DOUGLAS, KEITH (1920-1944, poet)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS POEM 'LANDSCAPE WITH FIGURES' (untitled in this manuscript), 43 lines in three sections, the first two of 14 lines, the third of 15, with five autograph revisions preserving discarded readings, 3 pages, octavo, on Middle East R.A.C. Base Depot headed notepaper, with a pencil note apparently by Douglas 'Depot Mess', not dated [but March-April 1943]
Pearched on a great fall of air
a pilot or angel looking down
on some eccentric chart, the plain
dotted with the useless furniture
discerns crouching on the sand vehicles
squashed dead or still entire, stunned
like beetles: scattered wingcases and
legs, heads, show when the haze settles...
more easily you believe me a pioneer
and a murdering villain without fear
without remorse looking at the throat. Yes
I am all these and I am the craven
the remorseful the distressed
penitent: not passing from life to life
but all these angels and devils are driven
into my mind like beasts. I am possessed
the house whose wall contains the dark strife
the arguments of hell with heaven.
'Landscape with Figures', one of the provisional titles for Alamein to Zem Zem, deals with Douglas's own relationship to the battlefield. Sections I and II were printed from this manuscript in Personal Landscape, the literary magazine started in Cairo by Robin Fedden (who owned this manuscript), Lawrence Durrell and Bernard Spencer. In the second section of the manuscript, line 8 has the word 'horrible' in the margin as an alternative for 'terrible' in the text ('terrible' is in the text published by Ted Hughes in his selection of Douglas's poetry). Among the revisions, that in the last section has an alteration in the last line that preserves an initial reading of 'strange song' for which 'arguments' was substituted currente calamo.
Desmond Graham comments on the poem that it gives 'a new and painful intensity' to Douglas's theme of multiple personality. Vernon Scammell points out that each of the three poems is a sonnet (the third having an extra line) in which the sestet rhymes EFG, EFG after the manner of French sonnets.
AUTOGRAPH POETICAL MANUSCRIPTS BY DOUGLAS ARE RARE. Ted Hughes's selection proved to be the turning point in Douglas's posthumous reputation; 'Landscape with Figures' was chosen for inclusion. Douglas is widely considered to be among the finest poets of his generation. His poetical manuscripts are largely in the British Library.
PROVENANCE: Robin Fedden, joint editor of Personal Landscape; Sotheby's 12 December 1932 lot 239; Anthony Hobson.
REFERENCES: Desmond Graham, Keith Douglas 1920-1944: A Biography, 1974; Ted Hughes, Selected Poems of Keith Douglas, 1964.