Clive James is nearing the end of his life. Last year he wrote the poem ‘Japanese Maple’ and he had time to put a lot of thought into the text. It is very much a testimony of his personal state at that time as he considered his approaching ending.
I have broken the poem into six stanzas of four lines and then the closing line. My comments in italics …
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
^ ^ ^^^^ / ^ ^ ^ ^
If you have read his ‘Poetry Notebook’ you will be aware how much he appreciates form and it is not surprising to encounter rhyme and rhythm and the attention to the syllable structure. But what I like is the break in the third line corresponding to his difficulty in breathing. You can join his shortness in breath when reading that line. Clearly, at the time of writing, he was not in pain.
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
In fact he is experiencing a golden time in the highlighting of his senses. And looking at the Japanese maple in the light rain gives great joy – he obviously has to spend time sitting observing because of his failing health. And again we see that short line occur.
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.
And he can watch the changing garden as night approaches and find delight in little things such as the way the falling light picks up the wet precipitation. (The Amber Room is a world famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leafs and mirrors, located in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. – from Wikipedia)
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.
This time the short line is at the start. Reflective words on not being around – nature will continue regardless of his demise – then reflecting again, this time bringing to mind his daughter who chose the tree.
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:
Then looking to the future, how the tree will look in autumn and setting a goal to see the autumn colours– that will be sufficient. (He did achieve this).
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
He know equates his very last days with the ‘flood of colours’ – colours that will live on. His mind is ‘burned’ showing how much value he has taken from the world – a shining world -and more recently appreciating the ‘flame’ of the tree.
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
And the last line with emphasis on how much joy he has encountered in his end days. It is interesting that his enforced change of pace due to illness has given him a new perspective on life and time to really appreciate his limited environment and to look back on the beauty of life with gratitude.
Rhyming scheme – abab bcdc ddea eaaf ghgg ijij j
Clive James would like to be more known as a poet and he is a very fine poet but I guess he will be better known as a broadcaster and commentator with that wry twist and sardonic humour. But this poem will surely be one of his classics.