Diary of the Plague Year: Day 81 4 June 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944)

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

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 59 13 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Keith Douglas (1920-1944)

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.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 57 11 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Keith Douglas (1920-1944)

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.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 57 11 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Keith Douglas (1920-1944)

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: