“Few contemporary critics display the passionate commitment to the idea of poetry, and to the idea of poetry’s centrality to civilized life, that James does”
– John Banville
The Fire of Joy was the final book Clive James completed before his death in 2019. It takes its title from the French expression Feu de Joie, which refers to a military celebration when all the riflemen of a regiment fire one shot after another in a wave of continuous sound: it is a reminder that the regiment’s collective power relies on the individual, and vice versa. In this book, James has chosen a succession of English poems, exploding in sequence from Chaucer to the present day; they tell the story of someone writing something wonderful, and someone else coming along, reading it, and feeling impelled to write something even more wonderful. After a lifetime, these are the poems James found so good that he remembered them despite himself. In offering them to you, the main purpose of this book is to provide ammunition that will satisfy your urge to discover, learn and declaim verse.
As well as his selection of poems, James offers a commentary on each: whether this is a biographical, historical or critical introduction to the poem, or a more personal anecdote about the role a particular poem has played in James’s life, these mini essays provide the joy of James’s enthusiasm and the benefit of his knowledge.
“‘It’s a dipper,’ said my husband, reading over my shoulder. If I wasn’t on review duty, that’s the way I’d read it: dipping in at random, at bedtime, a poem a night” – The Times