Thursday, June 12, 2014

i.m. Keith Douglas

Keith Douglas, the greatest English poet of the Second World War and one of the greatest of the twentieth century, died seventy years ago this week after collapsing in a Normandy field. Colleagues from his tank corp examined his prone body and found it undamaged, but later investigations revealed that an almost invisible splinter of glass had pierced his heart.

Douglas was twenty-four, and left behind about a hundred poems,  a book-length memoir of  chaotic tank battles in the North African desert, and a series of casually eerie drawings of the supernatural creatures which had haunted and goaded him.

i.m. Keith Douglas

A garden grows around the saints,
like the silence
of an exhausted audience.

Rommel sits in the shade,
admiring the towers of dandelions,
the bees that land a little too quickly,
like overburdened balloons.

The saints are counting money
because the saints are men.

In heaven even the trees give tips. Gums drop
silver, and kowhai let their gold float
down. How can a soldier spend
such beneficience?

Best to feed coins to those spacies machines,
the ones that track
an endlessly approaching fleet, its wings
as frailly aerodynamic as angels.

The saints are cleaning magazines
because the saints are dead.

Marvell, who made several important contributions
to tank locomotion,
is buried at the northwest corner
of the terrarium, under a rabble
of hydrangeas.The best gardeners
leave themselves to harvest.

Look: Wingate hobbles, in the dirty cloud
of his robe, to the pond
where egreria float and flower,
leaning on the wind
as if it were a walking stick.

Remember to act your age here.
Act your age, and stay safely dead.

The sun flashes like an A bomb, sets.
Tomorrow, perhaps, work will begin.

These saints will amputate grape
from vine, will rip pear
from bough. They will peel lilies
from the ponds like scabs,
and leave stone owls on branches,
and plant a tall handless clock
in a flowerbed.

Now the saints are writing field reports
because the saints are men.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Michael Arnold said...

Very fine.

6:25 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes, fine work, as Michael says: a great poem again Scott.

Proves that when you stop "politicising" you can write great stuff...Just joking! Of course the politics etc "feed into" the creative stuff.

Wingate. I didn't know about him. But there is always good old Wikipedia. A strange character, nearly mad (even Churchill it seems, realised it was no good promoting him), who hated Arabs and helped train the Jewish Zionist terrorists and a form of guerilla war. Was he directly associated with Douglas?

He was a great poet, he adds to the writing of Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen and others of WW1.

Would he have become an even more major figure had he lived on? He was surely one of the most talented poets ever. His poem of the Hand rivals Shakespeare or Keats.

Alun Lewis was another as we agree.

9:58 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It seemed almost that Douglas and the War environment were integral, as indeed perhaps a man like Wingate needed something to hate (Arabs in his case), so in his "madness" he lived war and escapade, Douglas - and here perhaps there is a chord of intersection with Wingate - was as fascinated by war, but he was also detached and his work fine and near surreal: and often simply, but eerily beautiful.

10:02 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for your kind words guys. Years ago Brett Cross and I watched the BBC's low budget, superbly acted, impressionistic 1970s dramatisation of Wingate's life, which presented its hero as a man capable of turning even the most dour and cynical aspect of a war, like Britain's attempt to retake its colonial possession of Burma from the Japanese, into a mystical re enactment of the events of the Old Testament. Brett and I weren't sure whether to admire or despair at Wingate's megalomania. Interesting piece at the Huff Post about Wingate's mysterious death:

1:05 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

I should mentioned that i ripped the refrain of the poem off burns Singer, who wrote:

God is beyond belief:
His image everywhere
Half made of shape, half light,
Establishes despair.
The saints are counting money
Because the saints are men.

Burns, who died young in postwar Scotland, has become a rather obscure figure, but this piece tries to correct that:

2:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poetry should rhyme.

9:30 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Burns Singer I had heard of, seen something by him, but don't know where or what. Interesting write about him. Mysterious figure also.

Wingate. A great novel could centre on such a man. He could cross paths with Douglas, clash in many ways, cohere in others.

11:43 pm  
Anonymous Patent Attorney said...

A tragic life cut short, but one that was evidently characterised by incredible talent. That line about staying safely dead really is quite harrowing.

9:48 pm  

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