clive james’ flowering

The Australian native Clive James, one of the writers who has dominated British journalism and criticism in the past decades, is undergoing a late blooming in his poetry, unfortunately the offshoot of some serious illnesses. He’s one of those essential British writers, like Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens, who is hard to keep up with because of their  prolific outpouring. His blog, click here, is one of the best on poetry and art. For a good close reading of his poetry, see this article in The Australian. For essential, confirmational reading, see his “Five Favorite Poets”  essay on his blog. His prose glows when he writes about poetry. Here’s a poem from his Website:

Whitman and the Moth

 Van Wyck Brooks tells us Whitman in old age

Sat by a pond in nothing but his hat,

Crowding his final notebooks page by page

With names of trees, birds, bugs and things like that.

 The war could never break him, though he’d seen

Horrors in hospitals to chill the soul.

                                But now, preserved, the Union had turned mean:

                            Evangelizing greed was in control.

                            Good reason to despair, yet grief was purged

                             By tracing how creation reigned supreme.

                             A pupa cracked, a butterfly emerged:

                            America, still unfolding from its dream.

                         Sometimes he rose and waded in the pond,

                          Soothing his aching feet in the sweet mud.

                             A moth he knew, of which he had grown fond,

                          Perched on his hand as if to draw his blood.

                           But they were joined by what each couldn’t do,

                               The meeting point where great art comes to pass –

                          Whitman, who danced and sang but never flew,

                           The moth, which had not written Leaves of Grass,

                   Composed a picture of the interchange

                      Between the mind and all that it transcends

                             Yet must stay near. No, there was nothing strange

                        In how he put his hand out to make friends

                         With such a fragile creature, soft as dust.

                          Feeling the pond cool as the light grew dim,

                          He blessed new life, though it had only just

                       Arrived in time to see the end of him.

               ––The New Yorker 

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One Comment on “clive james’ flowering”

  1. I know James through his marvelous book of essays, Cultural Amnesia. Like much of Jim Harrison, I keep turning to that book again and again to discover something about life. Finding out about his poetry through a recent article on the Arts & Letters Daily site made my day.


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