Poetry: Gate of Lilacs 15: I’ll drown my books | clivejames.com
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Gate of Lilacs 15 :  I’ll drown my books

Until we die. Too late to rule that out,
And as I write there’s nothing but the drugs
To keep me going. I’ll call that a break:
My family guards me from the world, which should
Expect no more from me. This secret book
I needn’t even finish. Proust got caught
By time, his special subject, long before
He finalized his manuscript, which he just
Pretended he had sorted out, and heartbreak
Had caught him before that. Agostinelli
Turned pilot when the war came. At Antibes
He crashed into the Bay of Angels. Proust,
As his protective callousness attests —
He says the only function of the face
Of his now truly vanished Albertine
Had been to remind him of the dawn —
Must surely have not thought he would outlive
His beautiful young man. But grief is there
Throughout his magnum opus. He was like that,
And so am I. Perhaps there lies the reason
For my love of his writing. From my start
In Sydney far away, I longed for Paris.
Those tipped-in colour plates in Skira books
About Degas, Lautrec, Manet, Seurat —
They came as proof that in the post-war world
The means to privilege might reach anyone —
Consoled me for the stroke of fate that tore
My father from my mother and left me,
For all my energy and glowing health,
A head-case hungry for a context. But
In those days Paris was intransigent —
Cops checked your papers as if you had come
To kill De Gaulle, and only a rich Yank
Could think of being a poor student there —
So I was poor in London. Later on,
In Cambridge, I picked up the Livres de Poche
Proust set, and I began the endless task
Of learning French from it. For fifteen years
I stumbled through it. Other writers go
Crazy for Henry James, who praised, in Browning,
The ‘slanting coloured lights’. But Proust had more
Of those, in my view, and without conveying
The same sense that a craze for subtlety
Had taken leave of substance. No, for me
Proust was the man, that droopy, wheezing dweeb:
Although I must say that in evening dress
As captured deftly by Jacques-Emile Blanche
In 1895, he looked much better
Than I ever did at Glyndebourne. By the end,
However, time had turned into a wreck
A body that was never strong. He lay
As powerless as the child that he had been
When waiting an eternity for his mother
To climb the stairs and kiss him. Now my turn
Has come to quit the stage, I only hope
I’ve used my time between strength and departure,
The extra time, a tenth as well as he.
Ah, soldier: what you did. It’s in those shelves
Of books by and about you I will leave
Here in my kitchen which has no cork walls,
Only the English early summer light
That pours in from the garden where my wife
And I meet on my balcony to count
The birds and wonder how to make them stay.
We’ve overdone the food, I think. Next spring,
If I’m still here to help, we might dial down
The chow supply. It’s like Maxim’s out there.
It’s too much. Proust is sometimes that as well,
But not so often as he is austere,
Saying enough to make you see the rest,
As the face of Oriane is not described
But only conjured from your memories
Of everything that you have loved. And soon
All that I love will leave me, as I go
First into silence, then the fire, and then
The harbour water, in which there will be
At last no room to breathe, no time to think:
No time to think even of you, Marcel.