A Tumultuous Take on Clive James’ “After the Storm”

Have you even been in a relationship you knew was broken? Like a child, your immediate want was to fix that which was in disrepair. Clive James wrote a relationship poem on passion; he wrote about a relationship in which could only be emotionally explained in the terms of “tumultuous weather!” You know those relationships—the ones doomed in asking, “Should I leave or should I stay? Please tell me what to do?” For the young, who are in love, I would like to say life gets easier, problems become less, and people soften as they become old.  I would love to be able to become the “repair manual” of all relationships. However, I find myself caught up in Clive James’ “After the Storm.”

Great authors have compared relationships to chocolate, to perfume, to water, to notebooks, and to rainbows.  How an author defines LOVE reflects the internal want for guidance and emotional meaning!  For, “We used to call what ruined us the storm” Not all two people, when brought together, can create such passion, such friction, as two who are in “manic love” with one another. The most popular, and most beloved, love stories, weaved into the fabric of our American culture, are called “bad romances.”  Examples of manic love include Edward and Bella in Twilight, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, and Helena and Paris in Homer’s Iliad.

“It got inside, it made a teacup shake, / It sought us out where we lay half awake.”

Bad romances are corrupt and interrupt the flow of our lives. We are dependent on each other.  Solitary confinement is the worst punishment.  And Wilson, the discarded “lost-in-found,” island volleyball, in Cast Away (2000), becomes our universal need to reach out, to connect, and to communicate. It is our inherent need to communicate and be a part of someone or something’s life!

“One sideways look, and soon the skin and hair/ Were flying in a different sense. / I thought the consequence too extreme too bear / This was the lion’s den, the dragon’s lair,”

Our tragedies (our jealousy, our confusion, our suspicion) strip us of our identities. We become trapped in the belief that our partner’s laziness, selfishness, or stupidity will calm down, just like the storm. We believe love will conquer all and our problems will reside, just like the storm.  However, the aftermath, of a storm, creates a list of casualties i.e., one being broken family trust and communication.  The family and friends who invest their concern get shipwrecked by the accumulation of the two lovers who were never meant to be.  Why even cross paths if such a mess is created!  Why do we even find ourselves having a hard time letting go?  We are being tossed and torn.  But, we still hold on in the hope that if we “beard the lion in his den,” then maybe we will survive the storm. The storm will be meaningful if we can overcome it.

“When the storm raged, I tried to hide in you./ Your only refuge was to cling to me./ The way we rode it out was why it grew./ In fury, until you began to see your only chance to live was liberty.”

What does water do to us?  If we stay in it too long we become ill from it.  Like the man who showed the world, now immortalized in the Guinness Book of Records, how long a person could live underwater—deformed from his ambition.   Like the man who proved in The Fast Food World, how we cannot survive on super-sized McDonald’s alone.  The grandest of things and over indulgences are not the moderation that will keep us balanced or alive.  Sometimes the hardest part is to admit we are not our best when we are in love with a person who is not good for us.  Sometimes the hardest thing to admit is we are no longer in love, but attached.  No one wants to admit failure.  No one wants to start over again.

“This is just love. / It’s nothing like the storm.”

Clive James becomes a true poet in this statement.  Love is calm; it’s not a bad romance or a question of doubt, or a cathartic cry in a locked bathroom alone.  Passion is part of love but love evolves and changes.  Love must evolve for it to BE LOVE.  Love cannot stay in a constant state of doubt, fury, and confusion.  Imogene Heap wrote a very intriguing song, “Wait it Out” of how “are we just going to wait it out?” and sings of a relationship that is, “clambering for the scraps in the shatter of us collapsed.  It cuts with every could have been.”  She sings of pain and is in the storm, waiting.  And it saddens me since “storms” have the ability to turn us into monsters we can’t even look at.  Broken relationships drain us of our talents and distract us from our dreams.  Bad romances keep us “wait[ing] it out.”

“Visiting you, I see that is was worth/ My loss. A family picnic on the beach/ Your beauty, still like nothing else on earth, / Here shows its purpose.  No regrets.”

If love is worth fighting for—how long do we have to fight?  For, the most wanted, talked about, and sought after thing in the whole universe is not a SURE THING. Why even come together to only be torn apart?  Do those who love become part of the Natural Law? Are love relationships a mere earthquake, a hurricane–an evolutionary force such as an Ice Age? In the case of Clive James, loss and separation were the only way to quiet the storm.  By disconnecting the channel between both lovers, the communication becomes more forced (controlled) and fake (polite).  Both are aware they must keep the storm at bay. The natural law of oil and water, this man and woman, are finally seeing it was “just them” and not the act of love itself which ruined their love relationship. Love still exists. But, it does not exist or will not exist between them anymore.

I am convinced, by reading James’ poem; some relationships cannot be fixed but must be separated.  Some relationships cannot be repaired for they are part of the Natural Law—some people must not come together but stay apart to be whole.  This poem makes me think of the brilliant words of Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, God’s final message to all creation, “SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.”


One thought on “A Tumultuous Take on Clive James’ “After the Storm”

  1. Such a fabulous connection! That’s why I enjoy your written work– it connects all aspects of life from science to culture! Thank you for sharing that quote; excellent fit.

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