Form, structure and language

Form and structure

Remains is formed of eight stanzas. The first seven stanzas are in largely unrhymed quatrains. The final stanza consists of only two lines and therefore stands out, emphasising the fact the speaker cannot rid himself of the memory of the killing. It could also imply disintegration in the speaker’s state of mind.

The title may refer to the remains of the dead man, the remains of the memory that haunts the speaker and to what remains are left of his own life now that he is riddled with guilt.

The poem is written as a monologue, from the point of view of the speaker. The poem has the feel of fast-paced natural speech. There is no regular rhythmic pattern and there are examples of enjambment, sometimes between stanzas, which adds to the sense of someone telling their story fairly naturally.

The first four stanzas describe the shooting while the second half of the poem describes the after-effects of this action on the speaker.

Language

The language of the poem is anecdotal, which, along with the pace and rhythm, gives the sense the speaker is directly telling us his story. Slang such as ‘mates’ and colloquial language (such as ‘legs it’) is used throughout. The speaker shifts from past tense in the first two lines, to present tense for the rest of the poem which adds immediacy to the narrative.

The imagery is graphic and brutal in its depiction of the killing. The bullets ‘rip’ the man’s body and after they have killed him and he is ‘sort of inside out’. The poet does not spare the reader the details of the shooting, especially when he writes about how the speaker’s mate ‘tosses his guts back into his body’. This conveys the disturbance and trauma that the soldier carries with him long after he has returned home.

The language alludes to Shakespeare’s play Macbeth with its references to sleep and bloody hands. When Macbeth murders his king (the innocent Duncan), he says ‘Macbeth doth murder sleep’ (II.2) and similarly the speaker here refers to his disturbed sleep after killing the looter. The poem ends with the image of his ‘bloody hands’, which reminds us of Lady Macbeth’s struggles to remove the spot of blood that represents her guilt.