Clive James has a sad wonderful poem in The New Yorker.
He has been dying for some time (he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2010) in a very public fashion and has written wonderfully in the shadow of the inevitable.
"I still make plans to live forever: there are too many critical questions still to be raised. Most of them can never be settled, which is the best reason for raising them. Who needs a smooth technique after hearing Hopkins’s praise “All things counter, original, spare, strange”? Well, everyone does, because what Hopkins does with the language depends on the mastery of mastery, and first you must have the mastery. And how can we write as innocently now as Shakespeare did when he gave Mercutio the speech about Queen Mab, or as Herrick did when he wrote “Oberon’s Feast”, or even as Pope did, for all his show of craft, when he summoned the denizens of the air to attend Belinda in Canto II of The Rape of the Lock? Well, we certainly can’t do it through ignorance, so there goes the idea of starting from nowhere. Better to think back on all the poems you have ever loved, and to realize what they have in common: the life you soon must lose.”
TLS, 14 May 2014
Enough has been written about his dying, so I shall reproduce one of his funniest poems below.
The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I am pleased. In vast quantities it has been remaindered Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized And sits in piles in a police warehouse, My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs. Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles One passes down reflecting on life's vanities, Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book -- For behold, here is that book Among these ranks and banks of duds, These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns Of complete stiffs. The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I rejoice. It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion Beneath the yoke. What avail him now his awards and prizes, The praise expended upon his meticulous technique, His individual new voice? Knocked into the middle of next week His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs, The Edsels of the world of moveable type, The bummers that no amount of hype could shift, The unbudgeable turkeys. Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine, His unmistakably individual new voice Shares the same scrapyart with a forlorn skyscraper Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook, His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others, His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense, Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots-- One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment, And (oh, this above all) his sensibility, His sensibility and its hair-like filaments, His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs, A volume graced by the descriptive rubric "My boobs will give everyone hours of fun". Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also, Though not to the monumental extent In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out To the book of my enemy, Since in the case of my own book it will be due To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error-- Nothing to do with merit. But just supposing that such an event should hold Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset By the memory of this sweet moment. Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets! The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I am glad. Clive James