Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Keith Douglas

I've never liked how Armistice Day is- and always has been- a celebration of the military. I don't think the memorialising of the war dead should be about flags and uniforms and marching bands. Flags and uniforms and marching bands are what got them killed.

Last night the BBC gave us a profile of Keith Douglas. I don't think Douglas was a great poet, but he wrote honestly out of the experience of combat and that is enough to make him important. He had a desk job in Cairo and stole a truck and a driver and, ignoring military protocol, drove to the battle of El Alamein- where his Colonel was pleased to see him- and where he hared about on foot when he should have been sitting in his tank and turfed Germans out of foxholes at the point of a rifle that didn't work. After Zem Zem he had a month back home- which he spent knocking his work into publishable shape because he knew he was going to die- and then it was D Day and he made it past the beaches, only to have his premonition come true on a Normandy hillside. At the time of his death he and another officer were scouting around- in defiance of authority- conducting their own private war- because that's the sort of person he was.

As far as I can gather war is fun to begin with- flags and uniforms and marching bands- and charging into battle in a stolen truck -  but very soon becomes a deadly chore. By the time of his death, according to a colleague, Douglas had had all the "bounce" knocked out of him. He would have liked to have been the greatest poet of his generation; instead he died at 24. 
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