Perhaps wrongly, there is a slight shame about still be moved by poetry on life’s home straight. A small voice says, “Don’t you think you should have grown out of that by now? It is all very well for university students, but act your age!”
Dead poets do not really have an age. I have no idea how old Andrew Marvell was when he wrote To His Coy Mistress. I guess I could look it up, but it really does not matter. I have a much better idea of how old Ezra Pound was when he wrote his stuff, but the young man who wrote “La Fraisne” is the same person as the mad old goat who wrote the Cantos.
Of the poets who are not dead, it is the ones who are old now who tell me the most compelling tales. Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing was first published in 2006, and contains poems both from the time when he was living as monk on Mount Baldy, and since. This is the opening of “The Tradition”.
Jazz on the radio
32 in the desk drawer
Brush in hand
Heart in sad confusion
He draws a woman
The sax says it better
The cold March night says it better
Everything but his heart and his hand
Says it better
Now there is a woman on the paper
Now there are colours
Now there is a shadow on her waist
He knows his own company
Of patience and disorderly solitude
Knows the tune
According to his station
How to let the changes
He can’t play
Connect him to the ones he can
And the woman on the paper
Who will never pierce the air with her beauty
She belongs here too
She too has her place
In the basement of the vast museum.
Clive James is of a similar vintage, albeit from a very different world. Like Leonard Cohen, he is a poet who has earned his living doing other things. But the poetry is wonderful, and I agree with David Free’s suggestion that these lines from his 2010 poem “The Falcon Growing Old” are just about perfect:
The falcon wears its erudition lightly
As it angles down towards its master’s glove.
Student of thermals written by the desert,
It scarcely moves a muscle as it rides
A silent avalanche back to the wrist
Where it will stand in wait like a hooded hostage.
Hey ho. We are who we are, and there is no help for it.