Paul Dehn

At the Dark Hour: Collected Poems 1935 – 1965 (2021)



Paul Dehn – few poets can claim to have been a successful spy (only Basil Bunting’s cloak-and-dagger work in Persia during the Second World War comes close); whilst even fewer than that can also claim to have won an Oscar from the fruits of their pen, plus nomination for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ for his re-write of Murder on the Orient Express, reportedly Christie’s favourite adaptation of her work.

With a scholarly Introduction by the Editor, John Howlett (Keele University), whose passion for Dehn’s poetry infuses this book, and a moving Foreword from Dehn’s niece, Jehane Markham, it is Dehn’s poetry that now takes centre stage.


‘As I grew older and began to develop as a poet and dramatist, Paul’s practical criticisms were invaluable…He was an urbane, debonair man with a strong affectionate nature…Yet for all his wit and charm I sensed a hidden sadness that leaked out of him unbidden and touched me very much.’

Jehane Markham (Poet and writer)


*Now published and available to order*

Circa 164 pages

ISBN: 978-1-906742-99-7-1-1 Category: Tag:

Praise and Poems

How is it that Paul Dehn (1912-70), with such powerful poems as his 1945 ‘Armistice’, has lain forgotten?

It is finished. The enormous dust-cloud over Europe
Lifts like a million swallows; and a light,
Drifting in craters, touches the quiet dead.
Now, at the bugle’s hour, before the blood
Cakes in a clean wind on their marble faces,
Making them monuments; before the sun,
Hoisted mast-high under a hammered noon,
Whitens the bone that feeds the earth; before
Wheat-ear springs green, again, in the green spring
As they are bread in the bodies of the young:
Be strong to remember how the bread died, screaming;
Gangrene was corn, and monuments went mad.

Some might remember ‘Armistice’, with its characteristically hyperbolic but precise images plotted – a small masterpiece, in Robin Skelton’s classic 1968 Penguin Poetry of the Forties. Monuments did go mad though – not Paul Dehn (1912-1976), but that image at the end of Planet of the Apes when Charlton Heston shouts at the tiny bit of the Statue of Liberty poking through postnuclear sand? That’s Dehn too, in his screenplay for Planet of the Apes (he wrote the first four, till his death). Dehn’s powerful images leapt into our memories and stayed there. And there’s Goldfinger and Murder on the Orient Express. Not many successful British spies win Oscars either.

The remarkable poetry persisted though: touched by both the neo-Romantic and post-Audenesque 1940s. Between Auden, Henry Reed, Dylan Thomas and Keith Douglas, the war brought Dehn into his force; it never left him. The glittering precise rhetoric underlying those images sharpened Dehn’s lyric gift. It’s like an intricately polished model from a surrealist exhibition. Elegy’s one of his abiding obsessions too:

‘So must I mourn among the glutted gulls, / Cry to a shark, weep with the fat, white worm / Who turns and nods to me across the stones’ (‘The Sweet War Man is Dead’).

This book represents the first scholarly gathering of Dehn’s poems and includes all the material from his five substantial published volumes. It’s a major reclamation.

Simon Jenner, Waterloo Press





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