I was genuinely saddened by the news of Clive James’ death last year. He always struck me as such a fascinating and fascinated man, humane and honest but never saccharine or sentimental. And the more one learns about him, the more obviously brilliant he was. He seemed to be able to do anything with words. Not least, provoking both wry smiles and loud guffaws.
So the next readings come from his penultimate book of poetry: Sentenced to Life. It’s a wonderful but poignant collection: he wrote these poems while struggling with the cancer that would eventually kill him, knowing he’d never be well enough to return to his native Australia while making every effort to enjoy life with his family in Cambridge. I love the knowingness of the title. His is not a rage against the dying of the light–entirely appropriate after the George Floyd tragedy, for example–it is more the melancholy acceptance of the inevitable.
And we feel that pain with him.