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September 20, 2018


Clive James: poem ‘The River in the Sky’

by N@ncy




  1. Genre: autobiographical epic poem
  2. Topic: meditation on aging…lost golden age…now inaccessible
  3. Tone:  We find Clive James in ill-health but high spirits
  4. ….clear impassioned wisdom alwys quietly carving sage words.
  5. Form: dramatic monologue (epic poem with Clive as the hero)
  6. Language: unadorned, forceful with many flyaway cultural observations
  7. …and allusions that should  be investigated!
  8. Trauma: Father’s death
  9. “I was there to watch my mother take the news.
  10. It still now deprives me of speech,”
  11. James said his life’s works “ springs from that one dreadful moment”.
  12. First line: “All is not lost….out past the journey’s edge.” (repeated line: 77)
  13. It is a reference to Milton’s poem Paradise Lost.


How did Clive James write this book?

  1. I think the writer sat in his kitchen/library and
  2. just starred at the walls
  3. ..his thoughts take us on an autobiographical journey.
  4. Books are beautiful.
  5. He compares his wall of books
  6. …to the painted colorful frescoes in a Pharaoh’s tomb.
  7. James mentions his daughters:
  8. “…of this tomb when you helped me weed my books”.
  9. These are the walls he sees first thing in the morning.
  10. It is a work of art, with all of the
  11. different size books and their color bindings.
  12. Clive James is a master at creating images:
  13. “.. (I am) ..but the living god (Pharaoh)
  14. in the departure lounge (tomb/kitchen-library) surrounded
  15. …by his glistering aftermath–. (books)


What does Clive James want to achieve in this book?

  1. James is dying….and he has know this for many years.
  2. He is: “Planning last strategies…employ these closing hours
  3. to write its seedlings down“. (seedlings of poetry)
  4. “This is a river song linking vivd foci where
  5. once my mind was formed that now must fall apart.”
  6. The turning point in the writer’s  life was
  7. the death of his father in a plane crash. (1945)
  8. The flight was to return this  prisoner of war WW II to his wife and son
  9. ….10 days after the war ended.
  10. We read “…strength ebbs from my limbs” but James wants to…
  11. “…my fragile treasures link together in review.”


What is the structure of the book?

  1. This is an epic poem with Clive James as the hero.
  2. He shifts constantly….from the ancient past with
  3. Egyptian, Greek mythology to his childhood
  4. …Jannali in the summer heat, Clifton  Gardens, Botany Bay;
  5. college days (dedicated book May Week was in June (1990)
  6. …to Tom Weiskel.…college friend who died;
  7. life in Australia with memories about
  8. Keith Miller  (cricket player, war pilot) and
  9. Kim Bonython (war pilot, lover of jazz, race cars and art)
  10. Darcy Dugan (Australian bank robber)
  11. and of course the Hill at the SCG, Sydney Cricket Ground.
  12. There are many overlaps  between
  13. …events and states as presented by the text.
  14. This requires some dedication from the reader
  15. to investigate items mentioned by Clive James.
  16. If you take the time to do this
  17. …it will enrich the reading experience.


What was the sentence(s) – image that impressed me the most?

  1. QUOTE:
  2. Gliding is what I do, here at the finish, in the final hour.”
  3. Note: This can also be a reference to the title
  4. The River in the Sky.
  5. The writer tells us he will be gliding…
  6. “in the star clusters, in the gulf between the galaxies.” (pg 4)
  7. IMAGE:
  8. Clive James  compares himself to the Sun Voyager.
  9. The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik Iceland was
  10. …essentially envisaged as being a dreamboat
  11. …an ode to the sun symbolizing light and hope.


  1. If you read this book be prepared to follow Clive James
  2. through a maze of memories.
  3. He backtracks, looks forward and stands still amazed that he is still alive!
  4. He’s danced the tango in  Rio with a beautiful blind woman.
  5. He’s met the love of his life while listening to Maria Callas
  6. He’s pampered by two beautiful daughters.
  7. James is a  poet and some of his insights took my breath away:
  8. “Time, it is thereby proven, is the sea 
  9. …whose artifacts are joined by separateness.”
  10. Strong point:  James shows us  his spirit of youth.
  11. Even in old age, and his  refusal to resign and face life passively.
  12. “If my ashes end up in an hour-glass….I can go on working.”
  13. Note: I’m reading this poem slowly, carefully line for line
  14. this my be the last time I can enjoy
  15. ….Clive James while he is still with us.
  16. I don’t want to read his books in grief…but in joy.
  17. #MustRead  
  18. #MustReflect




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