Themes

A British soldier on patrol in Iraq
The speaker of 'Remains' is a soldier haunted by guilt

A number of unifying ideas or themes run through the poem. Different readers may attach more or less significance to each of these themes, depending upon how they view the poem.

ThemeEvidenceAnalysis
Guilt: the speaker in this poem is haunted by the guilt of taking another man’s life. He is upset by the fact that the man might have been innocent.‘probably armed, possibly not’This phrase is repeated in the poem, emphasising the speaker’s sense of discomfort at having killed another human being who may have been innocent.
Conflict: the speaker is acting under orders and is engaged in combat in another country.‘dug in behind enemy lines,/ not left for dead in some distant, sun-stunned, sand-smothered land’The physical description of the place is dry and dusty, reminding the reader of images of newsreel scenes of wars. The men were ‘sent out’, showing that they were soldiers acting under orders.
Life and death: the looter is killed by rounds of bullets that the group of soldiers send into him.‘I see every round as it rips through his life/ I see broad daylight on the other side’Life for the looter is instantly and brutally ended. The way the speaker sees ‘broad daylight on the other side’ suggests the speed with which everything happens. One minute there is a man who is alive and the next, nothing.
Question

How does Simon Armitage present conflict in this poem?

  • He presents conflict as unjust. The looter might have been unarmed and therefore not dangerous to the soldiers.
  • He shows how the men are acting on orders.
  • The speaker’s experience of killing a man seems to go unnoticed – there is no sense that he is offered support or help for the trauma he is suffering.

Conflict in war is presented as unfair and unconsidered. Lives are taken needlessly and the long-term effects on those who have been ordered to act in this way is left unnoticed. The speaker seems to suffer alone.