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Explain the changes made by the author during the drafting of his poem. Vergissmeinnicht by Keith Douglas.

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Introduction

Explain the changes made by the author during the drafting of his poem. Vergissmeinnicht is one of the most famous works of Keith Douglas, an acclaimed poet of the Second World War. It is a poem that examines the human tragedy of armed combat, and the sadness for those left behind by soldiers going to war. The poem focuses on Douglas's discovery of a photograph belonging to a dead gunner. It is a picture of the man's girlfriend, inscribed with the phrase 'Do not forget me'. By looking at the early drafts of the poem, we can gain some insight into the creative process that led Douglas to his final draft - and also observe ideas and elements that were discarded or changed as the poem took shape. The earliest known version of Vergissmeinnicht is A Dead Gunner, which was found heavily cancelled in the back of Douglas's own copy of his book Selected Poems. Another version of the poem, The Lover, is very similar to the finished work but has a different emphasis. This first draft of the poem, A Dead Gunner, sees Douglas attempting to relay his story without fully considering on what aspects he should focus; the inscription on the photograph, which is the entire foundation of the final work, is given no special attention here... and the plight of the dead soldier is somewhat eclipsed by the detailed narrative prologue. ...read more.

Middle

The title itself is lifted from the end of the last stanza, which ruminates on the conflict of 'killer' and 'lover' within a soldier. By retitling his poem in this way, Douglas intends to focus the reader on the tragic loss of the person behind the soldier - an intention that he also demonstrates through a new emphasis on the inscribed photograph. The opening narrative, originally resplendant with detail of the chaos inside the author's tank and the death of his comrade, is here muted and simplified, although not condensed. All the important information contained within the original opening - the timeframe of the poem, the flight of the enemy, the investigation of the enemy camp and the discovery of the dead soldier - is summed up in the first stanza: 'Three weeks gone and the combatants gone, returning over the nightmare ground we found the place again, and found the soldier sprawling in the sun.' Very little has actually been discarded here, but the author has made the enemy soldier central to the poem, and rewritten the narrative to make his involvement more prominent. This is made clearer in the second stanza, which describes the battle that resulted in the death of the author's friends and the damage to his tank. The sequence loses it's original horror by taking the form of a recollection - 'The frowning barrel of his gun overshadows him - as we came on that day, he hit my tank with one, it was like the entry of a demon.' ...read more.

Conclusion

A final, sentimental touch is the addition of the full inscription of the photograph: 'My mouth is silent, but my eyes speak And what they say is this - Do not forget me'. Perhaps the author reasoned that the reader would be most affected by the genuine message on the real photograph. However, it remains an unnecessary endnote that adds nothing to the effect of the poem. Vergissmeinnicht, the final draft of the poem, communicates the tragedy of the events it describes in the coldest, most direct and concise way possible - changing phrases such as 'overshadows him' to 'overshadowing', and eliminating punctuative commas, in order to command the reader's attention and avoid sanitising the raw power of the elegy. To this end, the full inscription of the photograph is also removed, and the brief summary in the poem itself is rendered in italics, to give it a realistic personal touch and make it stand out prominently from the surrounding text. The most important change to the final poem was the title. A Dead Gunner was specific, The Lover was isolative, but Vergissmeinnicht speaks for both the lover and the killer - the poem had, by the final draft, shifted from muddled personal ode to universal comment on the casualties of war: this could be anyone's girlfriend, anyone's picture, and with it's shift to titular status the phrase 'do not forget me' grows in significance - it applies equally to the fallen soldiers. The author suggests that we must not forget them. Vergissmeinnicht ...read more.

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