Poetry: Sentenced to Life -- A Note on the Text | clivejames.com
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Sentenced to Life — A Note on the Text

In the poem ‘Only the Immortal Need Apply’, the scene at the Russian Ballet (Tableau! Scandale! as the central figure might have said) is taken from Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, The Pike.

The title of ‘Sunset Hails a Rising’ started life as a line in a poem by Francis Webb, an Australian poet of the previous generation who spent much of his life as a mental patient. His poems rarely cohered but some of them contained fragments too beautiful to forget. In the same poem, the line from Doctor Faustus about the horses of the night was taken from Ovid by Marlowe, who left it in the Latin, changing only the word order. The line from Valéry can be found in Le Cimitière Marin, best translated by Derek Mahon; although the two translations here, like the two translations from Marlowe’s Latin, are both my own.

In ‘Mysterious Arrival of the Dew’ every line of the first stanza, with the addition of only a single word, is a trouvaille taken from a single paragraph of one of Patrick O’Brian’s later novels in the Jack Aubrey sequence.

When I was young, the name of the Sydney suburb Tempe was so closely associated with industrial waste that I later thought Keats was joking when he used the name Tempe as short-hand for Arcadia. Later still, while I was living in England, Tempe Dump disappeared among the new constructions for the railway approach to Sydney airport. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The two separate mentions of Ava Gardner are a coincidence, although I should confess that when I was twelve years old her appearance in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman marked me for life, and that I was forever afterwards the Dutchman, played by James Mason as the commander of a ghost ship who was given to reciting quatrains from the Fitzgerald translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam while he sailed in perpetual search of the woman who would redeem him from his anguish. Later on, when I met my future wife, it turned out that she was in perpetual search of James Mason.

The title of Compendium Catullianum was devised for me by Mary Beard in collaboration with Dr Rupert Thompson, the Orator of Cambridge University.

The dedicatory epigraph is my own translation of a fragment from Rilke.