Keith Douglas (1920-1944)
...only lived to the age of twenty-four. He served in World War II and
was killed in France in 1944, three days after the first Normandy invasion. He has been compared to Trench Poets
of World War I, such as Owen and Sassoon. His poetry is known for its intensity. Even his early works lack the
normal innocence found in adolescent poetry. Douglas' poetry exhibits the wonder and pain of love, as well as the
misery and brutality of war, as seen through the eyes of a soldier.
Waiting in the Wings of Europe
Actors waiting in the wings of Europe
we already watch the lights on the stage
and listen to the colossal overture begin.
For us entering at the height of the din
it will be hard to hear our thoughts, hard to gauge
how much our conduct owes to fear or fury.
Everyone, I suppose, will use these minutes
to look back, to hear music and recall
what we were doing and saying that year
during our last few months as people, near
the sucking mouth of the day that swallowed us all
into the stomach of a war. Now we are in it
and no more people, just little pieces of food
swirling in an uncomfortable digestive journey,
what we said and did then has a slightly
fairytale quality. There is an excitement
in seeing our ghosts wandering
* The final stanza of this poem does appear incomplete.
Sentry, Corniche, Alexandria
Sweat lines the statue of a face
he has; he looks at the sea
and does not smell its animal smell
does not suspect the heaven or hell
in the mind of a passer-by:
sees the moon shining on a place
in the sea, leans on the railing, rests
a hot hand on the eared rifle-muzzle,
nodding to the monotone of his song
his tarbush with its khaki cover on.
There is no pain, no pleasure, life's no puzzle
but a standing, a leaning, a sleep between the coasts
of birth and dying. From mother's shoulder
to crawling in the rich gutter, millionaire of smells,
standing, leaning at last with seizing limbs
into the gutter again, while the world swims
on stinks and noises past the filthy wall
and death lifts him to the bearer's shoulder.
The moon shines on the modern flats
where sentient lovers or rich couples
lie loving or sleeping after eating.
In the town the cafes and cabarets seating
gossipers, soldiers, drunkards, supple
women of the town, shut out the moon with slats.
Everywhere is a real or artificial race
of life, a struggle of everyone to be
master or mistress of some hour.
But of this no scent or sound reaches him there.
He leans and looks at the sea:
sweat lines the statue of a face.