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This article is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

Shelf Lives: 1: Keith Douglas Peter Scupham

Remember me when I am dead
and simplify me when I'm dead.

Keith Douglas's poems have been re-published by Oxford:1 a reminder to these softer climes that once upon a time there was a mind-set in Western civilisation which set the plumed helmets nodding, saw maps all frontiers and railway lines, dressed its children as mimic sailors and celebrated physical courage as the primary masculine virtue: a mind-set now deep in hiding. Many of those middle-class children of the 1890s who read 'The Dumb Soldier' in R.L. Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses -

Under grass alone he lies,
Looking up with leaden eyes,
Scarlet coat and pointed gun,
To the stars and to the sun

- fought their garden wars and marched their armies through the pleasant land of counterpane, now lie in Tyne Cot at Passchendaele, or buried more deeply as names on the Menin Gate. And many of their children lie in iron graves under sea in names which still clench on power and loss - Hood, Repulse, Renown - or are dispersed in air and sand. In the late 1930s my parents saw no incongruity in giving me a boxed machine-gun section as an Easter present. The bechickened chocolate egg which accompanied it seems in retrospect to be the one in Saki's tale, 'The Easter Egg', which the stolid four-year-old stooge carries as a present for the Prince - and which ticks ...


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