Friday poem: 'Early to Bed'

11 December 2015

by Clive James

Old age is not my problem. Bad health, yes.
If I were well again, I’d walk for miles,
My name a synonym for tirelessness.
On Friday nights I’d go out on the tiles:

I’d go to tango joints and stand up straight
While women leaned against me trustingly,
I’d push them backward at a stately rate
With steps of eloquence and intricacy.

Alone in the café, my favourite place,
I’d sit up late to carve a verse like this.
I couldn’t do it at my usual pace
But weight of manner would add emphasis.

The grand old man. Do I dare play that part?
Perhaps I am too frail. I don’t know how
To say exactly what is in my heart,
Except I feel that I am nowhere now.

But I have tempted providence too long:
It gives me life enough, and little pain.
I should be grateful for this simple song,
No matter how it goes against the grain

To spend the best part of a winter’s day
Filing away at some reluctant rhyme
And go to bed with so much still to say
On how I came to have so little time.

 

Sentenced to Life has been selected as one of the Observers Best Poetry Books of 2015:

'This year, Clive James – suffering from leukaemia – took up the idea of writing to stay alive in earnest. Sentenced to Life is that rare beast in poetry: a bestseller, a moving take on his, and our own, mortality.'  – Kate Kellaway

 

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