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Objects and Stories – The German Helmet

How to Kill - Keith Douglas (1943)

Under the parabola of a ball,

a child turning into a man, I looked into the air too long.

The ball fell in my hand, it sang in the closed fist: Open Behold a gift designed to kill. Now in my dial of glass appears the soldier who is going to die.

He smiles, and moves about in ways his mother knows, habits of his.

The wires touch his face: I cry NOW.

Death, like a familiar, hears And look, has made a man of dust of a man of flesh.

This sorcery I do.

Being damned, I am amused to see the centre of love diffused and the wave of love travel into vacancy.

How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches her tiny shadow on the stone, and with how like, how infinite a lightness, man and shadow meet.

They fuse.

A shadow is a man when the mosquito death approaches.

Keith Douglas (1920 – 1944)

Born in Kent, Keith Douglas won an open exhibition to Merton College, Oxford in 1938 to read History and English. Douglas became the editor of Cherwell, and one of the poets in the collection Eight Oxford Poets (1941), although by the time that volume appeared he was already in the army. He took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on the 6th June 1944 and was killed aged 24 by enemy mortar fire three days later, while his regiment was advancing from Bayeux.

Helmet loaned by Dr Tom Shannon

Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
Park Street.
Oxfordshire OX20 1SN

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