The theme of the poem is the negative influence of war, especially on children. The poet discusses how armed conflicts cut short lives in their prime. Hopes are shattered. People are forced to live in fear of capture and execution. In order to convey his theme the poet has selected a well-known victim the World War II
Anne Frank was a Polish Jewish girl. Because of the twisted dreams of a sick individual and his henchmen, Anne, her family and friends had to go into hiding. They lived in a backroom of her father’s former work place for nearly three years before they were discovered and deported to a concentration camp. There, Anne died of typhoid fever just before the camp was liberated by the Allied Forces. Anne herself in her diary recorded her tragic story. “The Diary of Anne Frank” is one of the most read books of modern times.
In the first stanza the poet takes the readers to the very place Anne lived in hiding. The tense and language used create an impression of being a part of a guided tour. The poet acts the role of the guide. He is not indifferent to his subject. In contrast he feels deeply for the sad fate of the young girl.
Even now, after twice her lifetime of grief
and anger in the very place, whoever comes
to climb these narrow stairs, discovers how
the bookcase slides aside, then walks through
shadow into sunlit rooms, can never help
The poet uses simple present tense in order to create a feeling of immediacy to link with the reader. The reader who goes into the space formally occupied Anne, according to the poet, feels like an intruder.
………………………………….., can never help
but break her secrecy again. Just listening
is a kind of guilt:…………………………………
In that cramped living space time seems to go in circles. One feels as if he is a spectator of a drama being eternally re-enacted. The ticking of the Westerkirk Clock fades away in the Gestapo guarded streets outside. Time drags on when one lives in mortal fear.
In the third stanza the poet takes the readers deeper into Anne's story. He invites them to imagine “three years of whispering and loneliness”. Anne was a child when she went into hiding. There were several children sharing her home. They were forced to curb the natural need to laugh and play. Each day was spent plotting the position of the Allied Force in Europe. Anne and the others were trapped between hope and despair. They use yellow chalk to mark the position of the advancing liberators. The colour of the chalk is suggestive in two ways. Gestapo used chalk stars on doors to notify the presence of Jews. During the early days of the German occupation of Poland Jews were made to wear a yellow David’s Star on their sleeves. So for the Jews, yellow was a mark of oppression.
three years of whispering and loneliness
and plotting, day by day, the Allied line
in Europe with a yellow chalk.
But even in that intolerable situation Anne has not given into total depression. She has kept hope alive and the visitors see this in the pictures on the wall above her bed. Like any other young girl she also has possessed “ordinary love,” her love for her family and her interests, actors and fashion. The very fact she has tried to turn an extremely trying situation into an ordinary situation is a proof of her will to survive. One can only be impressed by it.
she had for ordinary love and interest
survives her here, displayed above the bed
But her patience is not rewarded as it should have been. Anne and the others are discovered and transported to a concentration camp. But by looking at the things she has left behind one sees a deep desire to do things we take for granted. Things such as leaving the hiding place without fear and walking “at ease up dusty tree-lined avenues”. She yearns to see the reflections of the barges in the blue water of the canal as they come clear of the many bridges. Her wishes are so simple. It is the simplicity of her wishes that make the deprivation more tragic.
The poet does not moralize. Instead he compels people to question their values. Could anyone justify war when it creates such tragedies?
The poem consists of five stanzas, four lines each. There is no specific rhyming scheme. Each consecutive stanza is a continuation of the previous. The language is simple, yet, eloquent.
The poet Andrew Motion has selected the tragic consequences of war as his theme. In order to convey his theme he has employed the well-known story of a Jewish girl called Ann Frank who died in a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Though the theme is ‘tragedies of war’ the poet does not use the words such as war, death, Hitler, Nazi, Gestapo, etc as one would expect him to other than a passing reference to the Allied Forces. He relies heavily on the general knowledge of the audience. The absence of direct reference to a particular war makes the poem more universal. The audience is compelled to question how many Annes have died in the many wars human race have waged in our short tragic history.