Poetry: We Being Ghosts | clivejames.com
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We Being Ghosts

Too many of my friends are dead, and others wrecked
By various diseases of the intellect
Or failing body. How am I still upright?
And even I sleep half the day, cough half the night.

How did it come to this? How else but through
The course of years, and what its workings do
To wood, stone, glass and almost all the metals,
Smouldering already in the fresh rose petals.

Our energy deceived us. Blessed with the knack
To get things done, we thought to get it back
Each time we lost it, just by taking breath –
And some of us are racing yet as we face death.

Well, good to see you. Sorry I have to fly.
I’m struggling with a deadline, God knows why,
And ghosts keep interrupting. Think of me
The way I do of you. Quite often. Constantly.

(Spectator, Feb 2, 2008)

Note (from Collected Poems)

The title is a quotation from Louis MacNeice: ‘For we being ghosts cannot catch hold of things’. Given his background in classics, MacNeice was more probably thinking of the vainly embracing ghosts in the Aeneid, rather than in the Divine Comedy. MacNeice, like his friend Auden, had the valuable gift of being able to make a classical reference sound like a natural flourish in conversation. It’s a quality that makes the poetry of the Thirties a tunnel to the ancient world.