February 2009

Arts & Letters

Numismatics

By Clive James

 

Merely a planchet waiting to be struck,

The poem shapes up but is not a coin

Until, by craft, and then again by luck,

He fashions clean devices fit to join

A scrupulous design that he would like

To look mint fresh and not like a soft strike -

 

It must be hard. "It must be hard," they say.

But no, it isn't, not when you know how.

Except he doesn't. He just knows the way

To scratch and scrape until the coin says "Now,"

Boasting its lustrous proof against the sleaze

Of verdigris, that cankerous disease.

 

The scholar rediscovers the doubloon

Inside the encrustations we call Time.

The critic says it might shine like the moon

But pales in value next to a thin dime.

The poet only knows that he can't cheat

At any point, or else it's counterfeit.

 

He must be definite yet open to

The second thought. He mustn't make a mark

That falls short of the palpably brand new

Whose play of light pays tribute to the dark -

One solid, spinning, singing little disc

Perhaps not worth much, but still worth the risk.

Clive James

Clive James was an author, critic, broadcaster and poet. He wrote more than 20 books, including his memoir, The Blaze of Obscurity, and a collection of essays, The Revolt of the Pendulum.

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