Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Keith Douglas Redivivus

'Ted did a beautiful [BBC] programme on a marvelous young British poet, Keith Douglas, killed in the last war... Both of us mourn this poet immensely and feel he would have been like a lovely big brother to us. His death is really a terrible blow and we are trying to resurrect his image and poems...'—Sylvia Plath to her mother, 7 June 1962.

24 January is Keith Douglas's birthday. He would have been 92 today, had he survived the War. His work has meant at least as much to me as that of any other modern poet. I began Modern English War Poetry with the sole objective of honouring his achievement. And although poems about poets are not to be encouraged, I had to write a poem about him. If you aren't familiar with his work, start with the poems, then read that wonder among war memoirs, Alamein to Zem Zem.

What if? By the age of 24, Douglas had already written some of the finest lyrics. Is there a more honest war poem than 'Vergissmeinnicht'? A more brutal description of battlefield detritus than 'Cairo Jag'? A better animal poem than 'The Marvel' or 'The Sea Bird'? Contrast what his near-contemporary, Philip Larkin, had managed at that age. Douglas is the great lost poet of his century.

1 comment:

  1. Commenting on this rather late, but I'm glad you are such an admirer of Keith Douglas. I absolutely love him. I only started reading him a year ago, though it's possible I had come across 'How to Kill' (most likely) earlier than that. His work hit me like a flash of light, especially Desert Flowers and On a Return From Egypt. Alamein to Zem Zem was very powerful too. I have written about Keith Douglas in my own blog. I also enjoyed your poem about him very much.