Tag Archives: dying

A poem to read in the bath… ‘My Life’s Stem was Cut’ by Helen Dunmore #poetry

What a glorious, gentle, heartbreaking poem this is about dying. Helen Dunmore, novelist, poet, winner of the Orange Prize, died too soon on June 5, 2017. In a slim volume of poetry, Inside the Wave, I found ‘My Life’s Stem was Cut’. I defy you to read it without feeling a combination of sadness and hope.

Helen Dunmore

[photo: Caroline Forbes]

Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘My life’s stem was cut,
But quickly, lovingly,
I was lifted up,
I heard the rush of the tap
And I was set in water
In the blue vase…’

Helen Dunmore



Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
Because I Could Not Stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson
Japanese Maple’ by Clive James
I Loved Her Like the Leaves’ by Kakinonoto Hitomaro

Read my reviews of Helen Dunmore’s novels, The Lie, Exposure, Birdcage Walk.

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A poem to read in the bath… ‘Japanese Maple’

Most of us came to Australian broadcaster Clive James via his witty television programmes and writings. In recent years he has turned again to poetry. It is four years now since he was diagnosed with ‘the lot’: with leukaemia, emphysema and kidney failure. Now his poetry is full of dying – reflections on life and death – and the poems are beautiful and incredibly moving.


[photo: Rex Features]

‘Japanese Maple’ is about a tree, given to him by his daughter, and how witnessing the tree change through autumn signals a change for him. I defy you to listen to this, and not have moist eyes.

Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Japanese Maple’
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Click here to listen to Clive James read ‘Japanese Maple’ for the BBC.
For recent poems by Clive James, visit his website here.
Listen here to Clive James talk about ‘taking life slowly’ [Interview: Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme]



Sentenced to Life’ by Clive James [UK: Picador]

Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:-
‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney
‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost
‘My Heart Leaps Up’ by William Wordsworth

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Book review: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

Anna McPartlinRabbit is dying of breast cancer and this is her life story. Anna McPartlin has written the story of Rabbit’s last few days, in a hospice, surrounded by family and friends. And it is the story of her life. It will make you laugh and cry, tossing your emotions around like a washing machine on spin cycle. I loved it.

It’s an interesting story to read, from an author’s point of view, as we know what happens. The title tells us that this is the story of Rabbit’s last days, therefore she is going to die at the end. But this doesn’t matter a jot, as we see her life in flashbacks. I liked the character so much I wanted to read about her. It is at times irreverent, it will make you laugh out loud – especially at the scene which involves Rabbit sleeping, her mother, and a priest – and it will bring a tear to the eye as the future of Rabbit’s daughter hangs in the balance. Will she stay in Ireland, or go abroad?

To find out more about Anna McPartlin, click here for her website.

Read my review of Somewhere Inside of Happy, also by Anna McPartlin.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Language of Others’ by Clare Morrall
‘Please Release Me’ by Rhoda Baxter
‘The Last of Us’ by Rob Ewing

‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes’ by Anna McPartlin [UK: Black Swan] Buy now

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Book Review: The Quarry

Iain BanksI started reading this book with my emotions running high, knowing Iain Banks had completed it so near to death. But I determined to be fair, not to like it just because he died. But I did like it. A lot. The story is full of imagery: the quarry, the actual hole in the ground is the unknown faced by the two key characters: Guy, who is facing death; and his son Kit, who faces life without his father. Both stand on the edge of emptiness.
Kit is the key narrator. Described as ‘a bit odd’ and ‘socially disabled’, I liked him straight away. As often with a young narrator, the author puts words of wisdom into the words of an innocent. Perhaps Kit has more self-awareness than his elders. He is certainly an innocent who is learning quickly. The action takes place over one weekend, the limited timespan and setting in the house and edge of quarry give it the feeling of a stage play at times.
A group of friends gathers at Guy’s house, to spend time with him as he dies. But there is always a feeling that the adults want something from Kit, that no-one is being honest , that they are looking for something. This leads Kit into the quarry, the brooding threat there all the time outside the house. As they wonder whether the hole of the quarry stretches beneath the house’s foundations, and if the house will fall into it, we learn about Kit’s disputed identity. Who is his mother? The assumptions he made as a child are now being challenged, the certainty of his childhood is dug from beneath his feet just as the rock in the quarry has been extracted.
It’s impossible to read Guy’s bitterness about his own mortality and not think of Banks’s illness. But this is a tightly-written novel that I defy anyone coming to it not knowing the author to guess that the author was dying. There was only one scene where the editor’s hand was needed, Kit’s climb down into the quarry does go on a bit. But this is a minor gripe.
A fitting finale to an illustrious bibliography.

If you like this, try:-
Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ by Emma Hooper
‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes’ by Anna McPartlin
‘Yuki Chan in Bronte Country’ by Mick Chapman

‘The Quarry’ by Iain Banks [UK: Abacus]

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