Fṛm Đ Gardịn: Clive James: ‘The poems I remember are the milestones marking the journey of my life’

‘Anyone can be destructive, but the capacity to build something will go on being the great human surprise’ … Clive James. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer
‘Enwn cn b dstructiv, bt ɖ cpaṣti t bild smʈñ wl g on biyñ ɖ gret hymn s’prîz’ … Clîv Jemz. Foṭgraf: Caṛn Robinsn/Ɖ Obzrvr

Clîv Jemz: ‘Ɖ powmz I rmembr r ɖ mîlstonz marcñ ɖ jrni v mî lîf’

(Transcription of an article published in the Guardian on 26 September 2020)

Ẃt mcs gret powtri? An xclūsiv xtract fṛm ɖ lêt critic’s fînl bc Ɖ Fîr v Jô seḷbrets ɖ powmz h luvd most

Clîv Jemz, 26 Sptmbr 2020

Ɖ  Frenć xpreśn feu de joie rfŕz t a militri seḷbreśn ẃn ol ɖ rîflṃn v a rejimnt fîr wn śot aftr anɖr, in clos s’xeśn: îdiyli ɖ sǎnd śd b cntinẏs, lîc a drumrol. I frst sw a feu de joie pformd at an Ostrełn armittu, in ɖ mn arīna at ɖ Sidni Śǒgrǎnd, ẃl I wz stl in śort trǎzrz. Lêtr on, ẃn I wz dwñ naśnl srvis in longr trǎzrz, I sw ɖ seriṃni pformd agn, on ɖ p’redgrǎnd in Inglbrn, Ny Sǎʈ Wêlz, in 1958. Simbolicli, ɖ fîr v jô z a rmîndr ɖt ɖ rejimnt’s c’lectiv pǎr rlîz on ɖ indivijl, n vîs versa.

Imprintd on mî mînd, ɖ s’xeśn v xploźnz bcem an evceśn v ɖ heṛtij v Ñgliś powts n powtri, fṛm Ćōsr onẉdz. It stl strîcs m az a handi meṭfr fr ɖ poetic s’xeśn, ispeṣ́li bcz, in ɖ feu de joie, nbdi got hrt. It wz ol nôz: n nôz, I b’liv, z ɖ frst n last ʈñ ɖt powtri z. F a powm dz’nt sǎnd cmpelñ, it w’nt cntiny t xist. Ɖs z an ispeṣ́li importnt ʈñ t se in ɖ preznt ira, ẃn ɖ sūdo-moḍnist îdīa stl psists ɖt ɖr mt b smʈñ sfiśntli faṣnetñ abt ɖ we ɖt wrdz r arenjd on ɖ pej.

Wɖ a powm ɖ most importnt ʈñ z ɖ we it sǎndz ẃn y se it. At ɖt ret īvn ɖ most eḷmntri nrṣrirîm hz it ol ovr ɖ cnd v oṿstuft epic ɖt nīdz 10 pejz v nots fr evri pej v txt, n rdysz ol hu rīd it t paṛlîzd slumbr – or īvn wrs, t a boġs adṃreśn.

Mî unḍstandñ v ẃt a powm z hz bn formd ovr a lîftîm bî ɖ meṃri v ɖ powmz I luv; ɖ powmz, or fragmnts v powmz, ɖt got intu mî hed sīmñli v ɖer ǒn vliśn, dspt ol ɖ cntrîvñ pǎrz v mî naćṛl îdlnis t cīp ɖm ǎt. I dscuvrd rli on ɖt a scrap v lanḡj cn b lîc a tyn in ɖt rspct: it gts intu yr hed no matr ẃt. In fact, I b’liv, ɖt z ɖ tru marc v powtri: y rmembr it dspt yrslf.

Ɖ Itałnz hv a wrd fr ɖ stor v powmz y hv in yr hed: a gazofilacio. T ɖ Ñgliś ir it mt sǎnd lîc an in’dvîẓbl aṃtri practis involvñ gaṣlīn, bt in its orijinl lanḡj it acć̣li mīnz a treźrćembr v ɖ mînd. Ɖ powmz I rmembr r ɖ mîlstonz marcñ ɖ jrni v mî lîf. N unlîc pentñz, sculpćrz or paṣjz v gret ḿzic, ɖe d nt ǎtstrip ɖ scop v meṃri, bt r ɖ acćl ʈñ, incarṇt.

Wɖ ɖ cntejs cracl v ɖ feu de joie stl raṭlñ in mî irz, let m flaś bac t Oṗtyṇti Scūl at Hrstvil, Sidni, huz s’pozidli plêfl reźīm wz simḅlîzd bî its rūl ɖt evri pypl, at ɖ end v ɖ de, hd t stand bsd hiz dsc n rsît a meṃrîzd powm bfr h wz alaud t g hom. It wz a fntastic combneśn v Parnass n a max̣mm-s’kṛti prizn. I yẓ́li manijd t gt an Rli Marc, nt jst bcz mî meṃri wz gd, bt bcz I wz luci in ɖ drw, biyñ asînd powmz ɖt wr hard t fget.

Ɖ rmarcbl ʈñ, I s’poz, z nt ɖt I meṃrîzd a fy powmz, bt ɖt I nvr fgot ɖm. Phps bcz ɖ rword fr s’xes wz frīdm, I ʈt v powtri, fr evr aftwdz, az mî ticit ǎt: ɖ iqivḷnt v hîdñ in ɖ lōndri in ɖ truc ǎt v ɖ prizncamp. Ẃn I am bizi wɖ ɖ itrnl tasc v meṃrîzñ ćuncs v Miltn, I cn hír ɖ sîṛnz az I iscep ʈru ɖ wŭdz ǎtsd ɖ wîr v Stalag Luft III. Fr m, powtri mīnz frīdm. Īvn tde, in fact ispeṣ́li tde, ẃn ɖ ruinz v mî vri bodi r ɖ prizn, powtri z mî we ʈru ɖ wîr n ǎt intu ɖ wrld.

Lêtr on, jrñ mî frst yir az an artștydnt at Sidni Yṇvrṣti, ɖ xḷnt lecćrrz in Ñgliś heṿli emf̣sîzd ɖ truizm ɖt Ñgliś powtri hd nt startd fṛm nẃr n fṛm nʈñ, bt hd startd in Ñgḷnd at ɖ tîm v Ćōsr. Ɖs wz an ispeṣ́li importnt îdīa t abzorb ẃn y cd practicli hír ɖ Psific srf craśñ on ɖ bīć onli a mîl or tū fṛm ɖ lecćŗūm. Ɖ ci nośn wz wn v dveḷpmnt: powtri fṛm Ćōsr onẉdz hd bn ritn bî ppl hu hd réd ɖ powts hu cem bfr ɖm. It wz a stori v smwn raitñ smʈñ wundrfl, n smwn els cmñ alñ, rīdñ it, n fīlñ impeld t rait smʈñ īvn mor wundrfl. Īvn bhnd Ćōsr ɖr mt hv bn anɖr powt (I prîṿtli cōld him Robin Rîmfelo) hu invntd ɖ cuplit, or enwe at līst haf v it.

I met acćl livñ powts jrñ ɖ frst wīc at yṇvrṣti. Ɖe wr felostydnts. Bî ɖ secnd wīc, I tù wz wẹrñ a loñ scarf, bagi cāci drilz, ɖ soft deẓtbūts ɖt wr cōld broʈlcrīprz, n cariyñ an armfl v bcs bî Ezra Pǎnd. I dsîdd t bcm a powt, olɖo ɖr wz nʈñ bold abt ɖs dsiźn, az it wz olrdi clir, īvn t m, ɖt I wz yslis fr enʈñ els. Ɖ powt, in mî vy, z ɖ cnd v tîmwestr hu ʈncs h z dwñ smʈñ crūśl wɖ ɖ tîm h wests: stirñ it twdz itrṇti phps, or gtñ an Rli Marc.

Smart tīćrz vy ɖ yuñ powts wɖ dsper, bt īvn smartr tīćrz riylîz ɖr z smʈñ isnśl abt ɖm. F a yṇvrṣti dz nt pṛdys ɖ oceźnl eḷqnt scîvr, or unqnć̣bli vrbl tîmwestr, it z nt flfilñ its tru end. Olmst ol yṇvrṣtiz wl smhǎ infors ɖ rqîrmnt fr ɖ stydnt t studi powtri, bt ɖe cd’nt infors ɖ crieśn v it īvn f ɖe hd t’ranicl pǎrz. Olɖo w, ɖ powts, psyd ɖ comn fanṭsi ɖt w wr smhǎ cooṗretñ in an itrnl crietiv vnćr, w wr cmpitñ lîc hel: a mîcṛcozm v ɖ ppćl poetic dzîr t cap ɖ uɖr gai’z ef̣t wɖ smʈñ īvn betr.

Ɖt lîn v fîr ɖt cntinyz past y, līdñ intu ɖ distns, z az baund t cntiny az y r nt. Crịtivti z ɖ gret misṭri. Enwn cn b dstructiv, bt ɖ cpaṣti t bild smʈñ wl g on biyñ ɖ gret hymn s’prîz. Ɖ flaśñ fîrz v ɖ powmz w c’nt hlp rmemḅrñ r clir prūf v ɖt.

Wstn wind ẃn wilt ɖǎ blo
ɖ smōl ren dǎn cn ren.
Crîst, f mî luv wr in mî armz
n I in mî bed agn.

Nbdi nz hu rout it, bt ɖt in itslf cd b stetd az an îdiyl v Ñgliś powtri: ɖ bst powmz sīm ol t hv bn ritn bî ɖ wn snṣtiv, snṣbl prṣnaḷti. Īvn ɖ xtraṿgnt powts lîc Miltn, Swinbrn n Hopcinz d’nt stre ol ɖt far fṛm ordnri lanḡj, n ẃt mcs ɖm poetic z ɖer viźn mor ɖn ɖer qrci dix́n.

Bac bynd Ćōsr, hu cn b sd t hv startd ɖ faśn fr powts hvñ nemz, ɖs powm mst hv got intu ɖ hedz v evrwn hu hŕd it. Probbli it stl dz.

Mî ges z ɖt it wz ritn bî a wmn. Wn asymz, hir, ɖt ɖ nretr n ɖ powt r wn n ɖ sem, bt ɖ asumśn sīmz fer, unls ɖr wr olrdi powts on caunslgrants wonḍrñ arnd n obzrvñ wimin in a locl setñ. N f it wz cmpozd bî a wmn, ś wz’nt ɖ ledi v a grand hǎs; ś’z ǎt ɖr in ɖ weɖr. Ẃt cn gt hr worm agn? Entr ɖ luvr. Ɖs nīt litl powm z páct wɖ drama, lîc a tîni prs fl v gold. Wn we or anɖr, most gd powmz d hv drama. N yẓ́li ɖ stori z ɖ frst ʈñ t lc fr. Ɖr r feṃs powmz ɖt hv no stori bt ɖe r gtñ closr t biyñ jst wrdz, ẃć z olwz a denjṛs lur fr a powt. F powtri wr jst wrdz olmst enwn cd d it.

Ɖs powm luzz nʈñ bî biyñ anoniṃs. Smtmz I ʈnc v it az hvñ bn ritn bî mslf, hafwe p an orć̣d ladr, n śiṿrñ in a per v slf-darnd tîts.

Ol Nećr Hz a Fīlñ bî Jon Cler (1845)

Ol nećr hz a fīlñ: wŭdz, fīldz, brŭcs
R lîf itrnl: n in sîḷns ɖe
Spīc hapinis bynd ɖ rīć v bcs;
Ɖr’z nʈñ mortl in ɖm; ɖer dce
Z ɖ grīn lîf v ćenj; t pas awe
N cm agn in blūmz rvivifaid.
Its brʈ wz hevn, itrnl z its ste,
N wɖ ɖ sún n mūn śl stl abîd
Bnʈ ɖer de n nît n hevn wîd.

Ẃn it cmz t Jon Cler, ɖ hard wrc cnsists mnli in struġlñ nt t drǎn in ɖ dītel h hz rvild t y. Blest, or crst, wɖ ɖ nac fr omnid’rex́nl atnśn, h noṭsz evrʈñ, ispeṣ́li abt lîf in ɖ cuntrisîd; bt no rīdr’z atnśn cn svîv noṭsñ evrʈñ at wns. Ẃl ɖ powt revlz in ɖ rustic dītel, ɖ rīdr crsz ɖ abîdñ fact ɖt h himslf wz nt born t ɖ grīn welñtnz, ɖ ôld Bārbr n ɖ bǎnsñ Landrovr.

A sper eligns z hard t fînd in Cler. H’z mor crǎdd ɖn eni old barn. Bt ɖs z wn powm ẃć sīmz t m t hv beṇfitd fṛm a sudn dtrṃneśn on hiz part, phps ẃl layñ awec, t rait a mor ostir powm ɖ nxt de. Cler hd it ol: n olmst olwz h oṿcrǎdz ɖ powm in ɖ atmt t pruv ɖt. Bt fr wns h rlaxz, n ɖ rīdr cn d ɖ sem.

Ɖr’z a srtn Slant v Lît bî Eṃli Dicinsn (1890)

Ɖr’z a srtn Slant v lît,
Wintr Afṭnunz –
Ɖt opresz, lîc ɖ Heft
V Cʈīdṛl Tynz –
Hevnli Hrt, it gvz s –
W cn fînd no scar,
Bt intrnl difṛns –
Ẃr ɖ Mīnñz, r –
Nn me tīć it – Eni –
’tiz ɖ sìl Dsper –
An impirịl aflix́n
Snt s v ɖ Er –
Ẃn it cmz, ɖ Lanscep lisnz –
Śadoz – hold ɖer breʈ –
Ẃn it gz, ’tiz lîc ɖ Distns
On ɖ lc v Deʈ –

I hv t cnfes t hvñ mixt fīlñz abt Eṃli Dicinsn – ɖ cnd v cnfeśn ɖt in America cn līd t y biyñ loct p. In hr homland, nwn z alaud t b les ɖn wrśipfl v hr miṇćrîzd denṣti. Ɖr r rīznz fr wrṣ́pñ hr, n ɖ rīznz r betr ɖn fr wrṣ́pñ, se, an Aztec prīst – bt ɖ cold truʈ z ɖt y wś most v hr powmz wr lîc longr powmz instd v śort nots. (Y lc at wn v hr powmz n ʈnc: “Yes, ś cd probbli hv md a gd powm ǎt v ɖt.”) Bt in spît v mî cnvix́n ɖt ś olwz sd jst ɖt crūśl bit tù litl, I hv olwz hd ɖ rj t rīd mor v hr. Hr c’lectd wrcs r a bol v bīdz. In hr lîf ś wz dedcetd n slf-sacṛfîsñ, bt ɖoz qoḷtz on ɖer ǒn r’nt nesseṛli poetic. Poetic qoḷtz, on ɖ uɖr hand, r. Eni amǎnt v posćṃs sîciatric anaḷsis d’rectd at hr xntric prṣnaḷti c’nt tec awe ɖ sntṛl stbiḷti v hr strenj majic. Śadoz stl hold ɖer breʈ ẃn ś spīcs.

Nt fr Ɖt Siti bî Śarlót Ḿ (c1916)

Nt fr ɖt siti v ɖ levl sún,
Its goldn strīts n gliṭrñ gets ablez –
Ɖ śêdlis, slīplis siti v ẃît dez,
Ẃît nîts, or nîts n dez ɖt r az wn –
W wiri, ẃn ol z sd, ol ʈt, ol dn.
W stren ǎr îz bynd ɖs dusc t si
Ẃt, fṛm ɖ ʈreśhold v itrṇti
W śl step intu. No, I ʈnc w śun
Ɖ splendr v ɖt eṿlastñ gler,
Ɖ clamr v ɖt nvr-endñ soñ.
N f fr enʈñ w gretli loñ,
It z fr sm rmot n qayt ster
Ẃć wîndz t sîḷns n a spes fr slīp
Tù sǎnd fr wecñ n fr drīmz tù dīp.

Sm v Śarlót Ḿ’z bst powmz r trici t rīprint bcz ś ofn rout in loñ lînz. Ś cd aford t d ɖs bcz ś hd a fōltlis sns v riɖm. Ɖ metricl progres v hr sns v form hd ɖ impresiv weit v a slǒli muvñ tren, bt it wz a tren ɖt wz clirli gwñ smẃr, ʈru reliśt lansceps, srćñ fr stilnis n qayt aftr a loñ strugl. Born intu a faṃli ract bî ćîldhd deʈ, insolvnsi n mntl ilnis, ś compnsetd fr ɖ instbiḷti bî sticñ, metricli, t a meźrd poetic tranqiḷti ɖt sm tde mt cōl svir.

Śarlót Ḿ śd b mć betr noun ɖn ś z. Ś hd sm sgnificnt litrri ćampịnz in hr ǒn tîm, bt fnanśl n faṃli trublz cntinyd t dog hr, n ś wz ivnć̣li cmitd t an insttyśn, ẃr ś cild hrslf. A bîogṛfi lîc ɖt mt inhans ɖ staćr v a mel powt bt ś dets fṛm an ira ẃn a wmn hu drest lîc WB Yets wz unlîcli t b gvn credit fr hr bardic asṗreśnz, īvn bî WB Yets. (Mî mntl picćr v Ḿ z olwz mixt p wɖ ɖ huśt n mstirịs apiṛnsz v Mis Froy, ɖ Britiś wmn spî in ɖ wel-cut twīdz hu enlists ɖ ed v Mîcl Redgrev n Marġrit Locwŭd in Ɖ Ledi Vaṇśz.)

At Sevn O’Cloc bî Dóm Moraes (1957)

Ɖ masŕ fṛm S’lón, huz bòldñ hed
Gvz him a krịs lc v tndrnis,
Uncurls hiz loñ cruśt handz abv mî bed
Az ɖo h wr abt t prīć or bles.
Hiz polṭrr’z fngrz pluc mî qīzi scin,
Śufl alñ mî sîd, n rīć ɖ ʈî,
I not hvr ɖt h cīps hiz ʈin
Fstidịs nostṛlz sefli trnd awe.
Bt smtmz ɖ antartic îz glans dǎn,
N ɖ lidz drop t hŭd a scornfl flaś:
A dīp îronic nolij v ɖ ʈin
Or gros (bt olwz ugli) hymn fleś.
Hrnia, gôtr n ɖ flǎrñ bôl
Lî bér bnʈ hiz handz, fr evr bér.
Hiz fngrz tuć ɖ scin: ɖe rīć ɖ soul.
I nǒ him in ɖ mornñ fr a sír.
Wɖn mî mînd h z rīborn az Crîst:
Fr ć blînd dōn h nȉdz mî prostret ʈîz,
Ʈumps on mî buṭcs wɖ hiz fist
N briɖz, Arîz.

Ẃn I wz litrri editr v ɖ Sidni Yṇvrṣti stydnt nyzpepr Honi Soit, a copi v Oxf̣d Yṇvrṣti’z envịbli glosi maġzīn Îsis landd on mî dsc. It cntend, az ɖ lêtist instōlmnt v its hagịgraficl siriz cōld “Aidl”, a wrṣ́pñ pìs abt Dóm Moraes. Jujñ fṛm hiz foṭgraf h wz onli jst ǎt v hiz tīnz at ɖ tîm. I wz imprest bî ɖ jenṛs welcm ɖt ɖ Ñgliś sīmd priperd t gv Indịnz, n wundrd vegli f ɖe mt d ɖ sem fr Ostrełnz. Bt ẃt most imprest m wz ɖ we Moraes cd rait Ñgliś vrs.

“Bt smtmz ɖ antartic îz glans dǎn” unrolz wɖ sć riɖmic oʈoṛti ɖt it stops y wunḍrñ ẃɖr Arctic îz wd b eni difṛnt. I wz imprest olso bî ɖ we ɖt “flǎrñ” manijd t b ɖ most dsgustñ wrd in a lîn-up v fizicl horrz. Bt ɖ fînl stroc wz ɖ nocǎt punć. “N briɖz, Arîz.” I wnt arnd seyñ it.

Bî ɖ tîm I rīćt Ñgḷnd, Moraes wz wel on hiz we t oblivịn, hvñ tecn a swondîv intu a botl. Bac h wnt t India, ẃr h cntinyd raitñ, bt t smōl ifct. It wz a teṛbl piti, bt fîṇli nʈñ cn stop ɖ powts dstroyñ ɖmslvz f ɖe hv a mînd t. Ol uɖr ʈñz biyñ īql, ɖerz z ɖ onli lîf v prfict frīdm. Qt ofn, hvr, ɖt’s xacli ẃt scerz ɖm stypid.

Wl Nt Cm Bac bî Roḅt Lowl (1969)

Darc swoloz wl dǎtlis cm bac cilñ
ɖ injūdiśs nîtflîz wɖ a clac v ɖ bīc;
bt ɖz ɖt stopt fl flît t si yr byti
n mî gd fortyn … az f ɖe ń ǎr nemz –
ɖ’l nt cm bac. Ɖ ʈic leṃni hunisucl,
clîmñ fṛm rʈrūt t yr windo,
wl opn mor bytifl blosmz t ɖ īvnñ;
bt ɖz … lîc dȳdrops, tremḅlñ, śînñ, fōlñ,
ɖ tirz v de – ɖ’l nt cm bac …
Sm uɖr luv wl sǎnd hiz fîrwrd fr y
n wec yr hart, phps, fṛm its cūl slīp;
bt sîḷnt, abzorbd, n on hiz niz,
az men ador God at ɖ ōltr, az I luv y –
d’nt blînd yrslf, y’l nt b luvd lîc ɖt.

Ɖ abv powm z a vrśn, or a trnzleśn: a wrd ẃć yẓ́li mīnz, wɖ Roḅt Lowl, ɖt ɖ orijinl z onli dimli in sît n tipicli un’cnolijd. Hir ɖ plundrd victim z ɖ 19ʈ-snćri Spaniś powt GA Bécquer. Nvɖles, it’s a powm gret inuf t jusṭfî ɖ ʈeft.

“Bt ɖz ɖt stopt fl flît t si yr byti …” Stopñ in fl flît z qt a hard ʈñ fr swoloz t pl of īvn ẃn luv-struc, bt powtri z a majic land – or phps it’s betr t cōl it a mad land. Jrñ verịs eṗsodz in hiz lîf, Lowl wz az mad az a hatr, bt in powmz lîc ɖz h wnt crezi fr a prṗs. H cd mc a sriylist lanscep fīl lîc a riyl wn.

Pṛdijsli giftd n ambiśs, Lowl wz a loñ tîm wrcñ hiz we t ɖs cnd v simpliṣti, n ɖen lêtr on h lost it agn. Bac in hiz rli c’lex́nz, a powm sć az “Ɖ Qecr Grevyard in Nantucit” wz az narld n twistd az a sì-bloun tri. Wɖ hiz inṭmījt volym, Lîfstudiz, h bcem feṃs fr hiz “cnfeśnl vrs” ẃć tù ofn cnsistd v cnfesñ ɖ imbaṛsmnts v uɖr ppl. It wz hiz wrst habit.

Az ɖ brd wɖ ɖ erbreics demnstrets, Lowl cd rîz t sbliṃti n fōl t bnaḷti wɖn a sngl frêz. Ɖ ci powm v hiz fl mtyṛti wz “Fr ɖ Yńn Ded” ẃr hiz twin-yoct cpaṣtiz fr cmplex̣ti n simpliṣti wrct sumć̣sli tgɖr.

Fr ol v s on ɖ Soho litrri sīn, Lowl fīćrd lîc a viẓtñ bronṭsoṛs. I cn rmembr wel wn v hiz editrz cawrñ bhnd hiz dsc at ɖ prospect v hiz Americn-arisṭcrat-star cntribytr sudnli apirñ wɖ a freś cret v sonits. Bt ɖs powm n a fy uɖrz śo unmistecbli ɖ prisiźn, cmpreśn n evceśn v ẃć h wz ceṗbl ẃn sen. A śarp rmîndr, ɖr, ɖt insaṇti z olwz a gret piti, n a dubl rmîndr ɖt it rerli līdz t dfiṇtiv crịtivti. Bt let’s nt fget ɖ ʈrd rmîndr: ɖt taḷnt hz a mînd v its ǒn, n smtmz privelz agnst ol ɖ inr trmôl ɖt cn ʈretn t rec a lîf.

Ɖ Fîr v Jô z publiśt bî Pic̣dor (£20). T ordr a copi g t guardianbookshop.com. Dlivrićarjz me aplî.

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Fṛm Đ Gardịn

Instroduction to Ñspel

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