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