Alexander Averin

Monday, 26 May 2014

Sentenced to Life

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known the name for Japanese anemones, so pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees without my seeing them.
I count the bees.

This morning I heard James Naughtie read the poem Sentenced to Life on the Radio 4 Today programme and it moved me to tears, it was read so well and the words....... well the words speak for themselves.  The poet is the great Clive James.

I don't always enjoy poems being read aloud, I know a lot of folk prefer it but I nearly always like to read them aloud myself in my own head but in this case there was some kind of magic afoot as I listened while washing the breakfast dishes at the kitchen sink.

Here it is:

Sentenced to Life

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.

But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.

My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.

Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –

As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.

Clive James

There will be an interview with Clive James on the programme tomorrow, I look forward to that.


Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Wonderful. I missed this. thank you.

The bike shed said...

I think this is an excellent and moving poem; I've already sent it on to many others. Being honest I've been a bit sniffy about CJ's poetry in the past, but re-reading some recently, I think I was very terribly unfair and quick to judge.

Thanks for this