It’s Armistice Day here in the UK, an appropriate day for BBC Four to air a programme about Keith Douglas, a poet and a tank-commander during WW2.
I stumbled on a poem of his some years ago, quoted in a newspaper article. It made such an impression that I tore it out of the page and kept it, vowing to find out more about the author. The poem I read that day was called “How to Kill”. There is a Guardian article about Keith Douglas, worth reading in its own right, which includes that poem. I’ve reproduced it, below: I do hope that doesn’t get me into copyright trouble.
Keith Douglas also wrote a book of his experiences in the Western Desert called “Alamein to Zem Zem”, written while on leave in the UK prior to taking part in the D-Day landings in June 1944. I loved this book. It was out of print for a long time but is available, reprinted by the excellent Faber Finds imprint.
Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death like a familiar, hears
and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the waves of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.