The life of Keith Douglasby Richard Burton
Keith Douglas was arguably the most important poet of the Second World War, although over three-quarters of the poems in his Collected Poems were written before he had any direct experience of war.
Douglas had a short but eventful life. Born in 1920 in Kent he attended Edgeborough School and Christ’s Hospital and was awarded an Open Exhibition to Merton College, Oxford, where his tutor was the First World War poet, Edmund Blunden. He was already writing accomplished poetry at Christ’s Hospital and had much of his writing published in the school magazine, The Blue. As an undergraduate he was published in Cherwell and was one of the poets featured in the anthology Eight Oxford Poets. He joined up when the war started and was called for training in the summer of 1940. The following summer he was posted to the Middle East, spending most of the rest of the war as a tank commander in the desert campaign, writing a colourful memoir of this part of the war, Alamein to Zem Zem, which was published posthumously. He wrote some of his most famous and anthologized poetry, including ‘Vergissmeinnicht’, in Africa. Douglas returned from North Africa to England in December 1943 as a Captain and took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. He was killed by enemy mortar fire on 9 June.
Burton’s life of Keith Douglas uses new scholarship to fill out the story of the poet’s short, remarkable life. Simplify me is both a fascinating insight for lovers of Douglas’s poetry and a stimulating introduction for those not yet familiar with his work.