It is not customary to talk about death today. Australia’s own public intellectual, essayist, novelist, TV personality and poet, “the boy from Kogarah” Clive James, has nonetheless been prepared to talk about terminal illness and death in recent press and TV interviews. Also in his already much discussed Sentenced to Life,  a poetry anthology to be published on April 9th. James rightly maintains the death theme is universal – everyone will die! – and poetry is a good place to air the subject. The poet  himself is clinging to life, lingering and longer than he and anyone has ever expected with leukaemia (first diagnosed five years ago) and emphysema. His blood is changed every few weeks in Cambridge from where he regrets he can never again leave for Australia except as the ashes he wants distributed at Sydney Harbour.

The way that (outside of his quite accomplished poetry) James treats of death for the public benefit is nonetheless a very modern, new styled, new atheist one. Retaining his proverbial quasi-Oscar Wildean wit, Australia’s sage jokes about his condition and his obit and the fate of his ashes. Outside of literary production James is prepared to regard any marked concern with death as self-indulgence and says he’s too occupied with following Game of Thrones on TV and summoning energy for his own writing to be thinking about it.  It’s anyway a waste of time amid the useful clarity approaching endings bring, because there’s only the void, no heaven or hell to contemplate and “God has no leg to stand on”. He is thankful for life but he won’t say “blessed” in case there is any suggestion of God in the matter.

Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but it could be argued that beyond the wit and laughter James is, along with the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Terry Pratchett, another poster boy cum humanist martyr on the path towards  a new trivializing of death and the big questions which are increasingly getting reduced to the sound-byte even if and when a few poems like Event Horizon may expend the effort to be solemn about the single fact that we are going absolutely nowhere. See


A few things about James’ birth data (see below and click to enlarge) are striking for the kind of role he is playing and the beliefs he is purveying.

If we can assume the birth time is quite correct (the chart is derived from Astrodienst’s normally reliable Astrobank data) , it is fascinating to note that the base of chart degree, much associated with endings, is on the potentially fame and world connecting degree of 29 Leo, a fire sign. James’ ending  thus appropriately becomes a matter for international discussion and it is expected to be a fiery cremated one besides. That James will think and write about death is encouraged by the third house (writing) moon in out of sign conjunction with Pluto (creation/destruction). But the actual  joking about his decease appear linked to the precise aspect to the base of chart degree of the moon in Cancer at 29 degrees. Though James has some of the wit of Oscar Wilde with whom he shares an urbane Libran sun, looney laughs and laugh-to-cry has something to do with moon ruled, moony looney Cancer. Laugh to and at the last…

….Whether one should or not is another matter. The fact that shocking Uranus conjuncts Theotes (Divinity/God) makes for some very upfront (first house) shocking dismissal and profanity in that area if (on the basis that conjunctions are very for or against something) it wouldn’t make for great spirituality since at its highest Uranus is the symbol of the Spirit. Actually, something of James’ attitude towards deity is likely to be due to his status as an only child who early on lost his father. To the extent father figures are liable to merge with deity images this would encourage dismissal. God seems absent and/or irrelevant. In the ninth house of beliefs and religion, assertive, aggressive Mars in quirky Aquarius makes aspect – just – to the natal Sun whose general weakness in terms of aspect also bespeaks a father lack that could affect the spiritual outlook and almost certainly has done so.

James has clung on to life and surprised himself and everyone by, as he claims, already dying once (even several times almost) and coming back. Where is this shown on the chart? Despite being barely aspected, the sun as this would affect life and health is strong in its natural house, the fifth, and on what’s called a critical degree, 13 Libra. The clincher may however be that this sun is conjunct Anastasia (Resurrection). This person returns to life and, in the way conjunctions are very for or against something, James can return to life at the same time as he rejects all more spiritual notions of afterlife. It also helps for resilience, and absolutely too for being as “lucky” as James admits to be  in terms of worldly success and fame, that his Jupiter exactly trines his Pluto. Positive Jupiter/Pluto aspects have been traced by astrologers as almost the main requisite for success if one can judge by the lists in Who’s Who. 

The disposition to disbelieve in heaven and hell alike seems reflected by the way Jupiter (one’s faith and beliefs) square (i.e. afflict) the Hell asteroid while Paradise is not positively placed at 15 Leo. This is one of the six  so-called world points, but deemed the most unfortunate of them, in short in a position not reflecting or generating optimistic thought. It is nonetheless still the degree of Dante, whom James has painstakingly and rather originally as regards the treatment of rhyme translated. Ironically heaven and hell and last things are quite James’ proper subject and when the wit is forgotten the poetry is less likely to be so. And indeed James seems particularly keen to be recognized and remembered as a poet. Poesia oddly and unusually falls in the eighth sector of death and mysteries as does the name James which directly aspects the Midheaven of career, destiny, reputation. This is an aspect  involved with the fact of being well known and the likelihood of then being almost best known for anything to do with death….No joking!

Even James doesn’t expect to have much time now. April’s lunar eclipse falls conjuncts his sun (ruler of his fourth of endings) and lunar as opposed to solar eclipses are thought to demonstrate their relevance within 6 months of when they hit. But with Anastasia on the sun, who knows?

And indeed who knows about the beyond….intimately anyway? I have not myself visited heaven or hell but in my The Hell Passage: Inferno Cantos for Today, (see I evoke and attempt some degree of critical assessment (both within the poem and in notes) of an alleged experience of the Beyond by several people. For reasons given I believe they must have experienced something of the sort, even if some details could reflect memory and cultural contamination. Ex-atheist Howard Storm who in My Descent into Death claims to have visited hell, commended the poem and hoped that many would read it….Last weekend I tweeted around 12 people either promoting or appreciating James’ views saying one shouldn’t be too sure of the void and suggesting they might care to look at my poem. Only one, but favourably, did so.

You, the reader of this article, can however go to the relevant material and pass it on if you believe, as I do and Clive James doesn’t, that final things are worth pondering and not to be fashionably trivialized.  (Influenced by the time I was once hospitalized in Melbourne, you might also like to read and share the poem Hadrian’s Question: A Poem of Life and Death  (at ). Meanwhile and whatever, a happy feast of the Resurrection.


Clive James    click the figure to enlarge


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s