Killing the lover

Watching children and their parents on the beach at the weekend, and I was struck by how much care goes into the making of a person. None of just happen; we’re all very carefully supported, built even, over a period of decades.

And more generally, there’s a deep sense of nurture in being us. Walking through London, all you can see comes from human care; attention to construction of buildings, vehicles, goods, relationships, organisations.

A case can be made that care at that level has become pathological. Our concern to construct is so short sighted, taking place at the expense of the environment, of people elsewhere on the globe.

We are constructive for ourselves, in the short term; but we build without reference to the impact of our works. As a society, we are blind creators, destroying so much more than we create as we re-shape the world to our immediate convenience.

Which set me thinking about World War II poet Keith Douglas, and the deep honesty of some of his finest work. ‘How To Kill’ is a devastatingly good example of this. Here, he’s brave enough to be very open to the consequences of his act.

For me, though, he’s perhaps most focussed in ‘Vergissmeinicht’, contemplating a potentially lethal opponent’s corpse (‘he hit my tank with one / like the entry of a demon’), imagining the dead man’s girlfriend from a photo left near his body, then concluding –

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.

Douglas’ meaning reaches out to us from the 40s. We’re at war with so much of the world; and as we reshape the parts of it we find threatening or inconvenient, so much is lost, in so many different ways.

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