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Level 11

Simon Armitage - 'Remains'


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we get sent out / to tackle looters raiding a bank
Armitage uses colloquial (chatty) language and a loose, free-verse form to imitate typical speech, creating the sense of an anecdotal (story) account. Verb choices like "tackle" carry with them connotations of games and set the tone as light-hearted and 'game like': all the more sharply contrasting the violence to follow.
probably armed, possibly not
The adverbs of certainty ("probably" and "possibly") are set in proximity to one another by Armitage to create the sense of doubt held by the speaker, who cannot be certain that the murderous force used was necessary. The absence of a weapon anywhere else in the narrative subtly confirmed this overkill and it is this which gnaws at the soldier voice as the narrative progresses.
all of the same mind, / so all three of us open fire. / Three of a kind all letting fly, and I swear...
Note the insistent use of collective pronouns Armitage has the soldier use to establish a sense of collective culpability (joint-blame); the violence, however, affects the soldier personally, signalled by Armitage moving from collective pronouns like "us" to the first person pronoun "I" leading into stanza three.
I swear / I see every round as it rips through his life -
The repetition of the personal pronoun "I" is used to emphasise the visual horror of the scene as well as indicate the personal psychological impact on the solider. The use of present tense of the verb ("rips") also places the speaker - and us - in the moment the violence occurs, further enhancing the horror as we imagine it occurring.
pain itself, the image of agony
Armitage's powerfully emotive metaphors create a clear impression of what violence can do to people: it transforms and destroys.
End of story, except not really.
The volta (turning point) of the poem where the violent act starts to mentally affect the soldier-voice of the poem. Armitage's collection 'The Not Dead' (in which 'Remains' is included) explores the effects of the Iraq war on ex-soldiers. From this point we begin to see the examples hinted at in stanza three.
His blood-shadow stays on the street
At once a literal, concrete noun and a metaphor as the blood stain becomes a "shadow" of the life the soldier unnecessarily ended. We begin to see the ghostly form that will haunt Armitage's character in later stanzas.
But I blink / and he bursts again
The enjambment across stanzas here recreates the "blink" of the narrator. Like in many WW1 poems (like the works of Wilfred Owen), brutal verb choices are used to bluntly describe acts of terrible violence. Though the verb "burst" here refers to the victim leaving the bank, we can't help but be reminded of the bullets that left him "sort of inside out" and the need to toss "his guts back into his body". That the soldier might see this whenever he blinks is horrifying.
he's torn apart by a dozen rounds. / And the drink and the drugs won't flush him out -
The pluralised nouns of substance abuse ("the drink and the drugs") create a clear sense of the trauma of the conflict on the soldier as - like many suffering from 'Post-traumatic Stress Disorder' (PTSD - formerly 'shell shock') - he turns to self-medication to dull the horror he's witnessed and committed.
some distant, sun-stunned, sand-smothered land
The violent adjectival elements of the description help to reiterate the corrupting effects of war on people and envionments
his bloody life in my bloody hands.
The final line of the poem is structurally charged with multiple and emotive meanings. The adjective "bloody" here is polysemous, meaning perhaps both the angry, frustrated swearing of a soldier and the literal blood-soaked "life" and "hands" of the incident, as well as the sense of guild felt by the soldier at having literal and metaphorical 'blood on his hands'.
Level 12