England. He is sailing down the River Thames at Iffley near Oxford with his girlfriend, determined to enjoy himself while he can. He contrasts his own precarious existence with the immortality of ‘grass and buildings and the somnolent river’ and anticipates his return after death in the form of a shade. The poem closes on a morbidly romantic note as he imagines his spirit kissing the girl as she travels alone in the boat a year later.
The poem was written in 1940, and Keith Douglas did indeed die in WW2 but not until 1944, when he was 24. This eerily prophetic poem captures beautifully a perfect day out coupled with a foreboding of death.
What elevates 'Canoe' from being merely very good to being excellent is the intricate rhyme scheme: ABBA repeated four times. Like all good rhyme schemes, it is barely noticeable. I am old-fashioned in that I prefer rhyming poems to free verse. Rhyming in modern poetry seems to be a lost art. Philip Larkin was an exception, and so is Keith Douglas here. The tight rhyme scheme gives the poem an extra dimension of controlled emotion. The poet is facing the prospect of imminent death with equanimity.
I've been teaching English for 48 years - in England, Egypt, Tanzania, Argentina, Venezuela, Ghana and now Vietnam. At 70, I'm still going strong and have no wish to retire. I enjoy my job, which gives me plenty of time to relax and travel. In toto, I've visited 68 countries. I'm married to a Vietnamese woman and have been living in Ho Chi Minh City since 2001.
Outside of work I am a chess fanatic (Tanzanian National Champion in 1991), devotee of blues and jazz music, imbiber of fine malt whiskies (especially from Islay), bibliophile (Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Brian Moore, Philip Larkin, Di... full info