Monday, May 12, 2014

"Canoe" A poem by Keith Douglas

Probably no other poem conveys the feeling of forthcoming loss, in this subtle, beautiful and immobile way, as this poem written by Keith Douglas in the summer of 1940. In Oxford, where Douglas was studying, the harrowing sounds of the drums of impending war were starting to pound on the hearts and minds of the students. They all knew that their lives would soon be changed forever. Douglas presumably wrote this poem while idling near the Thames on a beautiful summer day. He tries with all of his senses to capture this magical, shared moment which, he is very well aware, may never return. But memory can elevate a fleeting moment's experience into something almost sacred, reproducing it into eternity. And this moment will live on, even when the voice is silenced, even when what remains is but a shadow or a shade. Keith Douglas was killed, at the age of 24 on the 09/06/1944, four years after the writing of this, alas, eerily prophetic poem. But the beauty and the poise of these words, scribbled on a sheet of paper, will always evoke that precious stillness of a moment locked in a cycle of eternal return.  

Canoe by Keith Douglas (1940)

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.


1 comment:

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