So Much Sweet Beauty

clive james
Clive James (1939 – 2019)

The poet is a lifer. Anyone who gets into the game will soon start wishing that there was a version of it with lower stakes, but there isn’t. “

Clive James

 

 

Japanese Maple

by Clive James

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 colors 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, 2014


If you were busy shoveling snow or fighting with flight or travel delays or generally caught up in the business of Thanksgiving, you may have missed that Clive James passed away on November 24.   There are lots of eloquent memorials to his life and genius.  Poke around on google and you’ll find great interviews with him.   James in his own words claimed to be nothing more than a writer and a most fortunate one at that.  He managed to make a living through his love affair with words.  As a critic he had a way of dissembling another writers work that offered you insights beyond your own understanding.   It would have been easy for me to include two of his poems, or a translation, but instead I choose to share a poem he admired.   Both poems deal with death and passing and remembrance.   Time is short on this planet, 80 years comes at your pretty quickly. May we all be as fortunate as Clive James to be able to look death in the eye and write distinctly about our human experience of mortality.


Spring and Fall

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.