Conflict Poem: “Simplify Me When I am Dead”: Keith Douglas (1920-44)

Keith Douglas probably the best British War Poet of the Second World War is often forgotten in the focus on the First World War Poets, so here is one of his best war poems. He was killed in action in 1944 three days after D-Day.

Simplify Me When I’m Dead

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

As the processes of earth
strip off the colour of the skin:
take the brown hair and blue eye

and leave me simpler than at birth,
when hairless I came howling in
as the moon entered the cold sky.

Of my skeleton perhaps,
so stripped, a learned man will say
“He was of such a type and intelligence,” no more.

Thus when in a year collapse
particular memories, you may
deduce, from the long pain I bore

the opinions I held, who was my foe
and what I left, even my appearance
but incidents will be no guide.

Time’s wrong-way telescope will show
a minute man ten years hence
and by distance simplified.

Through that lens see if I seem
substance or nothing: of the world
deserving mention or charitable oblivion,

not by momentary spleen
or love into decision hurled,
leisurely arrive at an opinion.

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

Keith and his simplification:
keith-douglasTilly-sur-Seulles_-_CWGC_3

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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