"War Photographer" is a poem by Scottish writer Carol Ann Duffy, the United Kingdom's poet laureate from 2009 to 2019. Originally published in 1985, "War Photographer" depicts the experiences of a photographer who returns home to England to develop the hundreds of photos he has taken in an unspecified war zone. The photographer wrestles with the trauma of what he has seen and his bitterness that the people who view his images are unable to empathize fully with the victims of catastrophic violence abroad. The poem references a number of major historical air strikes and clearly draws imagery from Nick Ut's famous Vietnam War photograph of children fleeing the devastation of a napalm bomb.
In his dark ...
... in ordered rows.
The only light ...
... intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom ... flesh is grass.
He has a ...
... seem to now.
Rural England. Home ...
... weather can dispel,
to fields which ...
... a nightmare heat.
Something is happening. ...
... a half-formed ghost.
He remembers the ...
... into foreign dust.
A hundred agonies ...
... for Sunday’s supplement.
The reader’s eyeballs ...
... and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane ...
... do not care.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
"War Photographer" Read Aloud — Listen to the poem read aloud.
Trailer for the Documentary "War Photographer" — Watch the trailer for the 2011 documentary War Photographer, which explores the responsibilities of photographers in war zones, focusing on photographer James Nachtwey.
"The Terror of War" — Explore Nick Ut's image from the Vietnam War, "The Terror of War." This famous photograph may have inspired "War Photographer." Note the second photographer at the right of the image examining his camera as children run by him, burnt and naked.
Carol Ann Duffy Biography — Learn more about Carol Ann Duffy, Britain's first female Poet Laureate, on Poets.org.
Interview with War Photographer Nick Ut — Watch this NBC interview with Vietnam War photographer Nick Ut about taking his famous photo depicting the naked "Napalm Girl" and the responsibility of photographers in war zones. Ut's comments intersect potently with the themes explored in "War Photographer."
1In his dark room he is finally alone
2with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
3The only light is red and softly glows,
4as though this were a church and he
5a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
6Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.
7He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
8beneath his hands, which did not tremble then
9though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
10to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
11to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
12of running children in a nightmare heat.
13Something is happening. A stranger’s features
14faintly start to twist before his eyes,
15a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
16of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
17without words to do what someone must
18and how the blood stained into foreign dust.
19A hundred agonies in black and white
20from which his editor will pick out five or six
21for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
22with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
23From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
24he earns his living and they do not care.