Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I swear this blog is not turning into Poetry Corner (two blog posts in a row - I know, I know). I barely even read poetry these days and when I do my tastes are embarassingly mainstream, unoriginal and kinda childish: I like W.H Auden and Robert Frost, T.S Eliot and Siegfried Sasson - poets who write the kind of comfortable and familiar verse known to schoolchildren. Sometimes I pretend I like Geoffrey Hill more than I do but I don't think I'm quite smart enough for him somehow and other than the odd lovely line or two ('One cannot lose what one has not possessed'/So much for that abrasive gem./ I can lose what I want. I want you) mostly his words just wash over me.

All of which is a very long way of apologising in advance for reprinting a lovely Clive James poem published this month in The New Yorker but it's so so lovely and sad I can't even bear it. I have long been a fan of James' journalism - his wit and great talent with words - but I never realised what an awfully pretty poet he is. The fact that he's producing this kind of stuff at the very end of his life is somehow even more impressive. Faced with looming death I'd probably spend my remaining days doing something stupid like finally watching The Wire.

Leçons de Ténèbres

But are they lessons, all these things I learn
Through being so far gone in my decline?
The wages of experience I earn
Would service well a younger life than mine.
I should have been more kind. It is my fate
To find this out, but find it out too late.

The mirror holds the ruins of my face
Roughly together, thus reminding me
I should have played it straight in every case,
Not just when forced to. Far too casually
I broke faith when it suited me, and here
I am alone, and now the end is near.

All of my life I put my labour first.
I made my mark, but left no time between
The things achieved, so, at my heedless worst,
With no life, there was nothing I could mean.
But now I have slowed down. I breathe the air
As if there were not much more of it there

And write these poems, which are funeral songs
That have been taught to me by vanished time:
Not only to enumerate my wrongs
But to pay homage to the late sublime
That comes with seeing how the years have brought
A fitting end, if not the one I sought.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

"And let us go then, you and I..."
Let's face it, a lot of poetry is either Very Old and massively indecipherable or shite. I recommend you read some Bukowski if you need something assez-modern. He's a drunk and a lecher and quite beautiful. Or Raymond Carver's Lemonade. Or George Mackay Brown. But I hear you ladybro, horses for courses. Most poetry is terrible. But this, I like.