The Reading Room

A Life Well Lived

The Ideal by James Fenton…

James FentonFollowing on from the Robert Plant gig this week I remarked to a friend about the life Plant had lived, such a full and rewarding story many would envy. In a recent interview he was asked if he recognised the Robert Plant from the heyday of Led Zeppelin and if he regretted any part of his younger self. Plant answered by saying that he is ‘the same man who goes to bed at a different time now’. I liked that.

James Fenton, writer, poet, journalist penned a poem called ‘The Ideal’ which made me think of Plant and a man close to Fenton’s heart, Christopher Hitchens. The poem, in my eyes is of a man looking back on his life with a sense of justification, an acceptance of what he is with the need to gain approval.

I mention Hitchens because in some ways one could be forgiven for believing Fenton had him in mind when he wrote it. Hitchens was a famous contrarian who demanded of people that they were of independent thought and stood up for what they believed. Hitchens died without, if he is to be believed, any regrets. He lived his life which, like Plant was a full one and a worthwhile reminder to mere mortals like ourselves of the importance of living a life without regret or shame.

Plant insists that he is not interested in his legacy or attempts to leave one but I would disagree to some extent. What is life for if not for looking back at the end of it with a sense of achievement in what one made of it?

The Ideal, written by James Fenton:

This is where I came from.

I passed this way.

This should not be shameful

Or hard to say.

A self is a self.

It is not a screen.

A person should respect

What he has been.

This is my past

Which I shall not discard.

This is the ideal.

This is hard.

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