Keith Douglas

(January 24, 1920 – June 9, 1944 / Tunbridge Wells, Kent)

Vergissmeinnicht - Poem by Keith Douglas

Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
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Comments about Vergissmeinnicht by Keith Douglas

  • Terry Craddock (4/30/2015 9:16:00 PM)

    Three weeks dead is a ripe convulsive corpse, the imagery is stark, unsettling, graphic, realist, form the personification of the 'frowning barrel of his gun' lies the implication of other hits upon other tanks both made and not made; the last hit was upon the narrator's tank

    As we came on
    that day, he hit my tank with one
    like the entry of a demon.

    No mention is made of deaths or casualties suffered by the narrator's tank crew, this is a surgical viewing of the fallen enemy, who has been left not on the glorious heroic field of battle but on the 'nightmare ground' unburied.

    The first stanza introduction to this slain enemy is low key, he is 'found
    the soldier sprawling in the sun' as if sunbathing. In the third stanza like tourists viewing points of interest in a foreign landscape we are commanded

    Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
    the dishonoured picture of his girl
    who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
    in a copybook gothic script. **

    No pity is immediately expressed, no remorse, the implications of simmering anger and hatred linger, are expressed as

    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.

    He his paid the price for his past killings in death, even his equipment is valued more than he, his weapons remain hard and good as he decays, will remain formidable when he is completely decayed. The impact of how his corpse looks crawling with flies is delivered through contrast, his girlfriend or wife, remembers him strong youth as he was

    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.

    In the last stanza are intermixed two images, 'lover and killer', the lover she knew who will never return and the killer left to rot. She remembers 'one body and one heart', we have been introduced to the staring face of death; the paper eye dust covered is lifeless, the stomach blown open with a horrific wound like a cave, the open life upon the features of this decaying wreck of youth is 'on his skin the swart flies move'. This is the image we carry into the final stanza, without a prayer we will leave this rotting corpse

    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.

    Death is stronger than love, love failed to protect the soldier, the lover's heart will beat no more, because death singled this lover out and did his 'lover mortal hurt.' Those who glorify war should learn a lesson from this poem.
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  • (12/4/2005 5:30:00 AM)

    Litteral and metaphorical memories of a past battle. (Report) Reply

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