In the poem “Shooting Stars” Carol Ann Duffy utilizes many literary devices to evoke not only the imagery of this tragic history but also to arouse an emotional response. She uses evocative language to create the connections between the title and the contents of the poem. There are explicit relationships as well as nuances that demonstrate the various and significant links between the title and the material. It not only displays the pain, agony, and horrific death of the victims but reveals the juxtaposition between this and a heavenly shooting star. The poem communicates the power of the emotions, the corporeal pain, and the ephemeral quality of the Third Reich. It is through structure, phrasing, and imagery that she evocatively illustrates the meaning in her poem which encompasses the physical execution of the Jewish people, the pursuit of hope as one wishes upon a star, as well as a plea for remembrance.
The structure of the poem, while personal, also generally addresses torture, murder, and the attempt to eradicate the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. The ethnicity is revealed is the simplicity of the style by just listing the names “Rebecca Rachel Ruth” (line 2), which are all quintessentially biblical names for Jewish women. One reason the poem is so compelling is that the point of view is in the first person. It is not the omniscient perspective which has a distinct emotional detachment, this is the hauntingly powerful personal view of a woman facing death. The first overt reference to the title “Shooting Stars” is the gunning down of the Jew who wears the Star of David, which is the symbol of their faith, and this is a direct tie-in to the title. Shooting Stars means Killing Jews. The metaphor illustrates not only the killing of the people but also the attempt to kill or eradicate the religion which is personified in the Star of David. Another more subtle and nuanced connection between Nazi Germany and the shooting star is the relatively short span of the ruling Third Reich, which was supposed to last a thousand years and only survived a few decades. It burned brightly as it built a strong economy by preparing for war while erroneously raising the self-esteem of a demoralized German people after the First World War. Then just as a shooting star burns itself out and is destroyed, this occurred in a perfect example of symbolic symmetry to Nazi Germany, it self-destructed. This was the result of its narcissistic and brutal attempt at genocide ultimately ending in ignominy.
The phrasing provides a foundation that a shooting star may also be a symbol of hope, as it is presented as wishing upon a star. This is typical of the human resolution, determination, and desire to live, and hope is an essential element of this. Even the simple act of wishing upon a shooting star may provide enough hope to survive. So that even as they die there is the promise, a hope, of a life that lies beyond their imminent death. Just as a shooting star flashes by in the sky it is at that moment when their eyes are turned up towards the heaven in prayer they may see that shooting star and its representation of hope. This is conveyed in the poem when she says, “Tell them I sang the ancient psalms at dusk” (22). Additionally, she is pleading for the future generations to remember that they did not lose their faith, and that they still gazed upward to the stars in the heavens and observed their religious rites as best they could. That they continued to pray, to hope, to be strong “upright as statues, brave” (5), even as millions died.
It is through powerful imagery that Duffy expresses the pain and suffering of this woman, representative of all Jews, and this creates a poignant and moving poem. In the line “You waited for the bullet. Fell.” (6) is yet another correlation between the title and the content. There is the anticipation created with the word waited, as one waits for the rare occurrence of a shooting star, succeeding this the bullet is shot and the sentence comes to a full stop which heightens the expectancy of what is to follow. Then the single word “fell”. So just as a shooting star falls to the earth the Jewish men and women fall to the ground dead. Yet another connection between the title and the poem is found in the line on which the “stars on all our brows” (3), is referring to the mutilation of their foreheads created from the impact of being shot with a bullet. This is all done “beneath the gaze of men with guns” (4), which is, of course references the armed men who are shooting.
Carol Ann Duffy succinctly and passionately expresses the brutality of one race of humanity trying to destroy another. She uses literary elements to evoke an emotional response to this tragedy and weaves the essence of title throughout the language in the poem. The transitory nature of a shooting star is correlated to the short-lived dictatorial rule of the Third Reich in Germany. The structure, phrasing, and imagery all blend to vividly express the feelings, fears, and emotions, of those who lay dying, and the impact of this poem is evocative, emotional, and touching. The underlying theme is revealed in the title “Shooting Stars” however the title initially creates the impression of momentary delight in a rare and beautiful occurrence, which is contrary to the subject which is one of the most catastrophic and tragic events in history. The juxtaposition of this generates an immediate reaction, and the necessity to read and re-read in order to fully explore the nuances relating to shooting stars, and to recognize that it is possible to have a myriad of meanings in a single word through the eloquent use of language.