Today’s poet is Keith Douglas who died in WWII at the age of 24.
I remember being in an English Literature class with Miss Hahn. We were reading his poem Vergissmeinnicht. In the poem he uses the phrase “the swart flies move”. None of us had a clue what the word “swart” meant. It means black. It was one of those moments when you are young and suddenly realise that language is something other than this utilitarian thing and there is a whole other way of describing the world, more akin to music. The poem I have chosen to post today was written when he was 15. I will post another of his tomorrow. One of the late poems.
Meanwhile, this is a very interesting and very moving account of his work and life, by Owen Sheers, a fellow poet, and playwright. His play, Unicorns, Almost, was on R4 the other day. Very enjoyable. It’s on Sounds for the next 29 days.
Here is another film – about Douglas and Alun Lewis – the quality is not great but worth watching just to hear poet Tom Paulin read.
TO HIS COY MISTRESS
Had we but World enough and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges side
Should’st Rubies find: I by the Tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood:
And you should if you please refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable Love should grow
Vaster than Empires and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze;
Two hundred to adore each Breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An Age at least to every part,
And the last Age should show your Heart.
For Lady you deserve this state;
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged Chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My echoing Song; then Worms shall try
That long-preserved Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
Let us roll all our Strength and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Through the Iron gates of Life:
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
My neighbours moving some of their horses. A good cue for one of my favourite poems, by Edwin Muir. Some eerie correspondences with the present situation …
Barely a twelvemonth after The seven days war that put the world to sleep, Late in the evening the strange horses came. By then we had made our covenant with silence, But in the first few days it was so still We listened to our breathing and were afraid. On the second day The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer. On the third day a warship passed us, heading north, Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter Nothing. The radios dumb; And still they stand in corners of our kitchens, And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms All over the world. But now if they should speak, If on a sudden they should speak again, If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak, We would not listen, we would not let it bring That old bad world that swallowed its children quick At one great gulp. We would not have it again. Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep, Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow, And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness. The tractors lie about our fields; at evening They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting. We leave them where they are and let them rust: “They’ll moulder away and be like other loam.” We make our oxen drag our rusty plows, Long laid aside. We have gone back Far past our fathers’ land. And then, that evening Late in the summer the strange horses came. We heard a distant tapping on the road, A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again And at the corner changed to hollow thunder. We saw the heads Like a wild wave charging and were afraid. We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield. Or illustrations in a book of knights. We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited, Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent By an old command to find our whereabouts And that long-lost archaic companionship. In the first moment we had never a thought That they were creatures to be owned and used. Among them were some half a dozen colts Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world, Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden. Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads, But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts. Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.
THE MORNING WATCH
O joys! Infinite sweetness! With what flowres,
And shoots of glory, my soul breakes, and buds!
All the long houres
Of night, and Rest
Through the still shrouds
Of sleep, and Clouds,
This Dew fell on my Breast;
O how it Blouds,
And Spirits all my Earth! heark! In what Rings,
And Hymning Circulations the quick world
Awakes, and sings;
And rising winds,
And failing springs,
Birds, beasts, all things
Adore him in their kinds.
Thus all is hurl’d
In sacred Hymnes, and Order, the great Chime
And Symphony of nature. Prayer is
The world in tune,
And vocall joyes
Whose Echois heav’ns blisse.
O let me climbe.
When I lye down! The Pious soul by night
Is like a clouded starre, whose beames though said
To shed their light
Under some Cloud
Yet are above,
And shine, and move
Beyond that mistie shroud.
So in my Bed
That Curtain’d grave, though sleep, like ashes, hide
My lamp, and life, both shall in thee abide.
INGRATEFULL BEAUTY THREATENED
Know Celia, (since thou art so proud,)
‘Twas I that gave thee thy renown:
Thou hadst, in the forgotten crowd
Of common beauties, liv’d unknown,
Had not my verse exhal’d thy name
And with it impt the wings of fame.
That killing power is none of thine,
I gave it to thy voyce, and eyes:
Thy sweets, thy graces, are all mine:
Thou are my star, shin’st in my skies;
Then dart not from thy borrowed sphere
Lightning on him that fixt thee there.
Tempt me with such affrights no more,
Lest what I made, I uncreate:
Let fools thy mystique forms adore,
I’ll know thee in thy mortall state;
Wise Poets that wrapp’d Truth in tales,
Knew her themselves through all her vailes.