Two poems by British writer Clive James who is terminally ill:
"Inevitably, you start saying goodbye and I like to think I hit a sort of plangent tone – a recessional tone. But the trick is not to overdo it, and don’t do it too long. As my friend once said to me, 'You’re going to have to soft peddle this death stuff, Clive, because people are going to get impatient.' I’m at the hospital two to three times a week and if you hang out at a hospital long enough you’ll see things that will remind that you had a lucky life. If you can see at all, you’ve had a lucky life. I don’t complain; I’m lucky. I’m getting near what my friend calls the ‘departure lounge’, but I’ve got a version of it that doesn’t hurt, so I may as well enjoy myself while I can."
Change of Domicile
BMJ Support & Palliative Care, September 2014
Installed in my last house, I face the thought
That fairly soon there will be one house more,
Lacking the pictures and the books that here
Surround me with abundant evidence
I spent a lifetime pampering my mind.
The new place will be of a different sort,
Dark and austere, and I will have to find
My way along its unforthcoming walls.
Help is at hand here should I fall, but there
There will be no-one to turn on the lights
For me, and I will know I am not blind
Only by glimpses when the empty halls
Lead me to empty rooms, in which the nights
Succeed each other with no day between.
I may not see my tattered Chinese screen
Again, but I shall have time to reflect
That what I miss was just the bric-a-brac
I kept with me to blunt my solitude,
Part of my brave face when my life was wrecked
By my gift for deceit. Truth clears away
So many souvenirs. The shelves come clean.
In the last, the truly last house there will be
No treasured smithereens to take me back
To when things hung together. I'll conclude
The way that I began so long ago:
With nothingness, but know it fit for me
This time around, now I am brought so low,
Yet ready to move soon. When, I can't say.
The New Yorker, September 15, 2104
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 colors 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.
- Clive James (biography, work), The Poetry Foundation
- "Why Clive James’s Japanese Maple is So Much More than a Poem," by George Szirtes, The Guardian, September 18, 2014