‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti centers around the tragic, comparing poverty to leisure. The poet, Carole Satyamurti, is known for facing pain and suffering head-on in her works of poetry. The words of these poems center around modern warfare, and explicitly reveal the minor details of the effects war has on individual lives. Rather than seeing war as a whole, the author reveals that the details seen by a war photographer reveal that war is individual and personal.
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‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti begins with a description of a firmly edged photo-frame. It reminds the readers of the rigidity of war. Secondly, the poet presents a contrasting image of a few “sun-gilded girls” merrily passing their time in “champagne giggles”. In contrast, the small girl in the war-ridden area is already a mother and constantly fights the odds of life. Moreover, in the third stanza, the photographer describes how that girl died due to the explosion of the first bomb. At last, she points at the caption that tried to describe the inner message of the photograph. According to the person, it falsely presents the actual scenario for creating a mood of optimism. Whereas, “the blood stain on a wall” depicts how the human spirit dies each day due to the brutality of men.
You can read the full poem War Photographer here.
‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti consists of five stanzas. The first and fifth stanza being the important ones are long in comparison to the other stanzas that present a set of images for creating contrasts throughout the poem. The second and third stanzas are parenthetical. These stanzas are closely associated with the first stanza. Apart from that, it is a free verse poem as there isn’t any specific rhyme scheme in it. The overall poem contains an internal rhythm that sustains the flow of the poem. Moreover, the poet presents the perspective of a war photographer from the first-person point-of-view. Hence, it is also an example of a lyric poem. However, there isn’t any specific metrical scheme in the poem. It contains the mixture of both the iambic meter and the trochaic meter. Apart from that, it is also an example of a dramatic monologue.
‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti begins with a metaphor. In the first line, the poet implicitly compares the flexibility of the frame to reassurance. Thereafter, the poet uses asyndeton in the third line of this stanza. The words, “tragic” and “absurd” contain synecdoche. Moreover, there is personification in the line, “Or if the picture’s such as lifts the heart…” In the last line the poet uses irony. Apart from that, the poet uses enjambment throughout the poem. The second stanza begins with a hyperbaton. Thereafter, the phrase, “sun-gilded girls” contains a metaphor. Moreover, there is metonymy in the line, “in champagne giggles”. Here, the poet refers to the cause to signify its effect.
In the third stanza, there is an alliteration in “she saw me seeing her”. Here, the repetition of the “s” sound creates an internal rhyming. By “my finger pressed” the poet uses a periphrasis to say that the photographer clicked a photograph. In the fourth stanza, there is a metaphor in “dark scream” and the last line contains an ellipsis. In the last stanza, the caption of the photograph contains irony. The line following it contains a paradox. Moreover, in the last line, the poet uses a simile to compare the arbitrariness of the boundaries between heaven and hell to “a blood stain on a wall.”
‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti contains several themes such as the horror of war, ignorance, harsh realism, and appearance vs reality. The most important theme of the poem is the horror of war. The poet incorporates this theme from the perspective of a war photographer. The images depicting the ignorant girls and the girl in her early motherhood creates a contrast. By presenting this contrast, the poet touches on the theme of realism. Moreover, the images described in the last two stanzas present the brutality and horror of war. Apart from that, in the last stanza, the caption describing the victory of the human spirit is nothing but a curtailment of reality for creating a facade. In this way, this section presents the theme of appearance vs reality.
Analysis of War Photographer
The reassurance of the frame is flexible
the firmness of the edges can convince you
this is how things are
In the opening stanza of ‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti, the speaker uses intense imagery to reveal what a picture of war can do to the viewer. Upon first glance, the picture is safely inside the frame. To most viewers, the photo is of a different place and perhaps even a different time. Thus, one is not forced to entirely enter into the photo. The speaker reveals that as a person looks at a war photograph, they can think outside the frame of the photo and believe that “people eat, sleep, love normally”.
But life is different for the photographer herself. She must “seek out the tragic” and thus live in it. For the one who sees the realities of war first hand, life outside of war is hard to imagine. One might even forget that it exists.
Moreover, the speaker mentions the edges of the photo again, implying that “the firmness of the edges” can help a person to live outside of the tragedy of war, keeping the realities safely within the borders of the pictures.
However, other pictures are the kind that “lift the heart” and most people tend to look at these pictures and convince themselves that “this is how things are”. The photographer herself, however, knows that photos are only a snapshot in time and could never fully encompass the way things are at any time and place.
– as when at ascot once
in champagne giggles
Here, in ‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti, the speaker recalls a picture she took in Ascot. The picture was clearly of some rich, fairly privileged girls. She describes them as wearing silk and giggling in the grass as they sipped champagne. This is a group of girls who represent happiness and perhaps ignorance of the tragedies going on in the world around them.
The purpose of this stanza is to reinforce what the speaker said in the previous stanza concerning the viewers’ ability to believe in the truthfulness of the happy photos rather than the tragic ones. The imagery provided here will also contrast with the images the speaker presents throughout the rest of ‘War Photographer’, allowing the readers to understand the irony of the fact that some people get to enjoy wealth and ease while others suffer war and tragedy.
-as last week, when I followed a small girl
she saw me seeing her; my finger pressed.
With this stanza of ‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti, the speaker drives her point home by providing a specific instance and revealing that it happened recently. She remembers following “a small girl” as she was “staggering down some devastated street”. The vivid description of the small child allows the reader to enter into the scene and feel as though he is there with the photographer, following the small girl.
Moreover, she describes the way her “hip thrust out under a baby’s weight”. This reveals that this small girl was not only so weak that she was staggering, but she walked down a street that could only be described as “devastated”. On top of that, she had to care for a baby when she was only a child herself. The photographer looks at the girl and takes the picture just as the girl turns to look at her. This subtle description of the act of taking this picture allows the readers to enter into the photographer’s reality.
However, she cannot do much to help the child. She is simply there to report and take pictures of life there. The readers, then, can understand that there is so much more to the realities happening behind the pictures they see. They will see only a photo of an impoverished child caring for a baby. They do not know how it feels to see that child first hand and to know that the child has seen you, and yet be able to do nothing to help save for spreading awareness of the situation through the photos taken.
The description of this child sharply contrasts the previous stanza, allowing the reader to juxtapose the two situations and understand the harsh reality that some starve while others drink champagne.
At the corner, the first bomb of the morning
began to run…
With this stanza of ‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti, the speaker continues to describe the small child who held the baby. The fact that the explosive device is described as “the first bomb of the morning” suggests that there have been numerous bombs before this one and that many more would follow.
‘War Photographer’ becomes all the more shocking, however, when the child drops the baby she was carrying and flees for her own life with a scream that seemed too loud for the mouth from which it came. This also reflects the contrast between this stanza and the second, suggesting that when it comes down to it, human nature, by instinct, will cause one to take care of himself first and foremost. This offers more insight into the reason some can enjoy riches while others starve.
The picture showed the little mother
arbitrary as a blood stain on a wall.
With the final stanza of ‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti, the photographer reveals the way pictures can be deceiving. While she saw the child first hand, looked into her eyes, heard her scream, and watched her run, dropping the baby in her arms, the picture she captured did not tell the whole story. In the picture, it looked almost as if the child was smiling.
Moreover, the caption reveals that the photographer played a role in the deception of the public. Whether she wrote the caption herself or simply allowed it to be published, she knew that the realities of life for this young child were not truthfully reflected through the photo. The caption said that “even in hell the human spirit triumphs over all”.
This gives readers the false idea that the child was happy. This allows the readers to believe that even though the war was going on and people were starving and dying, the people could still be happy. This, the photographer knows, is untrue. However, it is apparently what the public wanted to hear, and therefore what the photographer published.
The last three lines, however, reveal that the photographer is aware of the deception of her photos, and wants to proclaim the truth. She explains that “hell” does not have specific boundaries like the edges of the photo. Rather, they are “arbitrary as a blood stain on a wall”. This ending reveals that pain and suffering are arbitrary, or senseless. It is not fair that some people get to sunbathe and drink champagne while others scream and run in terror as bombs go off around them. This reveals the injustice that goes on in a world in which small, innocent babies are casualties of war.
By the end of ‘War Photographer’, the speaker successfully reveals that which the media fails to reveal. She proclaims the truth about war, that it is painful, ugly, and personal. She reveals the injustice of a world that turns its back on the suffering, willing themselves to believe in the pictures that reveal happiness. Her words bring conviction for those who have been content to keep the tragic pictures within the borders of the picture without concerning themselves with the tragedies of others.
‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti presents an overview of society from the perspective of a war photographer. Being a sociologist, Carole Satyamurti showcases the condition of women in the third world countries by contrasting it with the frolicking beauties of the first world countries. The element of war in the poem presents another angle to see the condition of the modern world. The bomb blasts not in the place where the giggling ladies are high on champagne. It blasts in the region where the small girl entered into motherhood recently, lives. Hence, from this image, it becomes clear that the poet refers to the countries that are economically backward as well as suffering from the raging war. The war not only destroys people’s lives but also breaks the backbone of the economy. As an effect, the war is a cause for those countries’ backwardness.
Like ‘War Photographer’ by Carole Satyamurti, here is a list of a few poems that similarly talks about the effects of war on innocent lives and on the socio-economic condition as a whole.
- War Photographer By Carol Ann Duffy – This one of the best Carol Ann Duffy poems, the poet similarly presents the horrors of war from the perspective of a war photographer.
- The Next War by Wilfred Owen – In this poem, Wilfred Owen, one of the best British wartime poets, talks about the horrors of war, the loss of life, and war’s ineffectiveness.
- Song-Books of the War by Siegfried Sassoon – Like his other poems such as ‘Attack’, ‘To Any Dead Officer’, and ‘Repression of War Experience’, in this poem, Siegfried Sassoon presents the truth of the war and its brutality.
- After Blenheim by Robert Southey – In this poem, one of the Poet Laureates of the UK, Robert Southey describes the hollowness of war from old Kaspar’s perspective.
You can read about 10 of the Best War Poems here.