(Poem #710) 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.
Vergissmeinnicht means "forget me not" in German. The phrase 'War Poets' usually calls to mind names such as those of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and their contemporaries from the First World War (the 'Great War', as it was called in its immediate aftermath); although the Second World War did produce its share of important poems, most of them were written at some remove from the trenches (the work of Empson and Auden springs to mind) (cue a flood of emails from Minstrels subscribers pointing out my ignorance of WW2 poetry). Douglas is the exception: like Owen, he distinguished himself on the front lines (thus achieving a moral stature which enabled him to criticize the carnage around him); like Owen, his poetry has a universality which speaks to readers removed from its immediate context; and like Owen, he was killed in action. Douglas' verse itself, though, is quite different from Owen's; where the latter is a blend of (barely-restrained) outrage and compassion, the former's "unquiet intensity" has been compared to the Metaphysicals - detached and clinical on the surface , yet deeply thought-out and meaning-laden. "Vergissmeinnicht" is an excellent (if somewhat over-anthologized) example of this... the final couplet, especially, is justly celebrated for its encapsulation of the paradox of war. thomas.  Michael Schmidt quips that for Douglas, "the poetry is in the pitilessness", reversing Owen's famous comment on his own work, which you can read at poem #132 [Biography] b. January 20, 1920, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England d. June 9, 1944, Normandy, France British poet who is remembered for his irony, eloquence, and fine control in expressing the misery and waste of war, to which he was to fall victim. Douglas' education at Oxford University was cut short by the outbreak of war. By 1941 he was serving as a tank commander in North Africa, where some of his most powerful poems were written (Alamein to Zem-Zem, 1946). He was moved back to Britain in 1944 to take part in the D-Day invasion; he fell in combat in Normandy on his third day there. His posthumous Collected Poems (1951) enhanced his reputation as a war poet, but in 1964 Ted Hughes's edition of Douglas' Selected Poems established him as a poet of universal significance. -- EB [Links] See poem #707 for a list of other war poems; don't miss the ones by Wilfred Owen, especially.