Sunday, June 2, 2013

Analysis of "How to Kill" by Keith Douglas

Original poem reprinted online here: "How to Kill" by Keith Douglas
Originally read: February 21, 2013
More information about the Poet: Keith Douglas

The poem has a parabola rhyme scheme.  Past me drew a picture to demonstrate -- the rhyme scheme is (a-b-c-c-b-a).  Now, sonically, some of the rhymes don't fit; however, look at the words, most of the rhymes are sight rhyme or a play on the last letters of words ("long" "sang").  However, the rhyme scheme "drops" in the middle of stanza two ("ways" "his" [sonic assonance rhyme?]).

In any case, the parabola rhyme scheme (as I drew in the picture as well) reinforces the idea of a grenade being thrown since the rhyme scheme creates a curve that goes back down on either the speaker or to another person.

This idea is utilized in first stanza when referencing childhood (playing with a ball),  and then the following stanzas when the speaker throws the grenade.

In the first stanza there is a certain sense of childhood with the repetition of "Open Open" and and the line, "The ball fell in my hand, it sang" however, the very first line "Under the parabola of a ball" (where I stole the term parabola and coined it for the rhyme scheme) "parabola" has a very adult undertone.  Not the "death" tone, but a tone that that foreshadows logic -- or rather that the first part is definitely an adult reminiscing about childhood. 

Because the adult figure comes in "NOW" well actually before that.  From the speaker's "dial of glass" there appears a soldier that the speaker builds up as sympathetic, "moves about in ways/ his mother knows."  Then the now, then the death.

And now the lamenting of the death in stanza three, "And look, has made a man of dust / of a man of flesh."  Actually not death, the very physical destruction of a human being. "This sorcery / I do" From here the poem becomes more metaphysical -- "I am amused / to see the centre of love diffused / and the wave of love travel into vacancy." Traveling still.  The mention "of centre" and the continous image of the parabola foreshadows an opposite emotion to contrast the "love"

And yes here we talk about death in metaphor form of a mosquito touching her shadow versus a man touching his shadow and fusing (man become one with the darkness -- [could refer to the speaker or the actual death of a man]).  Then the mosquito herself is personified as death.

I see how the rhyme scheme adds to the form, but the last two stanzas go far into the surreal.  Or maybe that's the arc of memory -- trying to remember what's real, and when real isn't pleasant, cope with surrealness.

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you for the insight! This is a truly remarkable poem with such deeper meaning and intentional provocation.