The Manhunt by Simon Armitage

The Manhunt ostensibly describes a wife and her views on her partner’s experiences in the military. She explores issues with her partner’s physical and mental health. Originally it was going to be called “Laura’s poem”. The poem is melancholy and uses a lot of striking metaphors to create an image of a man that has been through a great deal of torment, both physical and mental and is quite changed due to the ordeal. The poem’s title is coincidentally the name of a kids game which almost takes away from the gravitas of the poem. But I think this is deliberate, the implication being that the wife/girlfriend is trying to rediscover her man. To hunt or find the man she fell for. Simon Armitage does a fine job of creating sympathy for the narrator who is obviously very understanding and caring.


Form and Tone

The subject matter of The Manhunt, which can be read in full here, is a person (who I will assume is a woman, though this is not stated) talking about their partner’s injuries, both physical and mental. Although not stated one would assume that the man the narrator is talking about is in, or was in, the armed services, possibly the RAF. The Manhunt is unsurprisingly poignant. It is written in thirteen couplets. There is a vague rhyming pattern to the couplets but this is inconsistent which I think gives the poem a fragmented feel, perhaps this is to represent how their relationship has been? The Manhunt contains a lot of the striking imagery that is a hallmark of Armitage’s. The narrator comes across as gentle and supportive.


The Manhunt Analysis

Line 1-2

After the first phase,
after passionate nights and intimate days,

This couplet clearly talks about the early relationship between the narrator and their partner. It champions the time period using positive adjectives such as passionate and intimate.


Line 3-4

This, I think, describes her partner “letting her in”. The frozen river referenced here gives the image of a glacier. Perhaps the suggestion is that the stress and worry of her partner’s position in the military has caused deep worry lines like a ravine on his face?


Line 5-6

This couplet contains a harrowing image of her partner’s lower jaw. Is this a physical description? Has her partner had their jaw physically blown? Or is this a metaphor for a partner that has become increasingly tight-lipped and monosyllabic? Not all men are comfortable talking about their feelings. Perhaps her partner’s jaw hinge doesn’t operate often, preferring instead to keep his emotions inside?


Line 7-8

Describing her partner’s collar bone as porcelain has a two-fold meaning. Firstly, we tend to associate porcelain with things that are beautiful, maybe even precious. However, it is a very fragile, easily-broken material. Once again though I would question whether she is talking about an actual injury to the collar of her partner or if it is a metaphor for his wider self?


Line 9-10

Throughout The Manhunt the narrator uses kind, sympathetic verbs such as mind, tend etc. Although does the word “mind” have a double meaning? It is unlikely, although it would not be beyond the poetic abilities of Armitage to be that clever in his choice of words.


Line 11-12

Once again the narrator describes her man using adjectives that have beauty, yet a delicacy. Only in this instance, perhaps she also hints at her partner’s occupation? Mentioning parachutes as a metaphor for his lungs could well be a telling hint as to her partner’s profession, by the end of the poem it is easy to assume that her partner is a military man but could this be a hint as to his specific role within the military? Could he be a pilot?


Line 13-14

This couplet is heavy on the double meanings. The comparisons with her man are all manufactured items, rather than organic living things. Could the allusion be that her partner has become mechanical? Perhaps he has an almost robotic mannerism? These items, once again, could be imagined to be part of a plane, so are perhaps another hint as to her man’s vocation.


Line 15-16

It is unclear whether the grazed heart is literal or metaphorical, or maybe even both. Later in The Manhunt the narrator references a bullet in the chest, but throughout this poem where the metaphor ends and reality begins is often ambiguous.


Line 17-18

It is revealing that after tending to him and comforting him that she begins to see the bigger picture. Once again the metaphorical and literal are so seamlessly close here that it is impossible to ascertain what is real and what is purely for descriptive purposes.


Line 19-20

This on appearances would be describing a physical ailment. But once again there is an air of ambiguity. It is revealed in this couplet that the partner had been shot. The impact of this is compared, rather symbolically to being like the process of childbirth. I think this is the narrator’s way of highlighting the life-changing impact of the wound.


Line 21-22

When the narrator talks of scarring it is unclear whether she is talking about physical or mental scars. Using phrases like “widening the search” gives this an almost military feel. This device has been used several times in The Manhunt and is effective at showing the reader something without actually telling them.


Line 23-24

Here we are clearly looking at a metaphor the unexploded mine is clearly a reference to her partner’s brain. This couplet helps to emphasize the emotional impact on the narrator’s partner. This ordeal has been a significant and life-altering event.


Line 25-26

every nerve in his body had tightened and closed.
Then, and only then, did I come close.

The “coming close” that is used in this couplet is interesting. What is she coming close to? It’s not made clear from the poem’s content. I think the implication is that the narrator has to work hard and softly cajole sentiment from her partner. It’s as if in order to be close to him, to get him to open up she has to be very sensitive and attentive. It is hard to not feel sorry for the narrator who never complains about what she has to go through, instead shows unrelenting empathy and understanding towards her partner.


About Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage is an English Poet, songwriter, play write and translator hailing from a county in the North of England called Yorkshire. His poetry often contains colloquialisms based on his home town. He usually writes poems about contemporary issues and his work is often informed by his prior life experiences (he used to work as a probation officer). Armitage is a highly decorated poet with many accolades to his name including a CBE.

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  • Avatar LianePl says:

    Wow. Research needed! This poem was also called Laura’s poem and was written from the point of view of Laura, who was the wife of Eddie Beddoes, a soldier who returned from war with PTSD. It was written for a C4 documentary. Also, please check your use of apostrophes.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Hi, If you have a brief read of the comments the “laura’s poem” issue is addressed. I will check apostrophe use shortly, thanks.

  • Avatar Sophia says:

    The poem is about soldier Eddie Beddoes and the effect of his PTSD from the war on his wife Laura

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Correct! That is the name of the soldier’s wife.

  • Avatar Adku says:


  • Avatar BEN says:

    Stephen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND JULIA!!!!!!!!!!

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I think the English department at Dukes need to have words about the correct use of exclamation points and capital letters. 😉

  • Avatar rehan says:

    noice im a uni student and I find this relatable!

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I’m glad it’s helping!

  • Avatar my g says:


  • Avatar rebecca says:

    amazing analysis thank you so much
    but please relate the historical context to the poem

  • Avatar awais says:

    it can’t be a she as the fourth line says ‘ the frozen river which ran down his face’

    • Avatar Emily Clayton says:

      the poem was written for a documentary about real soldier. the soldier is male, and its his wife who’s narrating the poem. The poem was originally going to be called “Laura’s story”, named after the wife, but Armitage changed it to the manhunt as it demonstrates her search for the husband that was lost to his PTSD and her determination to succeed.

      • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

        That’s really interesting. Can I ask where you got the info from? I’d like to know more.

        • Avatar trumpisawanker says:

          channel 4 did a documentary called ‘Forgotten Heroes: The not dead”. Exploring the lives of soldiers and their family’s who have been affected by war. In the programme, the poem is read by a women named Laura, wife to a soldier.

          • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

            That’s awesome – thank you. I work in a school and they study this poem as part of their syllabus so i’ll have to look out for it.

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