SIMPLE SONG OF MY WIFE As she comes in, cackles burst from the door, The potted plants all stamp, shaking the floor, A blond streak, small and drowsy, in her hair Cheeps like a frightened sparrow in the straw. Clumsily whirling towards her through the air, The ageing light-flex too lets out a squawk: Everything spins – to jot it down, no chance. She has come back. She has been gone all day. She bears an enormous poppy in her hands To drive death, my adversary, away. 5 January 1940 FROM: Miklós Radnóti FORCED MARCH Translated by George Gömöri and Clive Wilmer Enitharmon Press
VERGISSMEINNICHT 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.
STRANGE GARDENER Over the meadows framed in the quiet osiers, dreams the pond region of summer gnat-busyness and in the afternoon’s blue drowsiness plops among the water shadows and the cool trees wait beyond. A young man lived there with a swift, sad face, and full of phantasy repeating as he heard it the alliterative speech of the water spirit smoothing his pale hair with automatic ecstasy. This was his garden Uncultivated (order hated him) whence (in a winter madness whose scourge drove him to recklessness) seeing the frost harden the water spirit translated him.
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.
And here is Clive James reading Canoe: