POETRY IN LOCKDOWN: 20


I remember a cartoon by (I believe) Hector Breeze set in the World War 1 trenches. A junior officer under intense bombardment scrambles up to a senior one: “The situations pretty desperate, Sir. We’re down to our last poet.” 

On the 75th VE Day I’m reminded how few English World War 2 poets there seem to have been by comparison. One very good one was Keith Douglas, who fought in the Western Desert and was killed, aged 24, three days after taking part in the June 1944 Normandy landings.

Here is a poem of his that seems appropriate. Vergissmeinicht is German for Forget-me-not

 

Vergissmeinicht

by Keith Douglas

 

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. Vergissmeinicht
in 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.

Posted on May 8th, 2020

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