Clive James again: is there a better poet writing today?

A while ago The Knife posted a superb poem by Clive James, Holding Court, which was really the beginnings of his farewell to the world, as he is very ill.

The New Yorker magazine published another, in a similar vein, and equally brilliant. James has made it available on his own website. The title,  Lecons des Tenebres, implies a link to the genre of  music by polyphonic composers relating to the Christian Holy Week services where darkness (tenebre) is brought on by extinguishing the candles. Try the master of this Carlo Gesualdo (in the attached video), pithily described on Wikipedia as nobleman, lutenist, composer, murderer.  Of course, after the darkness of Good Friday comes the joy of Easter. It’s hard to tell whether or not James sees a bright future.

James really is a very underrated poet, here’s the proof.


But are they lessons, all these things I learn
Through being so far gone in my decline?
The wages of experience I earn
Would service well a younger life than mine.
I should have been more kind. It is my fate
To find this out, but find it out too late.

The mirror holds the ruins of my face
Roughly together, thus reminding me
I should have played it straight in every case,
Not just when forced to. Far too casually
I broke faith when it suited me, and here
I am alone, and now the end is near.

All of my life I put my labour first.
I made my mark, but left no time between
The things achieved, so, at my heedless worst,
With no life, there was nothing I could mean.
But now I have slowed down. I breathe the air
As if there were not much more of it there

And write these poems, which are funeral songs
That have been taught to me by vanished time:
Not only to enumerate my wrongs
But to pay homage to the late sublime
That comes with seeing how the years have brought
A fitting end, if not the one I sought.

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