Taking off on Clive James

Hi everyone,

Did you read Clive James’s poem in last week’s New Yorker? James’s poem, “Visitation of the Dove,” uses 10 syllables per line (except for the fourth line) with four 6-line stanzas rhyming ABACBC.
It’s an unusual format but with some modification (all lines with 10 syllables and only three 6-line stanzas) I tried it for a children’s poem, purely as an exercise. The subjects are unrelated although both flirt with death. It wasn’t James’s topic that inspired my poem but the challenge of transforming the format into a children’s poem.

Visitation of the Dove

Night is at hand already: it is well
That we yield to the night. So Homer sings,
As if there were no Heaven and no Hell,
But only peace.
The gray dove comes down in a storm of wings
Into my garden where seeds never cease

To be supplied as if life fits a plan
Where needs are catered to. One need is not:
I do not wish to leave yet. If I can
I will stay on
And see another autumn, having got
This far with all my strength not yet quite gone.

When Phèdre, dying, says that she can see
Already not much more than through a cloud,
She adds that death has taken clarity
Out of her eyes
To give it to the world. Behold my shroud:
This brilliance in the garden. The dove flies,

And as it lifts away I start these last
Few lines, for I know that my song must end.
It will be done, and go back to the past,
But I wish still
To be here watching when the leaves descend.
I might yield then, perhaps. But not until.

–(c) By Clive James

The Dove Moves On

One promising day a sly, rumbly cat
Said, “Lucky me, I see a sleeping bird!”
Licking his lips he gazed at where she sat.
He crept closer and crouched behind a post.
“That sitting dove will soon be mine,” he purred.
He should have sat upon his southernmost.

There was where his tail was busy twitching.
At once she was on guard and wide awake.
The cat glared upon his tail for snitching,
Then smiled sweetly and said, “Don’t take this wrong.
To eat a dove would make my tummy ache.
I just dropped by to hear your lovely song.”

The cat moved an inch, but the dove moved too.
“Stop there,” she said. “I know how this would end.”
The cat leaped but naturally she flew.
The moral here, if you’re a cat, is clear.
If you sincerely want to be a friend,
Do not tell tales, and always watch your rear.

–(c) David L. Harrison


6 comments on “Taking off on Clive James

  1. Cleverly constructed. I’m in awe of two things: first, that you detected the format, and, secondly, you were able to devise your own piece from it. Because I don’t like the original poem much, I’d have just bagged it and moved on. Great job.

    • Thank you, Gene. Syllabic verse isn’t common and is usually found in haiku, but for a change of pace from accentual verse, I enjoy it now and then.

    • Good morning, Matt. Glad you like the original poem and the one it begat. I hope you enjoy the challenge too. You’re probably right about Steven.

    • Thank you, Jane. Sometimes I enjoy the personal challenge of adapting a poem written for adults to something suitable for young readers. They aren’t all winners but one never knows without making the attempt. And goodness knows that children deserve a diet rich in technique as well as in subject.

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