(1920 - 1944)



Keith Douglas was born in Kent, and educated at Oxford University under the tutorship of poet Edward Blunden, before enlisting with the British Army when World War II broke out. He is the most famous English poet of that war, although he began publishing his work at the age of 16. His verse is precise, unsentimental and at times chilling, in its treatment of desire and sexuality as well as in its pervasive obsession with death and the relation of death to writing. Douglas was killed in Normandy, having also written about his involvement in the war in North Africa, his slim but intensely powerful corpus concluded at an early age. His work began to receive the acclaim it deserves only when Ted Hughes, a great admirer, edited and introduced a collection in 1964 (Selected Poems). See also the more recent Complete Poems (ed. Desmond Graham; 1978).

 Bloomsbury Dictionary of English Literature, 





To Restore a Dead Child


Sometimes while I sleep

I hear the single cry and the tire screek

that never end.

My blond and foolish brown-eyed brother

lugging his fretful love

shambles after me

as the cunning Mack truck

lurching out of nowhere

cuts him down.


He's a long dead almost-three.

I'm a long lived five

just turned sixty-one

still running in a dead heat

with the rolling cab that swooped him up

heading for the vanished hospital.


It's then on waking

I feel the snot of infant faces

leak into my mouth.









The Knife


 Can I explain this to you? Your eyes

 are entrances the mouths of caves

 I issue from wonderful interiors

 upon a blessed sea and a fine day,

 from inside these caves I look and dream.


 Your hair explicable as a waterfall

 in some black liquid cooled by legend

 fell across my thought in a moment

 became a garment I am naked without

 lines drawn across through morning and evening.


 And in your body each minute I died

 moving your thigh could disinter me

 from a grave in a distant city:

 your breasts deserted by cloth, clothed in twilight

 filled me with tears, sweet cups of flesh.


 Yes, to touch two fingers made us worlds

 stars, waters, promontories, chaos

 swooning in elements without form or time

 come down through long seas among sea marvels

 embracing like survivors in our islands.


 This I think happened to us together

 though now no shadow of it flickers in your hands

 your eyes look down on ordinary streets

 If I talk to you I might be a bird

 with a message, a dead man, a photograph.









 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. Vergissmeinnicht

 in a 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.