The war poet Keith Douglas wrote in 1943 that he sought a “balanced style” where “cynic and lyric” might meet. In focusing on a set of four poems that he had written in May and June of that year—“Vergissmeinnicht,” “Aristocrats,” “How to Kill,” and “Enfidaville”—I propose that the cynic and lyric met for Douglas as two forms of special knowing, the “combat gnosticism” of war poetry, and a parallel gnosticism in love lyric. Each proposes that a special experience can utterly transform a subject: the soldier’s kind of knowing transformed by battle experience, and the lover’s by the experience of a beloved’s body. Douglas’s poetry arrives at the balancing of cynic and lyric, then, by confusing and conflating these special gnostic conditions, and its resonant image is the battlefield corpse conflated with the lover in repose.

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