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English Literature

Simon Armitage: The Manhunt

Structure and language

Structure

The poem is made up of a series of couplets, mostly unrhymed. This creates a sense of fragmentation, which matches the feelings of the soldier's wife as she seeks to understand the man her husband has become.

The poem describes the phases of a wife's search for answers from her injured husband who has recently returned from a war zone. The poem ends when the search is brought to a close.

Language

The title puns on the idea of the 'manhunt', meaning literally a hunt to capture a man, often a criminal. Here the wife's search is for the husband she knew so well but who seems lost to her, metaphorically, after his experiences at war.

Many of the first lines of the couplets have prominent verbs, reflecting the activities of the wife as she conducts her "search". Words and phrases like "explore", "handle and hold", "mind and attend" are all references to careful treatment of her husband's injured body, as well as suggesting her patient care for his mental state.

The speaker refers to parts of the husband's body metaphorically, comparing them to inanimate objects rather than to living things. His jaw is a "blown hinge", suggesting that he is no longer open to her, perhaps unable to talk of his feelings and experiences. His collar bone is "damaged, porcelain", a metaphor [metaphor: An expression used to describe and/or compare a subject/action/person by the way it feels or what it resembles - eg 'sea of troubles', and 'drowning in debt' are metaphors. ] that brings to mind something hard but also easily chipped and cold, a reminder of the "frozen river which ran through his face".

There are lots of sensual, loving verbs in the poem, reflecting the intimacy of husband and wife, and keen devotion from the wife hoping to heal her husband. The wife says that she is able to "climb the rungs of his broken ribs", a closely observed detail of her hands exploring the altered body of her husband. The idea of the ladder is reflective of the effort involved in the wife's gradual search for answers.

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