I find myself returning to the poetry of Clive James more and more recently. In the 70s I was most interested in his television criticism. Then, I discovered his novels and his series of memoirs. Now, it is his poetry that I find so interesting. This poem is a moving one, especially if you know something of his biography.
My Father Before Me
At noon, no shadow. I am on my knees
Once more before your number and your name.
The usual heat, the usual fretful bees
Fitfully busy as last time I came.
Here you have lain since 1945,
When you, at half the age that I am now,
Were taken from the world of the alive,
Were taken out of time. You should see how
This hillside, since I visited it first,
Has stayed the same. Nothing has happened here.
They trim the sloping lawn and slake its thirst.
Regular wreaths may fade and reappear,
But these are details. High on either side
Waves of apartment blocks roll in so far
And no further, forbidden to collide
By laws that keep the green field where you are,
Along with all these others, sacrosanct.
For once the future is denied fresh ground.
For that much if no more, let God be thanked.
You can’t see me or even hear the sound
Of my voice, though it comes out like the cry
You heard from me before you sailed away.
Your wife, my mother, took her turn to die
Not long ago. I don’t know what to say —
Except those many years she longed for you
Are over now at last, and now she wears
The same robes of forgetfulness you do.
When the dreams cease, so do the nightmares.
I know you would be angry if I said I, too, crave peace.
Besides, it’s not quite so.
Despair will ebb when I leave you for dead
Once more. Once more, as I get up to go,
I look up to the sky, down to the sea,
And hope to see them, while I still draw breath,
The way you saw your photograph of me
The very day you flew to meet your death.
Back at the gate, I turn to face the hill,
Your headstone lost again among the rest.
I have no time to waste, much less to kill.
My life is yours, my curse to be so blessed.
The poetry of Clive James is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?