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.