Keith Douglas--British

 

      

Keith Douglas
(1920-1944)
Douglas is often compared to the most popular poets of the First World War, Winifred Owen and Siegfried Sasson. He began publishing verse as a student at Oxford in the late 1930s. The only book of poetry published in his life time was Selected Poems, released in 1943. As a soldier Douglas experienced the war in North Africa, but died in the line of duty in Normandy. He was just twenty-four. Nonetheless, his poems, more than fifty years since they were written, still speak to the misery of war, and the need to make sense out of life. One of his best known poems is “Vergissmeinnicht “German for “Forget me Not.”

 

Vergissmeinnich

Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground

we found the place again, and found

the soldier sprawling in the sun.
 
The frowning barrel of his gun

overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.
 
Look. Here in the gunpit spoil

the dishonoured picture of his girl

who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.

in a copybook gothic script.
 
We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid

and mocked at by his own equipment

that's hard and good when he's decayed.
 
But she would weep to see today

how on his skin the swart flies move;

the dust upon the paper eye

and the burst stomach like a cave.
 
For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled

has done the lover mortal hurt.

  


How to Kill 
 
Under the parabola of a ball, 
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears
And look, has made a man of dust 
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.

How easy it is to make a ghost.
The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches.
 
 
 dead 
 
 Cairo Jag
 
Shall I get drunk or cut myself a piece of cake,
a pasty Syrian with a few words of English
or the Turk who says she is a princess—she dances
apparently by levitation? Or Marcelle, Parisienne
always preoccupied with her dull dead lover:
she has all the photographs and his letters
tied in a bundle and stamped Decede in mauve ink.
All this takes place in a stink of jasmine.

But there are the streets dedicated to sleep
stenches and the sour smells, the sour cries
do not disturb their application to slumber
all day, scattered on the pavement like rags
afflicted with fatalism and hashish. The women
offering their children brown-paper breasts
dry and twisted, elongated like the skull,
Holbein's signature. But his stained white town
is something in accordance with mundane conventions—
Marcelle drops her Gallic airs and tragedy
suddenly shrieks in Arabic about the fare
with the cabman, links herself so
with the somnambulists and legless beggars:
it is all one, all as you have heard.

But by a day's traveling you reach a new world
the vegetation is of iron
dead tanks, gun barrels split like celery
the metal brambles have no flowers or berries
and there are all sorts of manure, you can imagine
the dead themselves, their boots, clothes and possessions
clinging to the ground, a man with no head
has a packet of chocolate and a souvenir of Tripoli.
  

Simplify Me When I'm Dead 
Remember me when I am dead 
and simplify me when I'm dead. As the processes of earth
strip off the colour of the skin:
take the brown hair and blue eye and leave me simpler than at birth,
when hairless I came howling in
as the moon entered the cold sky. Of my skeleton perhaps,
so stripped, a learned man will say
"He was of such a type and intelligence," no more. Thus when in a year collapse
particular memories, you may
deduce, from the long pain I bore the opinions I held, who was my foe
and what I left, even my appearance
but incidents will be no guide. Time's wrong-way telescope will show
a minute man ten years hence
and by distance simplified. Through that lens see if I seem
substance or nothing: of the world
deserving mention or charitable oblivion, not by momentary spleen
or love into decision hurled,
leisurely arrive at an opinion. Remember me when I am dead
and simplify me when I'm dead.