The River in the Sky: A Poem: Clive James

“Few people read Poetry any more, but I still wish to write its seedlings down, if only for the lull of gathering: no less a harvest season for being the last time,” writes Clive James in his epic poem, The River in the Sky. What emerges from this lamentation is a soaring epic of exceptional depth and overwhelming feeling, all the more extraordinary given its appearance in an age when the heroic poem seems to have disappeared from contemporary literature.

Among James’s many talents is his uncanny ability to juxtapose references to early twentieth-century poets with “offbeat humor and flyaway cultural observations” (Dwight Garner, New York Times), or allusions to the adagio of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony contrasted with references to “YouTube’s vast cosmopolis.”

Whether recalling his Australian childhood or his father’s “clean white headstone” in a Hong Kong cemetery, James’s autobiographical epic ultimately helps us define the meaning of life.

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