To people of The Knife’s generation, Clive James was a very well known face on the TV. He spent most of the time drolly hosting chat shows, or appearing on them, or introducing silly clips from world TV (this was before Rude Tube, before the internet). James though, is also a big hitting intellectual and a poet. A proper poet, not like the current Poet Laureate. His stuff is mostly very good.
He is now terminally ill, coming after being unmasked by his ex-mistress after a long affair, and by all accounts is in a difficult situation. When your life is drawing to its end, family are all important. Here is his wonderful reflective poem, in full (pinched from the TLS):
Retreating from the world, all I can do
Is build a new world, one demanding less
Acute assessments. Too deaf to keep pace
With conversation, I don’t try to guess
At meanings, or unpack a stroke of wit,
But just send silent signals with my face
That claim I’ve not succumbed to loneliness
And might be ready to come in on cue.
People still turn towards me where I sit.
I used to notice everything, and spoke
A language full of details that I’d seen,
And people were amused; but now I see
Only a little way. What can they mean,
My phrases? They come drifting like the mist
I look through if someone appears to be
Smiling in my direction. Have they been?
This was the time when I most liked to smoke.
My watch-band feels too loose around my wrist.
My body, sensitive in every way
Save one, can still proceed from chair to chair,
But in my mind the fires are dying fast.
Breathe through a scarf. Steer clear of the cold air.
Think less of love and all that you have lost.
You have no future so forget the past.
Let this be no occasion for despair.
Cherish the prison of your waning day.
Remember liberty, and what it cost.
Be pleased that things are simple now, at least,
As certitude succeeds bewilderment.
The storm blew out and this is the dead calm.
The pain is going where the passion went.
Few things will move you now to lose your head
And you can cause, or be caused, little harm.
Tonight you leave your audience content:
You were the ghost they wanted at the feast,
Though none of them recalls a word you said.
Sad, though beautifully written , in my view. And tinged with that most potent of emotions, regret.