Shooting Stars – Carol Ann Duffy

Shooting Stars The poem ‘Shooting Stars’ by Carol Ann Duffy tells a shocking story of a female prisoner held by Nazis in a concentration camp around the time of the Holocaust. The poem is set in 1940, Hitler and his Nazi party had taken control of most of Europe and had vowed to exterminate the entire Jewish race. Duffy’s haunting use of imagery and word choice make this poem so memorable and its very strong opening prepares the reader for the rest of the poem. The title choice, ‘Shooting Stars’ is a very effective and ambiguous title. The first meaning is that the word ‘Stars’ represent the Jewish symbol, The Star of David. Jewish people were forced to wear them on their clothes to mark them out as targets of abuse and torment for Nazis. Another possible meaning of the title is metaphorically symbolising a literal shooting star and comparing it to the life of the Jewish prisoners. The Jews’ life is similar to the shooting star in the way that their life and potential was bright and brilliant but was cut short. The title stays with the reader and is reinforced by its clever use of alliteration. The poem begins with “After I no longer speak they break our fingers to salvage my wedding ring”. This is a very shocking opening line and prepares us for the rest of the poem. ” This, spoken by a dead Jewish woman is a shocking description telling how the Germans would take anything valuable off the Jewish women and how they value jewellery more than human life. The word “Salvage” is usually used to mean saving useful parts of something which is being disposed of, the associations of this word clearly indicates the lack of respect and care the Germans had for the dead Jewish bodies. Carol Ann Duffy goes on to list six typical Jewish names, “Rebecca Rachel Ruth Aaron Emmanuel David, stars on all our brows” It happens to be six names she lists which may represent the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The list is intentionally not punctuated, the names go together and show how the list of names would go on and on. The poem then goes on to say that those Jewish prisoners were stood, “beneath the gaze of men with guns”. The word ‘gaze’ shows that these men are detached from their emotions as they are part of a mass slaughtering which seems hard to believe that that is humanly possible. Duffy then uses the literary technique, enjambment to combine the first and second stanzas. This technique is used to emphasize the point, “Mourn for the daughters / upright as statues” and carry the impact through the two stanzas. Duffy shows how the women are stood firm and even in the most humiliating, de-humanised state. “You would not look at me. / You waited for the bullet” the woman is looking out for her friend as they are waiting to be killed. For the woman to be faced with death and looking out for her friend shows the incredibly selfless personality of the Jews. The following single word line, ‘Fell’ is a euphemism for the death of the woman and gives a strong, short impact to the reader and acts like a literary ‘bullet’ which is literally the object which killed her. Duffy tells us to “Remember these appalling days which make the world forever bad”. She gives the word ‘Remember’ a capital letter to emphasize the fact that we should not forget what happened there. Duffy believes that if the memory of this atrocity stays in our memory, we can avoid any other mass, human-caused disaster to reoccur. Enjambment is once again used to link stanzas two and three. One saw I was alive. Loosened / his belt. ” This technique is used to show how the women is constantly worried about getting raped. The poem goes on to say “My bowels opened in a ragged gape of fear. ” The words used in this sentence are harsh and strong to show the pain and distress the women is going through. The poem is continued with a disturbing and difficult question, “How would you prepare to die, on a perfect April evening? ” This contrasts the perfect calm of the Western European summers evening with the highly opposite atrocities taking place within. The poem continues to say “… With young men gossiping and smoking by the graves. ” Gossiping is usually a social and pleasent activity, but to do it next to the graves of the Jewish people deameans them even more. The end of the stanza describes how the Nazis played a cruel joke on one of the prisoners, they tricked the Jews into thinking they were going to kill them by holding a gun to their head and fired an empty barrel. This stanza on a whole emphasizes the cruelty and inhumane way the Nazis treated the Jews. In the first three lines of stanza 5, Duffy begins each sentence with ‘After’ to make the reader understand the length this suffering lasted. Duffy uses antithesis to contrast between the intense pain the Jews experienced and the casual attitude of the Nazis, “After immense suffering, someone takes tea on the lawn. ” The same technique is used on the second line, “After terrible moans, a boy washes his uniform. ” The boy naively thinks he can wash the guilt from his conscience, which has a ‘Lady MacBeth’ style idea. The next line reads, “After the history lesson, children run to their toys. Then, “The world turns in its sleep. ” Both these lines give a sense that humanity doesn’t care and life goes on as if nothing happened. The stanza finishes by listing another twp typically Jewish names. “Sara, Ezra… ” the elipses is used to show the other 6 million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The final stanza begins with Duffy adressing women all over the world, “Sister”. Duffy tells them never to forget what happened to the Jews in World War II. She tells the women how brave the Jewish women were and how they “sang the ancient psalms at dusk / inside the wire and strong men wept”. The women were still completely faithful to their god even faced with death in an incredibly desperate situation that would make some people believe that if this was allowed to happen maybe there is no god. The final sentence is an extract from Psalm 25 paraphrased which is a desperate cry to god, “Turn thee unto me with mercy, for I am desolate and lost. ” The poems opening had a very strong impact on first read and prepares the reader for a shocking but memorable poem which teaches never to forget this atrocity so that it won’t ever be repeated.

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Shooting Stars - Carol Ann Duffy. (2017, Sep 16). Retrieved February 8, 2023 , from

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