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Thursday, November 11, 2010

11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month...

Keith Douglas

(Thanks to John B. for these pieces...and photos)


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.

Keith Douglas, 1920-44
(this poem was written while Douglas was a tank officer in the North African campaign;
he was killed shortly after D-Day, 1944; Vergissmeinnicht means “forget-me-not”);

Isaac Rosenberg (self portrait)

Break of Day in the Trenches

The darkness crumbles away
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies,
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver -what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
Isaac Rosenberg, 1890-1918

(like Douglas, Rosenberg was a visual artist as well as a writer)

What an interesting poetry for this time of year, aligns somewhat with my own post Scorpio .
Yes Gary, I am back to the blogworld - carefully...
Thanks Zee...and I enjoyed seeing you on the blog again. Enjoy Suisse!
"Poppies whose roots are in men's veins"

the symbolism of this strikes like a bolt of lightning.... life and death, blood and flowers... makes me weep.

"For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart."
this is the worst crime of war. it dehumanizes the poets, the artists, the lovers who suffer and die in 'service to country' which often has more to do with greed than with the well-being of humanity.
Hi Gary
Beautiful poetry that poignantly portrays the waste of talent and the futility of war whose lonely corpses attract flies in the battlefield. Forget-me-not that I could not forget such carnage of those youthful lives cut so short.
Best wishes
Hello Gary, I was looking for a photo of Nelson in winter for my blog post when I came upon your blog. I grew up in Nelson and once babysat a child named Isaac Rosenberg (son of photographer Fred Rosenberg), who is very much grown up now. It is interesting how many bloggers posted poetry on Remembrance Day - I would say the soldier poets really did say 'it' best for all of us.
Thanks gfid and Lindsay. I'll post on your blog Rebecca - so nice to meet you.
i hate war. what can be more terrible or more debasing than war? i hear terms like "good war" and "bad war" and i think it depends which side one is on. and i also think there are no good wars, only bad. war isn't creative destruction, it is only destruction. and it is never fair. and it is never romantic.
I'm with you Seraphine - a good war is an oxymoron. My grandfathers and dad were all shaped by battle...and all had scars (inside and out) to show for it.

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