Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Keith Douglas

Keith Castellain Douglas was born on 24 January 1920 at Tunbridge Wells, Kent. An only child, from the time his father returned from army service he became fascinated with all things military, playing incessantly with toy soldiers. When he was four years old, his mother contracted encephalitis, an illness that was to affect her for years. At six, Keith was sent to board at Edgeborough School at Guildford, Surrey, and two years later, his father walked out, never to return. As a result, the eight-year-old boy became, in effect, responsible for his mother.School daysThe headmasters at his prep school labelled him 'bumptious and aggressive'. When he went on to Christ's Hospital at Horsham, Surrey – a public school that specialised in taking children whose parents couldn't afford to pay for this type of education – he was equally difficult. According to the poet Ted Hughes, 'his whole childhood can be seen both as a nursery for his peculiar alienation, or what he called his "long pain", and as a forcing house for the unusual strain of independence in his character.'Christ's Hospital did provide him with a structure and a security that was missing at home, and it fostered his gifts – the first poem in his Collected Poems was written when he was just 14. By December 1936, he was copying his poems into an exercise book under the headings 'Earlier Efforts', 'Transitional Stage', 'Translations' and 'Later Style'. But what made him special also branded him a defiant outsider. The only place where he seemed to find a sense of purpose was in the school's Officer Training Corps.When he left school in 1937, he was seized with an anticipation of the coming war, and felt that it was an end of an era. In his poem 'On leaving school' (1937), he wrote: 'it is awkward/Realizing happiness seems just to have started/And now we must leave it.'


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