The River in the Sky
'One of the most important and influential writers of our time' Sunday Times
Clive James has been close to death for several years, and he has written about the experience in a series of deeply moving poems. In Sentenced to Life, he was clear-sighted as he faced the end, honest about his regrets. In Injury Time, he wrote about living well in the time remaining, focusing our attention on the joys of family and art, and celebrating the immediate beauty of the world.
At the opening of The River in the Sky, a book-length poem, we find James in ill health but high spirits. Although his body traps him in his Cambridge house, his mind is free to roam.
The River in the Sky takes us on a grand tour of ‘the fragile treasures of his life’. Animated by powerful recollections, James presents a flowing stream of vivid images. He moves 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’.
As ever with James, he shares his passions with enormous generosity, making brilliant and 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 overwhelming feeling, a new marvel for the modern age.
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.