To stand here in the wings of Europe
disheartened, I have come away
from the sick land where in the sun lay
the gentle sloe-eyed murderers
of themselves, exquisites under a curse;
here to exercise my depleted fury.
For the heart is a coal, growing colder
when jewelled cerulean seas change
into grey rocks, grey water-fringe,
sea and sky altering like a cloth
till colour and sheen are gone both:
cold is an opiate of the soldier.
And all my endeavours are unlucky explorers
come back, abandoning the expedition;
the specimens, the lilies of ambition
still spring in their climate, still unpicked:
but time, time is all I lacked
to find them, as the great collectors before me.
The next month, then, there is a window
and with a crash I’ll split the glass.
Behind it stands one I must kiss,
person of love or death
a person or a wraith,
I fear what I shall find.
Douglas, who strikes me as the Second World War’s echo of Isaac Rosenberg, wrote this, his last poem, two months before his death in the opening hours of the invasion of Normandy. He was twenty-four. Reread the final stanza — which Harold Bloom calls “Shakesperean” in its diction — with this information in mind.
The stanza and particularly its last line embody what Yeats considered the defining characteristic of Romantic poetry, namely, the principle of simplification through intensity.
- “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke
- “Does It Matter?” by Siegfried Sassoon
- “On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam” by Hayden Carruthers