The wit & wisdom of Clive James

Our favourite Clive James quotes from across his long career as a writer and poet.

12/04/2016
4 minutes to read

Clive James made his name as a critic, broadcaster, essayist, novelist and poet. Collected Poems 1958 - 2015 is James's own selection from over fifty years' work in verse: from his early satires to his recent poems looking back over his extraordinarily rich life with a clear-eyed and unflinching honesty.

In celebration of his Collected Poems, we've selected some of Clive James's best quotes from his long career as a writer.

On reading

‘If you don't know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do.'
Latest Readings

On poetry

There is nothing like a poem for transmitting a mental flavour. Instead of trying to describe it, you can evoke it. All it takes is everything you've ever learned about putting words one after the other.
Gate of Lilacs: A Verse Commentary on Proust

On writing

If a poem or a lyric does not end up studded with turns of phrase that I had no idea were going to happen, I should not have begun it.
Collected Poems

On dying

Burned by my vision of a world that shone/ So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
Sentenced To Life

On fame

A life without fame can be a good life, but fame without a life is no life at all.
The Telegraph

On the future

We are often told that the next generation of literati won't have private libraries: everything will be in the computer. It's a rational solution, but that's probably what's wrong with it. Being book crazy is an aspect of love, and therefore scarcely rational at all.
Latest Readings

On poverty

If you are vulnerable economically, you are vulnerable all along the line.
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

On history

We should be cautious when we spot comfort creeping into the historic memory: if it climbs the wall like a stain, it could be a sign that the truth is being drowned.
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

On self-reflection

All attempts to put oneself in a bad light are doomed to be frustrated. The ego arranges the bad light to its own satisfaction.
Unreliable Memoirs

On individuality

Some people are different, and so are the rest of us.
Falling Towards England

On memory

Rilke used to say that no poet would mind going to jail, since he would at least have time to explore the treasure house of his memory. In many respects Rilke was a prick.
Unreliable Memoirs

On worrying

Stop worrying . . .nobody gets out of this world alive
The Telegraph

Collected Poems

by Clive James

Book cover for 9781509812400

In this book, Clive James makes his own rich selection from over fifty years' work in verse: from his early satires to these heart-stopping valedictory poems, he proves himself to be as well suited to the intense demands of the tight lyric as he is to the longer mock-epic. Collected Poems displays James's fluency and apparently effortless style, his technical skill and thematic scope, his lightly worn erudition and his emotional power; it undoubtedly cements his reputation as one of the most versatile and accomplished writers.