Sunday, October 31, 2010

Vergissmeinnicht by Keith Douglas

I found the conversations which this poem brought up very interesting when we discussed it in class. It made me think of our discussion last year in Modern America, when we learned about the dehumanization which most of the American soldiers sent to Vietnam had experienced, and the corruption most of them went through in order to become the ruthless killers they were.

It also brings up a truth from both sides of any war: a soldier is more than just a killer. Everyone is born to at least one parent. I am sure many soldiers have friends or family who very much love them. But humans fight. It is a part of this world, and there are people who have to carry out the fighting. So the young and skilled are recruited, and taught to fight and kill and, often times, see the enemy as some beastly, unfeeling imitation of a human being. In Douglas' poem, he simply brings up a moment which I feel many soldiers must have experienced in the past: the realization that the enemy, however much it had attempted to kill him before, was not only human, but also capable of loving and feeling and hurting. Douglas describes a scene where "the lover and killer are mingled." He finds a "dishounered picture of [the soldier's] girl who has put Steffi.Vergissmeinnicht." Forget me not.

Sometimes men forget who they really are. They forget that the men shooting at them from across the field are humans. They forget that they have loved ones who would be horrified to see the kind of things war does to men. And then, sometimes when it's too late, as it was for this soldier, they remember the people who love them and the person he or she was before being blinded by the fear and violence of war. They die for being a soldier, and are remembered by the enemy as such, but remembered by their loved ones as human: "death who had the soldier singled has done the lover mortal hurt."

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