
Humans inflict suffering on other humans and when events are forgotten, they are repeated. In the poem “Shooting Stars,” Carol Ann Duffy tells a shocking story of a female prisoner held by Nazis in a concentration camp around the time of the Holocaust. This is a poem in which human suffering is being actively portrayed. Duffy uses a cryptic title together with effective imagery which explores the theme of human suffering. General connotation applied to the phrase “Shooting Stars” is that a star is falling or the beauty and brightness of fireworks representing women of the holocaust.
‘Shooting Stars’ is written in the perspective of a Jewish woman who was killed during the Holocaust. The woman speaks to another woman about the atrocities they had endured as Jewish people, and how despite all hardships, faith still remains. Structurally, the poem is in uniform. It has a title followed by six stanzas of four lines . The poem is also placed in the exact center of the page which may express the uniformity of the war. Immediately establishing darkness and horror in stanza one, Duffy begins the poem with “After I no longer speak.” This sets the readers off with a strong image of silence and death followed by even more horror, “they break our fingers.” Before using traditional Jewish names, she uses conflicting images of the wedding band, a symbol of eternal love, trust and profit through juxtaposition. This exposes the courage that the women went through with calmness when they faced death.
In the second stanza, Carol Ann Duffy addresses the women as “upright as statues.” This represents women as individuals who look straight ahead awaiting the bullet of death with courage. Intensifying the imagery of never ending violence, the repetition of the word ‘Remember’ impacts and addresses the reader personally. In addition, the repetition of ‘Remember’ echoes in our head like a guilty conscience, it may represent the last word of a human being in the hands of incompetent young men. The demand of the writer in this stanza is to remember the suffering losses because she does not want the world to forget. Therefore, if we forget and don’t change our ways, the world will be “forever bad”. With the persona of this poem being a victim of the holocaust, narrative given from the point of view of one of the sufferings allows the reader to appreciate the scale that inhumanity can inflict.
Starting off the fourth stanza with a contrast of “preparing to die” next to “a perfect April evening,” it sets the mood of a perfect evening while people are suffering and others smoking next to a dead man’s grave. The second last line of the fourth stanza includes the onomatopoeia ‘trickled’ which represent the urine trickling down his legs as his last amount of dignity. ‘Click’ and ‘trick’ represent the sounds of a gun. Perhaps, this is a ‘trick’ of pretending to shoot but using an empty bullet chamber while toying with the lives of those already suffering.
In the next stanza, Duffy consistently uses the word ‘after’ to describe that after the ‘immense suffering’, ‘terrible moans’ and the holocaust is over, people will go back to their normal lives before the holocaust and do the things that they normally do. She reminds us that the enormity of the holocaust has made little impact because in the present day, humans are still savouring the suffering of other people. Perhaps the purpose of Duffy adding “tea on the lawn” and “a boy washes his uniform” is to highlight and contrast the size of the horror by including civilized human activities. With ‘Sara ezra’ meaning we all forget too quickly, the action of shoveling soil is to represent humans covering up the past.
The Jewish victim is turning to God and trusting in him. ‘Turn thee unto me with mercy’ but even when the Jews ask for the rest of the world to be merciful, their wish has still not been granted. The poem ends on a notes of tragedy back inside the concentration camp. This emphasises the extent and immensity of this event, while even strong men are unable to tolerate the hardships that these women went through. The victim is desolate for she does not know where she is going.
In an attempt to offer both historical and human perspective, Carol Ann Duffy wrote this poem in order to show how much the Holocaust has impacted people severely, and others not at all. It also places emphasis on how powerful faith is, and despite so many hardships and atrocities people still keep faith. Even in the midst of horror, the persecuted can still believe that God is out there looking after them.
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