Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Shooting Stars’ is a quite dark and sombre poem about the sufferings of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. This poem tells the story of a female speaker who was brutally tortured by soldiers. Duffy writes this poem from her perspective to portray how the females endured the animalistic blows of the Nazis. Besides, this poem also taps into the theme of politics, religion, love, and death. The tone of the speaker will definitely make a speaker feel sympathetic for her community.
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‘Shooting Stars’ by Carol Ann Duffy tells the story of a Jewish woman who was about to die and what was hovering in her mind in that critical hour, between life and death.
This poem vividly portrays a Jewish woman who is about to die. The soldiers took her wedding ring by breaking her fingers. Not only her, but they also did such things with all the Jews.
She remembered the names of her loved ones who had lost their lives similarly. In the meantime, a child’s sudden appearance in the graveyard where she is lying captured her attention. The soldiers smiled at her and shot her in the eyes. It made her so fearful that she lost control over her body.
In such a state she recalled a few of her past memories and asks some thought-provoking questions to readers regarding religion, humanity, and people’s suffering all over the world.
Duffy’s ‘Shooting Star’ is written in free verse as it does not contain a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. In most cases, Duffy uses internal rhyming for maintaining the flow of the poem. For example, readers can find internal rhyming in the second line of the first stanza: “Rebecca Rachel Ruth”. She also enjambed the lines for keeping the pace unhindered throughout the piece and establishing an interconnection between stanzas. The overall poem is composed of both the iambic and trochaic meter with a few variations as well. It consists of short lines and some of them do not follow the grammatical order.
Readers can find the following literary devices in Duffy’s ‘Shooting Stars’.
- Metaphor: The title of this piece ‘Shooting Stars’ is a metaphor for the Jews who have died during the Nazi rule. Duffy compares their lifespan to the transience of shooting stars or dying stars.
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem. For example, readers have to go through the first line and a sufficient portion of the second line to grasp the meaning. It also occurs between the stanzas. For example: “Mourn for the daughters,/ upright as statues, brave.”
- Alliteration: “Rebecca Rachel Ruth,” “ragged gape,” “My bare feet felt,” etc.
- Allusion: The line “beneath the gaze of men with guns” is an allusion to Nazi soldiers. In this poem, Duffy alludes to the Holocaust.
- Anaphora: The first three lines of the fifth stanza begin with the word “After”. The way of beginning two or more lines with the same word or phrase is called anaphora.
After I no longer speak they break our fingers
Beneath the gaze of men with guns. Mourn for our daughters,
Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Shooting Stars’ has an interesting title that hints at two different ideas. Firstly, “shooting stars” is a double entendre. It acts as a symbol of Judaism as it refers to the star of David. Besides, it is also a reference to Jewish people whom the Nazis murdered ruthlessly. Thus they are compared to a shooting star or dying star. One can see them for a short time in the night sky. Likewise, the Jews could not live as per their lifespan during the Nazi rule.
The poem begins from the perspective of a first-person narrator who is a victim of Nazi murder. Duffy presents a female Jew voice who can no longer speak. She is insinuating that the person is about to die. The speaker directly speaks with a mute listener who is probably her sister. Duffy reveals who the person is in the last stanza. From this perspective, it is a dramatic monologue.
Whatsoever, in the first stanza, the speaker is unable to speak. After torturing her, some barbarous soldiers broke her finger to take out her wedding ring. In this way, Duffy sets the mood of the poem. This line also hints at how greedy the soldiers were. They did the same thing with other victims too.
The speaker incoherently utters some names, probably her Jewish relatives. They are all dead. She compares them to the “shooting stars”. Those men with guns have taken their lives too.
upright as statues, brave. You would not look at me.
forever bad. One saw I was alive. Loosened
This section is enjambed with the first stanza. Readers have to read the last part of the previous stanza and then they can decode the meaning of the first line of this stanza. According to the speaker, there is mourning for their daughters. Jewish society is matrilineal. For this reason, Duffy emphasizes mourning for daughters. The mourners were not broken at all. They were straight as marble statues, brave, and ready to embrace death.
In the following line, the narrator is maybe referring to a soldier who has wounded her with a bullet. The person waited for the trigger to kill her. Until then he has not glanced at her. It means that the killer also has some humanity left in his heart. Though he was part of the system, the system could not enthral his eyes. That’s why the humanistic eyes tried to look away from the scene.
She reminds the person that the holocaust days are going to mark the earth forever bad. The stains of brutality and marks of inhumanity cannot ever be wiped from this earth. It stays as long as humankind’s history exists.
In the last line, the speaker makes it clear that she has not died yet. The killer only wounded her but did not take her life.
his belt. My bowels opened in a ragged gape of fear.
this from acts of torture now. They shot her in the eye.
The wounded lady is discovered by another Nazi soldier. He loosened his belt either to beat her or to satiate his carnal desires. Duffy does not clarify what the person did with her. But the line points to an important idea. The soldier was so ruthless that the helpless and wounded body of the woman still seemed desirable to him. The reality was harsh with the woman victims.
She was in extreme fear when the soldier did so. It made her so afraid that she lost control over his bowel. This line depicts how haunting those days were for the victims. The speaker was still alive. With her half-closed eyes, she could see a child between the “gap of corpses”. This phrase refers to the fact that the speaker was thrown among the corpses.
After seeing the child, the soldiers laughed in disdain. They shot her directly in the eye. Duffy does not hesitate to harsh words in this section. What she says actually happened during the Nazi rule. The child could cause no harm. Still, they killed her so brutally that one cannot even imagine the scene.
After mentioning what happened with the child, the speaker remarks that only a matter of days separate the inhumane acts during the Nazi rule and the torturous deeds of now. Through this line, Duffy clarifies that such acts still happen in the world.
How would you prepare to die, on a perfect April evening
down my legs. I heard the click. Not yet. A trick.
The first line of the fourth stanza contains an echo of ‘The Waste Land’ by T.S. Eliot. In the first two lines, the speaker asks a rhetorical question. She asks how one can prepare to die on such a perfect April evening. April is the month of spring. It is a symbol of rejuvenation and new life. But, what happened with the child is in stark contrast with the symbolic meaning of April. Besides, the image of a few young men (soldiers) gossiping and smoking by the graves creates another contrast.
In the following lines, the speaker again refers to what happened with the child. She was present nearby. When she heard the click of the gun, it made her nerves shiver. She lost control over her bladder. The speaker could feel the ground beneath her and urine trickling down. Such harsh scenes not only make one fearful but also tortures one’s soul.
In the last line, readers can find two short sentences without any verbs. These short sentences increase the pace and heighten the tragic effect.
After immense suffering someone takes tea on the lawn.
turns in its sleep the spades shovel soil Sara Ezra…
The fifth stanza of ‘Shooting Stars’ takes a new turn. Duffy stops talking about the speaker and the child. Now, she refers to the condition of the Jews who were alive. They were all in extreme pain and distress. After immense mental and physical suffering, someone takes tea by sitting fearfully on their lawn.
The speaker refers to a boy who was tortured. After returning, he washed his uniform. This line refers to the fact that the boy was somehow trying to wash the stains in order to make his family feel safe. The image of school-going children comes next.
According to the speaker, when children return from their history lesson, they run to their toys. Usually, children try to escape mundane history and prefer playing to study. When they mature, they can understand how harsh the history of mankind is.
In the last line, the speaker refers to the names of her close ones, Sara and Ezra. But she cannot say anything further. It means the speaker’s heart aches to remember those who have died. In this line, Duffy uses repetition of the soft “s” sound that occurs in “sleep”, “spades”, “soil”, and “Sara”. Besides, she uses an ellipsis in this line.
Sister, if seas part us, do you not consider me?
unto me with mercy, for I am desolate and lost.
The last stanza of ‘Shooting Stars’ begins with an apostrophe. Here, the speaker asks her sister a rhetorical question. She asks whether her sister will consider her as one of them when the “seas” part them. The “seas” is a metaphor for death.
After reading the first line, it seems that the speaker is somehow sad as she has lost the battle, the battle of perseverance and tolerance. That’s why she is asking to count her as one of the brave fighters of her community.
She tells the listener that she sang the psalms at dusk when she was inside the wire. It is an allusion to a Nazi concentration camp. After hearing her singing psalm, strong men wept. They wept not for devotion to the almighty, but for their misfortunes and hapless condition.
This line also contains irony. Here, Duffy ironically remarks about the importance of religion. The speaker was devoted to God. Still, her life was not saved, not even her people’s. The last line is a biblical allusion to verse sixteen belonging to King David’s prayer to God. In this line, the speaker is asking God for showing mercy on her though she knows her prayers will not be heard.
The poem ‘Shooting Stars’ was published in Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection of poems “Standing Female Nude“. The book was published in 1985 and it won the Scottish Arts Council Award in 1986. Carol Ann Duffy’s poems belonging to this collection use the voices of the outsiders and choose chiefly female speakers to make her point. Duffy’s ‘Shooting Stars’ is one such poem that presents the voice of a female Jewish victim of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the genocide of European Jews during the Second World War. From 1941 to 1945, Nazi Germany killed over 6 million Jews across German-occupied Europe.
Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Shooting Stars’ was published in 1985 in her poetry collection “Standing Female Nude”.
The speaker of this piece is a Jew who is about to die. Duffy chooses a female speaker for presenting the sufferings of Jewish women in Nazi Germany.
The poem taps into the themes of the horrors of the holocaust, death, suffering, and religion.
The title of this piece ‘Shooting Stars’ presents two different meanings but both are tied to a single idea. Firstly, the “shooting star” is a symbol of Judaism. Secondly, it refers to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The tone of this piece is dark, sombre, emotive, and painful. Duffy’s speaker is a victim of the Holocaust and she elaborates on the horrific incidents that happened to her as well as others in her community.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Shooting Stars’.
- ‘A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto’ by Czeslaw Milosz – This poem vividly portrays the demolished Warsaw Ghetto from the perspective of a “poor Christian”. Read more Czeslaw Milosz poems.
- ‘Vultures’ by Chinua Achebe – This dark and sombre piece focuses on the Belsen concentration camp and a commandant who works there. Explore more Chinua Achebe poems.
- ‘Never Shall I Forget’ by Elie Wiesel – This poem contains a harrowing passage recounting the first night Wiesel spent at Birkenau. Read more Elie Wiesel poems.
- ‘Fear’ by Eva Picková – In this poem, Eva discusses the impact of typhus on the ghetto where she, her friends, and her family were forced to live. Explore more Eva Picková poems.
You can also read about these moving holocaust poems and the best-loved poems of Carol Ann Duffy.