Poetry: Same River Twice | clivejames.com
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Same River Twice


A bad call, Heraclitus. Men are always
Stepping twice into the same river:
The river of our feelings, which will never
Much change, though we endeavour all our days
To tame them, and indeed unless behaviour
Improves on instinct we are lost, and those
We love will suffer for our naturalness –
A virtue only when it does not close
The pathway to a cure for the distress
Engendered by our energies. The aim,
Or at any rate the outcome, has to be
Knowledge of self. Without that, nemesis
Waits in the water, every time the twin
Of how it looked the last time we stepped in.
Surely you see now that you gave your name
To the easy option. Nobody disagrees
About the infinitely shifting texture
Of the world. A malefactor loves the haze
Of boiling chance that blurs the total picture,
The fog you stand in up to your stiff knees,
Looking so wise, as if you’d solved the structure
Of all causality, when you, in fact,
Left out the thing we needed most to know –
That our character will leave us free to act
In contradiction to its steady flow
Only through our regretting that the river,
Though never still, is still the same as ever.

No man steps out of it, not even once.


Standpoint, September 2010

Note (from Collected Poems)

The poem is an apostrophe to Heraclitus, rather impatient with him for making such a fuss about the obvious.