Keith Douglas

(January 24, 1920 – June 9, 1944 / Tunbridge Wells, Kent)

How To Kill


Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

And look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches

Submitted: Thursday, December 18, 2003
Edited: Friday, January 20, 2012

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Comments about this poem (How To Kill by Keith Douglas )

  • Gold Star - 21,435 Points Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (2/21/2015 3:17:00 AM)

    Though this is one among the top standard poem of old times the meanings are relevant today and it is so important in a world of conflicts that we live. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 853 Points Nika Mcguin (2/21/2014 7:32:00 PM)

    And look, has made a man of dust
    of a man of flesh. This sorcery
    I do. Being damned, I am amused
    to see the centre of love diffused
    and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
    How easy it is to make a ghost.

    These lines are so bone chilling. I also liked the shadow/mosquito verse. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 27,228 Points Gajanan Mishra (2/21/2013 3:40:00 AM)

    A shadow is a man when the mosquito death approaches. thanks. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Gerard Rochford (1/28/2007 2:01:00 PM)

    this jagged, uneven poem, is nevertheles i feel, one of the great poems of the last century. the mosquito image is wonderfully worked. (Report) Reply

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