Arts & Letters
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 is an author, critic, broadcaster and poet. He has written more than 20 books, including his memoir, The Blaze of Obscurity, and a collection of essays, The Revolt of the Pendulum.
The poet only knows...
You are reading
Already a subscriber?
Keep in touch.
Stories from The Monthly delivered free to your inbox
From the front page
What really happened at Yuendumu?
You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’
‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’
In This Issue
‘The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty’ by Peter Singer
‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell
More in Arts & Letters
Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison
A way home: Archie Roach
Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’
No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’
More in Poetry
East Melbourne liturgy
Les Murray’s magisterial ‘Collected Poems’
Barron Field and the myth of terra nullius
‘How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’
Are you enjoying the Monthly?
You can subscribe and receive full digital access on the website, and via the iPhone and iPad apps.Subscriptions start from $54.95.
You have read / free articles this month.
You’ve read your free for this month
But you don't have to stop here.Subscribe to the Monthly and enjoy full digital access.
Subscriptions start from $54.95.
View the discussion thread.
By logging in you agree to our
Terms of service and
If you're an existing print subscriber,
and you have never logged in, you may need
to activate your Schwartz Media account.
We're here to help. Email us at [email protected]
Freecall 1800 077 514 (Australia only)