Or the lines from Sylvia Plath’s Lazarus:
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
I never heard of Clive James till I came across his hauntingly beautiful poem Japanese Maple in a recent issue of New Yorker (which I am appending at the end of this post). He was diagnosed with Leukaemia in 2011 and emphysema and kidney failure in 2012. Writing about his diagnosis and what it entails, he muses:
All day tomorrow I have tests and scans,
And everything that happens will be real.
My blood might say I should make no more plans,
And when it does so, that will be the deal.
But until then I love to speak with you
Each day we meet. Sometimes we even touch
Across the sad gulf that I brought us to.
Just for a time, so little means so much:
More than I’m worth, I know, as I know how
My death is something I must live with now.
Yet, although James so consciously and explicitly speaks of his own increasingly imminent death, I do not find his words maudlin or despondent. Sad, yes, but also hopeful. He does not bemoan his fate.
Even in suffering there is so much beauty to be found…
… 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.’
His recent poem
Is achingly beautiful as the poet contrasts his imminent death with the longevity of the maple tree outside his window.,
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
Our life is so short… the love and experiences of life that it brings with it, is the only thing that truly matters…it is the only thing we can take with us.