The Marvel

A baron of the sea, the great tropic
swordfish, spreadeagled on the thirsty deck
where sailors killed him, in the bright Pacific

yielded to the sharp enquiring blade
the eye which guided him and found his prey
in the dim country where he was a lord;

which is an instrument forged in semi-darkness
yet taken from the corpse of this strong traveller
becomes a powerful enlarging glass

reflecting the unusual sun’s heat.
With it a sailor writes on the hot wood
the name of a harlot in his last port.

For it is one most curious device
of many, kept by the interesting waves—
and I suppose the querulous soft voice

of mariners who rotted into ghosts
digested by the gluttonous tides
could recount many. Let them be your hosts

and take you where their forgotten ships lie
with fishes going over the tall masts—
all this emerges from the burning eye.

And to engrave that word the sun goes through
with the power of the sea,
writing her name and a marvel too.

Linney Head, Wales, [May] 1941

 

‘The Marvel’ is taken from Keith Douglas’ Keith Douglas: The Complete Poems.

About Author

Keith Douglas was born in 1920. At school and at Oxford he was both a prolific poet and a committed member of the Officers Training Corps. When the Second World War broke out, he enlisted immediately, and was posted to Palestine in 1941. When his tank regiment began fighting in El Alamein in 1942, Douglas was instructed to stay behind as a staff officer. But he made his own way to the battlefield, an experience which he recounted in his prose memoir Alamein to Zem Zem (first published in 1946). He later took part in the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944, and was killed three days later. His Collected Poems came out in 1951.