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Notes on Keith Douglas’s “Dead Men”

“Dead Men” as a whole is less satisfying and less achieved than “Cairo Jag”, but the three opening stanzas are unforgettable:



Tonight the moon inveigles them
to love: they infer from her gaze
her tacit encouragement.
Tonight the white dresses and the jasmine scent
in the streets. I in another place
see the white dresses glimmer like moths. Come

to the west, out of that trance, my heart –
here the same hours have illumined
sleepers who are condemned or reprieved
and those whom their ambitions have deceived;
the dead men, whom the wind
powders till they are like dolls: they tonight

rest in … Continue Reading

Notes on Keith Douglas’s “Vergissmeinnicht”

It’s easy to see why “Vergissmeinnicht” is so much admired. Plain-spoken as it mostly is, it combines clarity with force, even before we get to the punchline, and the plain words are deployed with striking sensitivity in the shifting and combining of tones.


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 … Continue Reading

Keith Douglas, “The Marvel” and “L’Albatros” by Baudelaire

Rereading Baudelaire’s poem “L’ Albatros”, I’ve been struck again by how superior, to my mind, Keith Douglas’s “The Marvel” is. I imagine that Douglas’s poem was fed by Baudelaire’s and flies partly on its wings – his Complete Poems includes several translations of poems by Rimbaud written before “The Marvel”, and the similarity of metaphorical vehicle between the two poems is obvious. But the essential superiority is to do with how Douglas’s mind worked. Where “L’ Albatros” basically expresses one idea, Douglas’s is a brilliantly unresolved mishmash of conflicting feelings, ideas and impressions. No doubt in part this reflects the dislocations … Continue Reading