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.

by Keith Douglas

Other poems of DOUGLAS (7)

Comments (8)

That was a harrowing write and worthy of a master poet. These images and these thoughts will stay with the reader for a long long long time. Onto my fav list and certainly deserves a 10 rating though it doesn't need a rating for people to realize it is a giant piece of literature.
A wondrful poem and poet. Totally unsentimental and with no self pity.
Death, love, victors and victims. Life filled with fever and favor. We all win, we all lose.
There is very little to add to the thorough and penetrating critique of this poem supplied by Terry Craddock below. Such meticulous and insightful analyses are rarely met with on these pages and I applaud his effort. The only addition I can offer is the important role of the title, Vergissmeinnicht, a German word meaning forget me not. I think it is key that this word has not been translated, but left in its original as found in the third stanza of the poem as part of a note between soldier and lover. As it appears in the poem it is pure reportage of the scene, we don't even know if the observer is aware of its English meaning. But it does telegraph the nationality of the dead figure, and thus the greater setting of the poem. Furthermore, used as a title it begs the reader to find a translation and meaning as it applies the whole work. And as it applies to the totality of the poem I think it's clear that the reference is to both the deceased soldier and the horror of war as well as the presumably innocent lover who has been forever detached from this object of her desire. A stunning, thought provoking work.
The dust upon the paper eye.... thanks for posting...
See More