Monday, 18 August 2014

Friday 1st August 2014

from the Psalms appointed for today's Morning Prayer

Psalm 4 v9

I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest, for it is Thou, Lord, only, that makest me dwell in safety.

Psalm 5 v8

Lead me Lord, in thy righteousness, because of mine enemies; make thy way plain before my face.      Crosfields School Boys Choir is the best version in my opinion.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Clive James Poetry - Sentenced to Life

And another Clive James poem from his website.

When I was first told that I had this auto immune condition, I thought "I going to die"

Then I thought "Stupid fool, everyone is going to die. And you might well die of something else anyway - who can tell?"

And then I thought "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10, 10, I looked it up later)

So I decided to fill my life, for as long as I could, with PLENTY, so that if and when I become less mobile (euphemism for "housebound") I would have PLENTY to reflect on. That's partly what this blog is about - a sort of on-line scrap book. But I might go as far as printing the pages and sticking them into a real book in case something happens to the virtual world and it disappears...

Anyway, the next thought I had was "This is not a death sentence, but a life sentence", which is now back to the point of this entry, because that's the name of the poem, and it is caught my attention because of its relevance.

Sentenced to life

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.

But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.

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.

Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –

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.

TLS, May 2, 2014

"trajectories as perfect as plainsong"

For me, the sharp focus of the words of this poem starts with the goldfish. I, too, am more noticing, more aware than I ever used to be. I pay more attention to the small, immediate things all around, close by, rather than moving through a blurred landscape with my eyes on some far, long-term future.

I too, have a sunset that I watch, one that I stored up in a memory created when I was 16, in a temple on a sea cliff in Bali, and thought, back then, "this is something I will want to carry with me forever".

Clive James Poetry - Driftwood Houses

May Bank Holiday 26th May 2014

On the Today programme, Radio 4, this morning, they announced that Clive James would be reading his new poem on Life and Death later on. Well, I couldn't wait for them to get round to it, because first of all they had to have one of their antagonistic interviews in the aftermath of the European Parliament Elections and I can't bear to listen to this kind of argumentative point scoring and ranting.

However, a search on Google brought me to this website;
It has a video of Clive James reading the poem in question "Driftwood Houses", and the write up below, from the New Statesman 
Clive James is, by some miracle, 74 years old. He was diagnosed with terminal leukemia and emphysema in 2010, and has come close to death a number of times. I'm in no doubt that everything depends on modern technology, he said, when we visited him recently in Cambridge, and the availability of cheap electricity”.
Everybody has a favourite Clive James. He is a poet, broadcaster, critic, author and translator, whose most recent work – his “crowning achievement” – is a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Since arriving from Australia in 1962, he has forged a reputation unlike any other in British public life. Even now he is brimming with ideas. He plans to abandon journalism over the coming months in order to start work on a new book – or two. There’s already one in the bag, however, a book of poetry criticism which will be published this autumn, “even if I drop off the twig, as we say in Australia”.
While we spoke, James’s sentences were punctuated by a violent, rattling cough. “This has exhausted me,” he said as we drew to a close. “But I’ve loved every minute of it.”
As we left and loaded our cameras into the car, he came out and stood by the gate. He thanked me for my questions, for taking care of the poem published in this week’s New Statesman, and for coming up to visit. “Oh to be starting out,” he said. “What I wouldn’t give to be starting out again.”

Further searching took me here;

Driftwood Houses is in "Recent Poems" - again, another introduction first, this time by Clive James;

Except for my micro-epic "Aldeburgh Dawn", all of the poems in this section have been written and published since my collection Nefertiti in the Flak Tower came out in the UK in 2012. (Publication in the USA is scheduled for late 2013.) Most of them are already ear-marked for yet another collection, which doesn't have a title yet, but which I hope I will be still around to see published. I have been quite ill for three years now but have found that when I have any energy and clarity of mind at all, poetry has been my first means of signalling how I feel. I don’t quite know what this says about how deep the instinct must lie to express oneself in verse. Maybe the whole impulse is just a reaction to the kaleidoscope of medication, with all those pills of different shapes and colours.

and here's the poem and its illustration

Driftwood Houses

The ne plus ultra of our lying down,
Skeleton riders see the planet peeled
Into their helmets by a knife of light.
Just so, I stare into the racing field
Of ice as I lie on my side and fight
To cough up muck. This bumpy slide downhill
Leads from my bed to where I’m bound to drown
At this rate. I get up and take a walk,
Lean on the balustrade and breathe my fill
At last. The wooden stairs down to the hall
Stop shaking. Enough said. To hear me talk
You’d think I found my fate sad. Hardly that:
All that has happened is I’ve hit the wall.
Disintegration is appropriate,

As once, on our French beach, I built, each year,
Among the rocks below the esplanade,
Houses from driftwood for our girls to roof
With towels so they could hide there in the shade
With ice creams that would melt more slowly. Proof
That nothing built can be forever here
Lay in the way those frail and crooked frames
Were undone by a storm-enhanced high tide
And vanished. It was time, and anyhow
Our daughters were not short of other games
Which were all theirs, and not geared to my pride.
And here they come. They’re gathering shells again.
And you in your straw hat, I see you now,
As I lie restless yet most blessed of men.

-- New Statesman, April 18, 2014

The point is that this sums up how I feel about my own condition; the various elements that affect my health result in my lungs feeling as though they are full of glue, and coughing up the gunk is physically hard work. Walking stairs and slopes makes me breathless, walking up a steep hill is very slow work, but is still possible, a few paces at a time. The second part of the poem says it all,

"To hear me talk you'd think I found my fate sad. Hardly that. All that has happened is I've hit a wall; disintegration is appropriate, ......
........ They're gathering shells again. And you in your straw hat, I see you now, As I lie restless yet most blessed of (wo)men."

So I'm not sorry for my self, (not yet, anyway!). I'm blessed by the life I have had, and the life still to come.

His rhyme structure is so subtle, so neat. The poem is a perfect thing.


Saturday, 18 January 2014

"Look to him and be Radiant"

A theme of Sunday School classes I was teaching at the end of last year was "Light" - letting the light of God shine out from your eyes to brighten up other people's lives.

The following post put a different spin on the idea of shining with the light of God;


All of the following copied and pasted from

I always enjoy the Poetry Chaikhana blog, and especially so yesterday's poem by Izumi Shikibu:

Watching the Moon 
at midnight,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely, no part left out.

Do read it there, and Ivan Granger's commentary. He says that, like the Moon, our individual consciousness only gives light if it reflects... And here I would say: if it reflects the Light of God, the 'love that moves the Sun and the other stars.'  'Look to him and be radiant', says the Psalmist in what has long been a 'touchstone' verse for me.  I give thanks for the ways in which that reflected light shines on me through pastors, preachers, dear 'soul friends' and (God forgive me!) the most unexpected of people. And all the graces I pray for can be summed up as the grace to grow to fullness, like the Moon, so that I can reflect more.