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Letters of Keith Douglas
Edited by Desmond Graham
Categories: 20th Century, War writings
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (386 pages)
(Pub. Oct 2000)
My object (and I don't give a damn about my duty as a poet) is to write true things, significant things in words each of which works for its place in a line. My rhythms, which you find enervated, are carefully chosen to enable the poems to be read as significant speech: I see no reason to be either musical or sonorous about things at present.
Keith Douglas (1920-44) loved his country. He also had an insatiable hunger for experience. When World War II began he enlisted: to fight, and to read history from within its turbulence. As with the poets of the First World War, his art was tried, tempered - and curtailed. His letters tell the story of a man fully engaged by his art and his age.
The chief elements in his character were a sense of 'the manly' and a love for creative activity: rugby, OTC, and fine poetry at the age of fourteen. He attended Christ's Hospital, Sussex, following in the footsteps of Coleridge. He went up to Blunden's Oxford in 1938, then to war. He courted action in the Desert Campaign and was injured by a land mine. Soon, he returned to active service. All the time he was writing letters. He was killed in the Allied invasion of Normandy.
A letter from 1943 declares: 'The soldiers have not found anything new to say. Their experience they will not forget easily and it seems to me that the whole body of English war poetry of this war, civil and military, will be created after the war is over.' He foresees Edwin Morgan, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and Geoffrey Hill.
Recipients of letters
Appendix A: Two autobiographical fragments
Appendix B: An essay: 'Poets in This War'
Appendix C: Three short stories
'Death of a Horse'
'The Little Red Mouth'
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