One book in my collection of poetry is the anthology Poems that Make Grown Men Cry, edited by father-son team Anthony and Ben Holden. Clive James contributed this poem by Keith Douglas to the book, and in his introductory comments tells us that it dates from early in the poet’s career, before he went off to war and became famous for his war poetry. Keith Douglas was killed in action during the invasion of Normandy.

James is moved by this work that is to him “all grace,” but feels that the supremely gracious moment is at the end, where, “…I can hardly breathe for grief. The grief is personal, of course. My father went away in the war; he, too, was fated never to return, and my mother continued her voyage alone.”


Well, I am thinking this may be my last
summer, but cannot lose even a part
of pleasure in the old-fashioned art
of idleness. I cannot stand aghast

at whatever doom hovers in the background;
while grass and trees and the somnolent river
who know they are allowed to last for ever,
exchange between them the whole subdued sound

of this hot time. What sudden fearful fate
can deter my shade wandering next year
from a return? Whistle, and I will hear
and come again another evening, when this boat

travels with you alone towards Iffley:
as you lie looking up for thunder again,
this cool touch does not betoken rain;
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly.

-Keith Douglas, 1940

13 thoughts on “Canoe

    1. I wasn’t looking for it – but rather, browsing without particular aim in that anthology, where, as is usually the case with me, I only find a few poems that I am capable of engaging with. Then it hit me — this one would be perfect for tomorrow, which is now today.


  1. I am always so moved by the war poetry of WW I and II. There’s always an aching feeling in my heart when I read it. This one too.


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