Sunday 31 May 2015

Carpe diem

Radio 4's Broadcasting House, coming live from a tent at the Hay Festival (though sounding as if it were being broadcast from inside a tin drum), paused for thought for a moment today. 

We heard extracts from one of Clive James's latest poems, Sentenced to Life - read by the man himself. 

It was so good I thought I'd share it with you. (The full poem can be found here).
My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.
Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.
As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.
It reminds me somewhat of Afterwards - a late poem by Thomas Hardy:
When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
"He was a man who used to notice such things"? 
If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
"To him this must have been a familiar sight." 
If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone." 
If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
"He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"? 
And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's boom,
"He hears it not now, but used to notice such things"? 

1 comment:

  1. And this is very touching and beautiful:


    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.


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