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".

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