English Literature

Simon Armitage: The Manhunt


Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in West Yorkshire, where he still lives. He studied Geography at Portsmouth University and completed an MA at Manchester, where he wrote his dissertation on the effects of television violence on young offenders. Afterwards he worked as a probation officer, a job which influenced many of the poems in his first collection, Zoom! (1989).

His poetry demonstrates a strong concern for social issues, as well as drawing on his Yorkshire roots. Armitage is often noted for his "ear" - holding a strong sense of rhythm and metre.

Armitage is not only a poet: as well as publishing 15 collections of poetry, he has written for film, television and radio, completed two novels as well as non-fiction books, and writes the lyrics for his band The Scaremongers. He has also written translations of the Middle English tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Homer's Odyssey.

Simon Armitage uses colloquial (everyday, informal) language and autobiographical material. He has worked on several television programmes including a documentary on permanently injured soldiers and their lives. This poem was first broadcast as part of that documentary.


The Manhunt is written from the perspective of the wife of a soldier who has sustained serious injuries at war and has returned home. The poem explores the physical and mental effects of living with injuries sustained when on active service in the armed forces.

Structure and language


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.


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.

Attitudes, themes and ideas

The Manhunt is about the patience and care of love. The wife in the poem is methodical and thorough in her search, exploring her husband's injured body with love and care.

The poem also explores the cost of war on those serving in the armed forces. The man has a "grazed heart", perhaps literally from an injury caused by "the metal beneath his chest", but also metaphorically. He is unable to connect with his wife, unwilling to speak of his experiences, and so their loving relationship is affected. The image of the metal bullet still inside him as a "foetus" suggests that, like having a baby, the couple's relationship will be forever changed by what he has gone through.

Lines 23 and 24 present the metaphor of "a sweating, unexploded mine buried deep in his mind". The source of the problem is not physical but mental, and threatens to cause problems at any time. The importance of the wife's care and delicacy is highlighted by her discovery of this problem.

The poem is not about judging the rights and wrongs of war, but the impact of war on one particular relationship. This is made clear in the final line of the poem: "Then, and only then, did I come close". Her search is not fully successful, she only comes "close", and only after she realises that her husband's problems lie as much in memories of his experiences as they do in his physical scars.


In Paris with You

  • The male speaker in the poem In Paris with You is unwilling to discuss his experiences of the past, instead he is keen to focus on the present. The husband in The Manhunt is similarly closed on the subject of the past.

The Farmer's Bride, To His Coy Mistress

  • The Manhunt is written from the perspective of a woman exploring her feelings for her husband and their relationship. Many of the other poems in this collection are from a male point of view, such as The Farmer's Bride and To His Coy Mistress.

Sample question

In your exam you will be asked to compare a certain aspect of one poem with another. In order to do this, we need to get to know this poem a bit better by considering one of its main aspects.

What follows is a sample question which concentrates on one feature of the poem and an answer (not necessarily complete!) to the question.


Write about the presentation of relationships in The Manhunt and To His Coy Mistress.


Points you could make:

  • The Manhunt includes detailed and closely observed references to the body of a loved one, reflective of the closeness of the relationship.
  • In To His Coy Mistress there are similar images, yet these represent the fantasy of the male speaker as he tries to convince his mistress to have sex with him.
  • To His Coy Mistress balances the ideal relationship with that which is possible given the time available.
  • Similarly, The Manhunt explores the strength of a relationship that endures even in the most difficult of circumstances.
  • The Manhunt has a female speaker who is determined to search for the man she feels she lost to war. She wants to understand her husband's feelings and so is searching his body for clues.
  • To His Coy Mistress has a male speaker who is similarly determined. However, he feels that time will prevent his relationship flourishing if his mistress does not act with more urgency.

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