The Manhunt – Simon Armitage
After the first phase,
after passionate nights and intimate days,
only then would he let me trace
the frozen river which ran through his face,
only then would he let me explore
the blown hinge of his lower jaw,
and handle and hold
the damaged, porcelain collar-bone,
and mind and attend
the fractured rudder of shoulder-blade,
and finger and thumb
the parachute silk of his punctured lung.
Only then could I bind the struts
and climb the rungs of his broken ribs,
and feel the hurt
of his grazed heart.
only then could I picture the scan,
the foetus of metal beneath his chest
where the bullet had finally come to rest.
Then I widened the search,
traced the scarring back to its source
to a sweating, unexploded mine
buried deep in his mind, around which
every nerve in his body had tightened and closed.
Then, and only then, did I come close.
Exam Task: Write about the presentation of relationships in The Manhunt.
The Manhunt, by Simon Armitage, is a poem that breaks with the model of the title having some kind of meaning to the rest of the poem. It is not about the kind of manhunt that you would normally associate with the title, a hunt for a criminal, a killer, or a thief, where one person typically hunts down the perpetrator to some horrible crime, but rather, is a poem written as though the main speaker is a woman, a wife who is on a man hunt of her own, to find the man she fell in love with, but who has come home from modern warfare, a broken man, possibly dying or seriously injured.
There are detailed references to the body of the husband showing a closeness in their relationship, something that perhaps, he may now be having difficulties with due to his injuries, as horrific as they undoubtedly are. In an age when young men go off to war torn countries and return with limbs missing and internal injuries galore, this shows the love the man and the wife have for each other in their new found situation in life.
It is a relationship that defies all the pain and the heartache that this couple are going through and explores the strength of a truly loving character, or couple. In the most harshest of circumstances, here is a loving relationship that is bound to last, but there are issues that could break them apart if they do not control their situation.
The speaker in the poem is female and she is determined to search for the man she fell in love with, who is hidden somewhere in the battered remains that are now before her. He is a changed man because of his experiences and because of his injuries. So, she wishes to understand her husband’s feelings because of his condition and although it is a medical and physical condition that he is enduring, there are hints of the possibility of something like PTSD splitting them apart, caused by his injuries and his state of mind.
It is as if the soldier has returned from the theatre of war after “the first phase” of action. The word “phase” is sometimes a military word in certain contexts, so the first rhyming couplet paints an image of a phase of fighting, or a tour of duty and then “passionate nights and intimate days,” when the husband would let her “trace the frozen river which ran through his face.” This is metaphorical in style because “the frozen river” could be symbolic of his tears at what he has been through, but it could also mean the grief and feeling of utter hopelessness that he is feeling, as he tries to come to terms with what he has seen and endured.
The wife then states that after those passionate nights, “only then would he let me explore the blown hinge of his lower jaw,” which again is possibly metaphorical and using a rhyming couplet. “The blown hinge of his lower jaw” could be taken literally, whereby his jaw is damaged, for we do not hear him speak in this poem. Instead, he is a silent patient, but whether he is a patient patient is another thing entirely. If he is suffering from the likes of PTSD, a number of things can happen. He can remain silent, preferring to hide his feelings, to bottle them up for fear of upsetting his wife, who now sees his broken body and mind. He can also be verbally loud, obnoxious even. I know that my experience of PTSD includes bouts of depression and then anger, where nothing but verbal diarrhoea can appear if I am not careful, so sufferers tend to practice being nicer and kinder, to control their feelings. It is almost like being Bi-Polar; up massively one minute and back down the next. Therefore, the link to the “frozen river of tears” is all the more powerful because it is like saying that his tears have all but dried up; that there is no feeling left in him, and this is what his wife finds so difficult to cope with. The once loving and considerate husband is a mere shell of himself.
At this time she can “handle and hold the damaged, porcelain collar-bone and mind and attend the fractured rudder of shoulder-blade,” as well as being able to “finger and thumb the parachute silk of his punctured lung” which is indicative of the fact that his wounds are severe. The man has a punctured lung, a broken shoulder blade as well as other life threatening injuries so his wife is able to touch and feel the damage. Imagine for a moment, that you were able to see this on someone you love. How would this make you feel? Would it increase the sense of separateness between you? In this instance, it has and it does separate them, because this soldier wants nothing more than to be left alone. There is a deafening silence from him throughout the poem.
But the wife, on the other hand, is the driving force and when she runs her fingers up “the rungs of his broken ribs,” she is able to do so on someone who was once a fit and agile young man but now, is a broken wreck of a former self. She says that she can “feel the hurt of his grazed heart” and that she can “picture the scan,” like some form of image that shows “the foetus of metal beneath his chest,” reminiscent of a shrapnel injury, but more likely to be from “where the bullet had finally come to rest.”
Now, in the first six lines of this poem, there is an A, A, B, B, C, C rhyme scheme being used but this changes at line seven, where the lines stop rhyming but this is done on purpose, to change the structure and style of the poem, so that it keeps a sense of brokenness that links into the feeling that this soldier is enduring. This is a wife who then explores the body of her lover, tracing “the scarring back to its source,to a sweating, unexploded mine buried deep in his mind.” Now this sounds as if there is a bomb of sorts in his mind, a willingness [or not] to ‘explode’ either with rage or some other symptom of the PTSD, causing all around him to suffer. It could also refer to the thing itself that put him in this position,”around which every nerve in his body had tightened and closed.” It is as if his body, being as broken as it is, has shut down and as much as the wife wishes to support her husband in a moment of tenderness, the relationship between them is strained. To him, she is not his lover any more. Perhaps, the chances of a sexual union have ended with his injuries. But she is able to see him for who he is, for what he is, to her. At that moment, she is able to draw near to him and show her love and affection, which is why she states at the end that “only then, did I come close” to understanding just what makes her ‘new’ husband tick.
He has come home from the war, whichever one it was, and he is suffering badly, in pain and in spiritual and emotional pain. In his heart it is all over. He just wants his life to end. I know, that in 2010, after my car crash that nearly killed me, that for weeks and months, I just wanted to die, such was the pain. In the same manner here, this man is secretly wishing that he would pass from this world, leaving his wife to lead a better life instead of being forced to look after him for the rest of her days. He feels a burden on her time, on her life, on her love. This is the true cost of war in the modern theatre of conflict, but it also shows the strength of their loving relationship that they are able to continue in love.
This is not an easy poem to read, digest and study, but be aware, that you need to view it from both sides. To do that, draw a line down the middle of a page; half a page will do. On the left put the word “wife” and on the right, “husband.” Now, down the middle of each column, use single words to describe her relationship to him and then fill the other side in as well, his relationship to her, for it will show you the kind of relationship they have and it is, after all, relationships and love that you are studying in these poems, so do that and then read it back to yourself to see the differences in their love and their expectations.
When you have done that, have a go at answering the above question.