Clive James

Verse Letter

In reply to Ann Baer, aged 101, of Richmond-on-Thames.   Your handwriting, so perfect for its style And firmness, made me feel that this must be A brilliant schoolgirl. Hence my knowing smile At your comparing of my maple tree   With Tennyson’s. But further down the page, And seemingly in passing, you revealed The

Too Many Poets

Too many poets pack a line with thought But melody refuses to take wing. It’s not that meaning has been dearly bought: It has been stifled, by a hankering For portent, as if music meant too much. Sidney called this a want of inward touch. True poets should walk singing as they weep, As Arnaut

Sunset Hails a Rising

O lente, lente currite noctis equi! — Marlowe, after Ovid.   La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée. —Valéry.   Dying by inches, I can hear the sound Of all the fine words for the flow of things The poets and philosophers have used To mark the path into the killing ground. Perhaps their one aim

Diary – 26 May 2012

This month has been the launching season for my new collection of poems, Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. Not many younger people, I have been discovering, know what a flak tower is, or was. Perhaps I should have called the book something else. One of the poems in the book is called ‘Whitman and the

Tramps and Bowlers

In the park in front of my place, every nightA bunch of tramps sleep on the wooden porchOf the bowling green club-house. They shed no light.No policeman ever wakes them with a torch, Because no one reports their nightly stay.People like me who take an early walkJust after dawn will see them start the dayBy

Status Quo Vadis

As any good poem is always ending,The fence looks best when it first needs mending.Weathered, it hints it will fall to pieces —One day, not yet, but the chance increasesWith each nail rusting and grey plank bending.It’s not a wonder if it never ceases. In beauty’s bloom you can see time burning:A lesson learned while

Dreams before sleeping

The idea is to set the mind adriftAnd sleep comes. Mozart, exquisitely dressed,Walks carefully to work between soft pilesOf fresh horse-dung. Nice work. Why was my gift Hidden behind the tree? I cried for miles.No one could find it. Find the tiger’s face.It’s in the tree: i.e. the strangest place. But gifts were presents then.

In the Brisbane Botanical Gardens

In the Brisbane Botanical Gardens,Walking the avenue of weeping figs,You can see exuded latex stain the barkLike adolescent sperm. A metamorphosis:The trunks must be full of randy boys. At home, the Java willowsWhen planted alongside a watercourseWere said to stem the breeding of mosquitoes.Here, they have nothing else to doExcept to stand there looking elegantIn

Slogging to Byzantium

Yeats was a great poet who was also the industrious adept of a batso mystical philosophy. Do we have to absorb the philosophy before we can appreciate the poetry? If we are lucky enough to be in a state of ignorance, the question won’t come up. The poetry will get to us first. Suppose you’ve