The River in the Sky
A single book-length poem, The River in the Sky sees Clive James face up to his final moments of life with all the wisdom, lightly-worn erudition and good humour that defined his extraordinary career.
Close to death for a number of years, Clive James wrote about the experience in a series of deeply moving poems. In this volume, we find him in ill health but high spirits. Though his body found him bound to his Cambridge home, his mind was free to roam.
On a grand tour of 'the fragile treasures of his life', James is animated by powerful recollections. He presents a flowing stream of vivid images, moving from emotionally resonant personal moments, such as listening to jazz records with his future wife, to unforgettable encounters with all kinds of culture: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony sits alongside 'YouTube's vast cosmopolis'.
James shares his passions with enormous generosity, making brilliant, original connections and fearlessly tackling the biggest questions: the meaning of life and how to live it. In the end, what emerges from this autobiographical epic is a soaring work of exceptional depth and feeling.
'The River in the Sky is superb, an epic lament, written in late life, filled with exact and moving observations about life and culture' – New York Times
Clive James (1939–2019) was a broadcaster, critic, poet, memoirist and novelist. His acclaimed poetry includes the collection Sentenced to Life and a translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy, both Sunday Times bestsellers. His passion for and knowledge of poetry are distilled in his book of criticism on the subject, Poetry Notebook, and, written in the last year of his life, his personal annotated anthology of favourite poems, The Fire Of Joy.
Praise for Clive James:
'He will be seen, I think, as one of the most important and influential writers of our time' – Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times
'Wise, witty, terrifying, unflinching and extraordinarily alive' – A.S. Byatt, critic and author of Possession: A Romance
'Clive James is a true poet' – Peter Porter, London Review of Books
Clive James’s book-length poem The River in the Sky is superb, an epic lament, written in late life, filled with exact and moving observations about life and culture. “If my ashes end up in an hour-glass,” he wrote, “I can go on working.”
Dwight Garner, New York Times
A collection of intellectual agility, playfulness and high jinks
Kate Kellaway, Observer, Poetry Books of the Year, 2018
This ranging poem moves like a river, dawdling sometimes then opening out into its full force. Clive James is gathering a life full of event, people, humour and remorse, books and writing: all now present in the copiousness of memory. It is a book written in the knowledge that death is coming near. It feels, and communicates, the pleasures of being alive in your one inimitable life.