“Vergissmeinnicht” [“Forget Me Not”] by British poet Keith Douglas, who fought & died in World War II, read by John Gielgud:


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 = Forget me not.

by Keith Douglas, 1920-1944

Text to the above poem:


Well, I am thinking this may be my last
summer, but cannot lose even a part
of pleasure in the old-fashioned art
of idleness. I cannot stand aghast

at whatever doom hovers in the background:
while grass and buildings and the somnolent river,
who know they are allowed to last forever,
exchange between them the whole subdued sound

of this hot time. What sudden fearful fate
can deter my shade wandering next year
from a return? Whistle and I will hear
and come again another evening, when this boat

travels with you alone toward Iffley:
as you lie looking up for thunder again,
this cool touch does not betoken rain;
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly.

by Keith Douglas, 1920-1944

Text to the above poem:

How to Kill

Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches.

by Keith Douglas, 1920-1944


As a white stone draws down the fish
she on the seafloor of the afternoon
draws down men's glances and their cruel wish
for love. Slyly her red lip on the spoon

slips-in a morsel of ice-cream; her hands
white as a milky stone, white submarine
fronds, sink with spread fingers, lean
along the table, carmined at the ends.

A cotton magnate, an important fish
with great eyepouches and a golden mouth
through the frail reefs of furniture swims out
and idling, suspended, stays to watch.

A crustacean old man clamped to his chair
sits coldly near her and might see
her charms through fissures where the eyes should be
or else his teeth are parted in a stare.

Captain on leave, a lean dark mackerel
lies in the offing, turns himself and looks
through currents of sound. The flat-eyed flatfish sucks
on a straw, staring from its repose, laxly.

And gallants in shoals swim up and lag,
circling and passing near the white attraction;
sometimes pausing, opening a conversation:
fish pause so to nibble or tug.

Now the ice-cream is finished,
is paid for. The fish swim off on business:
and she sits alone at the table, a white stone
useless except to a collector, a rich man.

by Keith Douglas, 1920-1944

BBC program about Douglas:


Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as 
     she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

by D. H. Lawrence

Bavarian Gentians

Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of 
     Pluto's gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give 
     off light,
lead me then, lead the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on
the lost bride and her groom.

by D. H. Lawrence

from Complete Poems
Penguin 20th Century Classics
— Originally published (posthumously) in Last Poems, 1932

The Poetry of Elizabeth Daryush

WHEN AN unprejudiced literary history of our century comes to be written, our failure to recognize Elizabeth Daryush will be one of the most telling and lamentable charges that can be laid at our door. The cold silence that has prevailed about her work, through one decade after another, is so total that there can be no question of fixing the blame here or there, finding scapegoats. We are all at fault, in a way which points therefore to some really deep-seated frivolity, superficiality, cynicism through several generations of readers of English poetry…

by Donald Davie


Through the open French window the warm sun
lights up the polished breakfast-table, laid
round a bowl of crimson roses, for one –
a service of Worcester porcelain, arrayed
near it a melon, peaches, figs, small hot
rolls in a napkin, fairy rack of toast,
butter in ice, high silver coffee pot,
and, heaped on a salver, the morning’s post.

she comes over the lawn, the young heiress,
from her early walk in her garden-wood,
feeling that life’s a table set to bless
her delicate desires with all that’s good,

that even the unopened future lies
like a love-letter, full of sweet surprise.

by Elizabeth Daryush

from The Last Man and Other Verses, Carcanet Press Limited, c1936


You should at times go out
from where the faithful kneel,
visit the slums of doubt
and feel what the lost feel; 

you should at times walk on,
away from your friends' ways,
go where the scorned have gone,
pass beyond blame and praise; 

and at times you should quit
(ah yes) your sunny home,
sadly awhile should sit,
even, in wrong's dark room, 

or ever, suddenly,
by simple bliss betrayed,
you shall be forced to flee,
unloved, alone, afraid.

by Elizabeth Daryush

Children of Wealth in Your Warm Nursery

Children of wealth in your warm nursery,
Set in the cushioned window-seat to watch
The volleying snow, guarded invisibly
By the clear double pane through which no touch
Untimely penetrates, you cannot tell
What winter means; its cruel truths to you
Are only sound and sight; your citadel
Is safe from feeling, and from knowledge too.

Go down, go out to elemental wrong,
Waste your too round limbs, tan your skin too white;
The glass of comfort, ignorance, seems strong
To-day, and yet perhaps this very night
You'll wake to horror's wrecking fire ­your home
Is wired within for this, in every room.

by Elizabeth Daryush


Let us forgive Ty Kendricks.
The place was Darktown. He was young.
His nerves were jittery. The day was hot.
The Negro ran out of the alley.
And so Ty shot.

Let us understand Ty Kendricks.
The Negro must have been dangerous.
Because he ran;
And here was a rookie with a chance
To prove himself a man.

Let us condone Ty Kendricks
If we cannot decorate.
When he found what the Negro was running for,
It was too late;
And all we can say for the Negro is
It was unfortunate.

Let us pity Ty Kendricks.
He has been through enough,
Standing there, his big gun smoking,
Rabbit-scared, alone,
Having to hear the wenches wail
And the dying Negro moan.

by Sterling A. Brown


They said to my grandmother: "Please do not be bitter,"
When they sold her first-born and let the second die,
When they drove her husband till he took to the swamplands,
And brought him home bloody and beaten at last.
They told her, "It is better you should not be bitter,
Some must work and suffer so that we, who must, can live,
Forgiving is noble, you must not be heathen bitter;
These are your orders: you are not to be bitter."
And they left her shack for their porticoed house.

They said to my father: "Please do not be bitter,"
When he ploughed and planted a crop not his,
When he weatherstripped a house that he could not enter,
And stored away a harvest he could not enjoy.
They answered his questions: "It does not concern you,
It is not for you to know, it is past your understanding,
All you need know is: you must not be bitter."
And they laughed on their way to reckon the crop,
And my father walked over the wide garnered acres
Where a cutting wind warned him of the cold to come.

by Sterling A. Brown

High school student Lilly Wallis recites James Dickey’s  “The Hospital Window”:


I have just come down from my father. 
Higher and higher he lies 
Above me in a blue light 
Shed by a tinted window. 
I drop through six white floors 
And then step out onto pavement. 

Still feeling my father ascend, 
I start to cross the firm street, 
My shoulder blades shining with all 
The glass the huge building can raise. 
Now I must turn round and face it, 
And know his one pane from the others. 

Each window possesses the sun 
As though it burned there on a wick. 
I wave, like a man catching fire. 
All the deep-dyed windowpanes flash, 
And, behind them, all the white rooms 
They turn to the color of Heaven. 

Ceremoniously, gravely, and weakly, 
Dozens of pale hands are waving 
Back, from inside their flames. 
Yet one pure pane among these 
Is the bright, erased blankness of nothing. 
I know that my father is there, 

In the shape of his death still living. 
The traffic increases around me 
Like a madness called down on my head. 
The horns blast at me like shotguns, 
And drivers lean out, driven crazy— 
But now my propped-up father 

Lifts his arm out of stillness at last. 
The light from the window strikes me 
And I turn as blue as a soul, 
As the moment when I was born. 
I am not afraid for my father— 
Look! He is grinning; he is not 

Afraid for my life, either, 
As the wild engines stand at my knees 
Shredding their gears and roaring, 
And I hold each car in its place 
For miles, inciting its horn 
To blow down the walls of the world 

That the dying may float without fear 
In the bold blue gaze of my father. 
Slowly I move to the sidewalk 
With my pin-tingling hand half dead 
At the end of my bloodless arm. 
I carry it off in amazement, 

High, still higher, still waving, 
My recognized face fully mortal, 
Yet not; not at all, in the pale, 
Drained, otherworldly, stricken, 
Created hue of stained glass. 
I have just come down from my father.

by James Dickey

Dickey reads his poem “For the Last Wolverine”:

Nights of 1964—1966: The Old Reliable

      for Lewis Ellingham

      The laughing soldiers fought to their defeat . . .
      James Fenton, “In a Notebook”

White decorators interested in Art,
Black file clerks with theatrical ambitions,
kids making pharmaceutical revisions
in journals Comp. instructors urged they start,
the part-Cherokee teenage genius (maybe),
the secretary who hung out with fairies,
the copywriter wanting to know, where is
my husband? the soprano with the baby,
all drank draft beer or lethal sweet Manhattans
or improvised concoctions with tequila
in summer when, from Third Street, we could feel a   
night breeze waft in whose fragrances were Latin.
The place was run by Polish refugees:
squat Margie, gaunt Speedy (whose sobriquet
transliterated what?). He’d brought his play
from Łódź. After a while, we guessed Margie’s
illiteracy was why he cashed checks
and she perched near the threshold to ban pros,
the underage, the fugitive, and those
arrayed impertinently to their sex.
The bar was talk and cruising; in the back
room, we danced: Martha and the Vandellas,
Smokey and the Miracles, while sellers
and buyers changed crisp tens for smoke and smack.
Some came in after work, some after supper,
plumage replenished to meet who knew who.
Behind the bar, Margie dished up beef stew.
On weeknights, you could always find an upper
to speed you to your desk, and drink till four.
Loosened by booze, we drifted, on the ripples
of Motown, home in new couples, or triples,
were back at dusk, with IDs, at the door.
Bill was my roommate, Russell drank with me,
although they were a dozen years my seniors.
I walked off with the eighteen-year-old genius
—an Older Woman, barely twenty-three.
Link was new as Rimbaud, and better looking,
North Beach bar paideon of doomed Jack Spicer,
like Russell, our two-meter artificer,
a Corvo whose ecclesia was cooking.
Bill and Russell were painters. Bill had been
a monk in Kyoto. Stoned, we sketched together,
till he discovered poppers and black leather
and Zen consented to new discipline.
We shared my Sixth Street flat with a morose
cat, an arch cat, and pot plants we pruned daily.
His boyfriend had left him for an Israeli
dancer; my husband was on Mykonos.
Russell loved Harold, who was Black and bad,
and lavished on him dinners “meant for men”
like Escoffier and Brillat-Savarin.
Staunch blond Dora made rice. When she had
tucked in the twins, six flights of tenement
stairs they’d descend, elevenish, and stroll
down Third Street, desultory night patrol
gone mauve and green under the virulent   
streetlights, to the bar, where Bill and I
(if we’d not come to dinner), Link, and Lew,
and Betty had already had a few.
One sweat-soaked night in pitiless July,
wedged on booth benches of cracked Naugahyde,
we planned a literary magazine
where North Beach met the Lower East Side Scene.
We could have titled it When Worlds Collide.
Dora was gone, “In case the children wake up.”
Link lightly had decamped with someone else
(the German engineer? Or was he Bill’s?).
Russell’s stooped vale brushed my absent makeup.
Armed children spared us home, our good-night hugs
laissez-passer. We railed against the war.
Soon, some of us bused south with SNCC and CORE.
Soon, some of us got busted dealing drugs.
The file clerks took exams and forged ahead.
The decorators’ kitchens blazed persimmon.
The secretary started kissing women,
and so did I, and my three friends are dead.

by Marilyn Hacker

from Selected Poems, c2002 by Marilyn Hacker.  Originally published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Dylan Thomas reads Henry Reed’s famous anti-war poem:

Another version of Reed’s poem by Tom O”Bedlam:

Naming of Parts

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backward and forwards,
For today we have the naming of parts.

from  Lessons of the War by Henry Reed, 1914–1986


The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day 
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.

by Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn, 1876-1959

The Survival Of The Fittest

“The unfit die: the fit both live and thrive.”
Alas, who say so? - They who do survive.

So when her bonfires lighted hill and plain, 
Did Bloody Mary think on Lady Jane.*

So Russia thought of Finland, while her heel
Fell heavier on the prostrate commonweal.#

So Booth of Lincoln thought; and so the High
Priests let Barabbas live, and Jesus die.

by Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn, 1876-1959

*Queen Mary Tudor (1516-1558) well known in her day for persecuting her Protestant subjects. Lady Jane Grey titular queen of England for 9 days after the death of Edward VI, was beheaded in 1554.

#Pontius Pilate offered to set free either Jesus or Barabbas and the crowd–persuaded by the chief priests and the elders–chose the later.  See Matthew 27:15-21.

Love Song: I and Thou

Nothing is plumb, level, or square:
     the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
     any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
     dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
     I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
     for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
     hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
     at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
     Oh I spat rage’s nails
into the frame-up of my work:
     it held. It settled plumb,
level, solid, square and true
     for that great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
     skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
     but I planned it. I sawed it,
I nailed it, and I
     will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
     to the left-hand crosspiece but
I can’t do everything myself.
     I need a hand to nail the right,
a help, a love, a you, a wife.

by Alan Dugan, 1923–2003

from Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry. Copyright © 2001 by Alan Dugan

Plague of Dead Sharks

Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes?
The wading, wintered pack-beasts of the feet
slough off, in spring, the dead rind of the shoes’
leather detention, the big toe’s yellow horn
shines with a natural polish, and the whole
person seems to profit. The opposite appears
when dead sharks wash up along the beach
for no known reason. What is more built
for winning than the swept-back teeth,
water-finished fins, and pure bad eyes
these old, efficient forms of appetite
are dressed in? Yet it looks as if the sea
digested what is wished of them with viral ease
and threw up what was left to stink and dry.
If this shows how the sea approaches life
in its propensity to feed as animal entire,
then sharks are comforts, feet are terrified,
but they vacation in the mystery and why not?
Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes?:
what the sun burns up of it, the moon puts back.

by Alan Dugan, 1923 – 2003


Portrait from the Infantry

He smelled bad and was red-eyed with the miseries
of being scared while sleepless when he said
this: “I want a private woman, peace and quiet,
and some green stuff in my pocket. Fuck
the rest.” Pity the underwear and socks,
long burnt, of an accomplished murderer,
oh God, of germans and replacements, who
refused three stripes to keep his B.A.R.,
who fought, fought not to fight some days
like any good small businessman of war,
and dug more holes than an outside dog
to modify some Freudian’s thesis: “No
man can stand three hundred days
of fear of mutilation and death.” What he
theorized was a joke: “To keep a tight
asshole, dry socks and a you-deep hole
with you at all times.” Afterwards,
met in a sports shirt with a round wife, he was
the clean slave of a daughter, a power brake
and beer. To me, he seemed diminished
in his dream, or else enlarged, who knows?,
by its accomplishment: personal life
wrung from mass issues in a bloody time
and lived out hiddenly. Aside from sound
baseball talk, his only interesting remark
was, in pointing to his wife’s belly, “If
he comes out left foot first” (the way
you Forward March!), “I am going to stuff
him back up.” “Isn’t he awful?” she said.

by Alan Dugan, 1923 – 2003

from Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry. Copyright © 2001 by Alan Dugan. Reprinted with the permission of Seven Stories Press.