Poetry: Clive James

“At the moment, I am in the slightly embarrassing position where I write poems saying I am about to die and I don’t.”

– From an interview in The Spectator

The thing about Clive James is he’s still around and his poetry just gets better and better. Several profiles have appeared following the publication of his much lauded poem Japanese Maple, first published in The New Yorker last September, including those in The Spectator, The New Republic and The Weekend Australian Magazine. Together they help explain why his star is growing brighter as he (gradually) dies. Despite his long sojourn in England, he’s still one of us and it shows in his writing and his interviews. He never lost his Australian sense of humour, that laconic, dry, self-deprecating humour that means home to me. It’s wonderful to hear it in these interviews, despite the serious tone of his recent poems on death and dying.

Here is the poem that inspired such interest:

Japanese Maple

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

Clive James

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