Far spread the moory ground a level scene
Bespread with rush & one eternal green

That never felt the rage of blundering plough

Though centuries wreathed spring blossoms on its brow

Autumn met plains that stretched them far away

In unchecked shadows of green brown & grey


Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene

No fence of ownership crept in between

To hide the prospect from the gazing eye

Its only bondage was the circling sky

A mighty flat undwarfed by bush & tree

Spread its faint shadow of immensity


& lost itself which seemed to eke its bounds

In the blue mist the horizons edge surrounds

Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours

Free as spring clouds & wild as forest flowers

Is faded all—a hope that blossomed free

& hath been once as it no more shall be


Enclosure came & trampled on the grave

Of labours rights & left the poor a slave

& memorys pride ere want to wealth did bow

Is both the shadow & the substance now

The sheep & cows were free to range as then

Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men


Cows went & came with every morn and night

To the wild pasture as their common right

& sheep unfolded with the rising sun

Heard the swains shout & felt their freedom won

Tracked the red fallow field & heath & plain

Or sought the brook to drink & roamed again


While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along

Free as the lark & happy as her song

But now alls fled & flats of many a dye

That seemed to lengthen with the following eye

Moors losing from the sight far smooth & blea

Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free


Are banished now with heaths once wild & gay

As poets visions of lifes early day

Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft

The skybound wastes in mangled garbs are left

Fence meeting fence in owners little bounds

Of field & meadow large as garden-grounds


In little parcels little minds to please

With men & flocks imprisoned ill at ease

For with the poor scared freedom bade farewell

& fortune-hunters totter where they fell

They dreamed of riches in the rebel scheme

& find too truly that they did but dream


MP II 347

Dancing oak trees round & round

[Image: Anne Lee]

The wood is sweet - I love it well
In spending there my leisure hours
To seek the snail its painted shell
& look about for curious flowers
Or neath the hazels leafy thatch
On a stulp or mossy ground
Little squirrels gambols watch
Dancing oak trees round & round

Green was the shade - I love the woods
When autumns wind is mourning loud
To see the leaves float on the floods
Dead within their yellow shroud
The wood was then in glory spread -
I love the browning bough to see
That litters autumns dying bed -
Her latest sigh is dear to me

Neath a spreading shady oak
For awhile to muse I lay
From its grains a bough I broke
To fan the teasing flies away
Then I sought the woodland side
Cool the breeze my face did meet
& the shade the sun did hide
Though twas hot it seemed sweet

Leonard Clark (ed)
John Clare (Longman's Poetry Library, 1969)

Glenn Eric Clare Rose (RIP)

My dear friend Glenn Rose, a member of the John Clare Society and a direct descendant of Clare, died at 5:30am on the 29th June, after 6 months in hospital in Newcastle - much of that time in the Intensive Care Unit. I spent 20 minutes speaking on the phone to Dorothy and Eric, Glenn's parents - now both in their mid-90s.  Dorothy is the grand-daughter of Clare's grand-daughter.
I had not heard from him since last December when he wrote to me after the death of my mother in November.
Glenn was a stalwart member of the Clare Society, and my highlight of the Festival in July each year was meeting him and Dorothy; we also served together for some years on the Management Committee of the Society.

The photos show him with his two grand-sons, and our commisserations must go to Ayla his daughter on her great loss.

Dorothy asked me to remember him in the final two lines of Clare's 'I am': 

"Untroubling & untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky"

10th June 1824

Saw the blue-grey or lead-colord Fly-catcher for the first time this season they are calld 'Egypt Birds' by the common people from their note which seems to resemble the sound of the word 'Egypt' they build in old walls like the redstart & Grey Wagtail.
(Clare's Journal)

If ever the painstaking work of transcription is justified, the hours of eye-strain and debate, the weeks and months of detailed labour, often misunderstood or undervalued, it is when the original manuscript of a great writer disappears – perhaps for ever. This is what has happened to MS A47 from the Peterborough archive. It contained the original text of Clare’s long poem ‘Birds Nesting’.
We owe Eric Robinson a great debt, as if he had not struggled to copy this manuscript 50 years ago, it would only have survived in fragments and in unsatisfactory copies by earlier hands.

What happened to the manuscript? We do not know, nor when exactly it disappeared. What we do know however, is that it was loaned to an unnamed scholar by a senior member of the Peterborough Museum Society, and left in a railway compartment between Peterborough and Cambridge.
An excerpt from ‘Birds Nesting’ - Chapbook No. 13 (Arbour Editions)

There is a stranger comes with may
To haunt the homesteads orchard tree
Sings ‘eejip eejip’ all the day
& many cheated folks there be
Whose fancys lead their ears astray
Think bible egypt is its home

& marvel at the mighty way
That birds without a guide will come
It sings its strange & foreign call
All day in motion & at rest
& in the orchards hollow wall
It makes a large & curious nest

Of straw that from the yard it gains
& cobwebs fine as very down
& lays six eggs of tawney stains
Besprent with dots of darker brown
Its back is of a slatey blue
Its paler bosom ashen grey

Its wings are of a darker hue
& now & ever all the day
The orchard trees are its retreats
& there their ever busy guest
A somthing every moment meets
To catch & carry to its next

Neath cot & hovel eaves it drops
& flies & insects often gets
& round the barn hole fluttering stops
Where spiders spread their flimsy nets
& boys from what they’ve seen & heard
Them oft as Spider catchers call

But yet the busy Egypt bird
Remains a guess & doubt with all
& theres a bird I often mind
A bird that rarely ever fails
With Wagtails ‘Marholm Pits’ to find
& like them too with shorter tails

In heaps of stone it finds a way
& builds its nest of twitch & roots
& lays five eggs of leaden grey
With spots as black as ink or soot

(lines 279-318 of ‘Birds Nesting)

Shipwreckd Ghost

O open the door on thy william distrest
He longs just to lay his cold head on thy breast
The billows are beating contrary
They feign woud have rolld oer his rest in his grave
But he beetld the rock & he dasht the salt wave
To take a farwell of his mary

I list somthing surely was calling to me
Ive opend the window but nought can I see
Go sleep thou impertinent fairy
I neer did thee harm to disturb my repose
To kill me wi news of his sea faring woes
Poor williams far off from his mary

O the night it is dark & the fogs gather deep
Thy eyes are yet dimd wi the visions of sleep
Blame thou no impertinent fairy
All hamperd wi sea weeds all clotted wi blood
From the wounds of the rock i' the rude dashing flood
He fears to be loathd by his mary

Ah thou art no william thy voice is too broad
Tis more like the croak of the night walking toad
My williams was quite the contrary
He spoke like an angel his eyes they were bright
Twas as vainly to hide em as stars in the night
As sweet woud they shine on his mary

Ah closd are his eyes on the billows affloat
The salt waters ‘gug-gug—gug-gug’ down his throat
Well well may his speech seem contrary
Hoarse in the cold sea the waves mix in his wound
If thoult see thy william this instant come down
Hes short time to stay with his mary

Ah there is my william O god how he bleeds
O faint not Ill free thy poor head from its weeds
& flew to the door like a fairy
But ere she coud open the clock tolled one
The night was all silent—her william was gone
& never more wakend his mary

George Deacon in 'John Clare and the Folk Tradition' (Page 142-3) has a tune set for this lyric.  He goes on to say, "This is surely a song written by Clare.  The lover returning as a ghost is a common theme in folk balladry, and song like 'The Daemon Lover', 'The Grey Cock' and 'Sweet William's Ghost' may have been in his mind when he wrote this.  As a composition in the popular idiom this is as unsuccessful as 'The Great Sea Fight'.  It is, however, a good example of the influence of this idiom on Clare's own writing."

Manuscript reference: Pet MS A7 33aB2 123aC1 5a
EP II 36

Tis Midsummer Eve

I've been gleaning again.  Working through my old notebooks from several years of searching the Clare manuscripts in the Peterborough Archive for little known or unpublished (as far as I know) work.  I noticed, only when typing them up, the links between these three short poems transcribed on three seperate visits in 2017.  Not the most eloquent of Clare's output, but they do have a real charm.

Heres the old fairey rings by this dark thickets side
Where the owl rests in fear & the foxes abide
Where fairys dance round them more still than a sigh
Yet the shepherd when late hears the noise passing bye –
& oer his snug fire in his cottage at night
Hell talk till the candle turns blue with affright
Of the pranks that they play & the sports they pursue
& the mischief when vexed that they venture to do
How they steal into barns & fall thrashing the corn
Till the cock on the dunghill gins sounding his horn
Then all in an instant flye silent away
With an ear in their hands & so many are they
That the old startled farmer with anguish & awe
When he comes in the morning finds nothing but straw
& why shouldnt we of our troubles take leave
& with nature make merry at midsummers eve
(lines 84-99)

Pet MS A49 p32
(Unpublished save MP II 207)

Do but look what a beautiful midsummer night
The fairys are dancing [no] doubt by moon light
In the dark beaten rings by the old forrest side
Where the owl roosts with fear and the fairies abide
Grass & flowers seem oerjoyed in the merry moonlight
& dress to impress in gay partys at night
For the pasture is free from the rude heavy cow
& they walk with no fear to be trampled on now
The bee with his load of red dust on his thigh
No longer to teaze them for kisses comes nigh
Tho the Moth a coy lover for chances doth creep
His kisses to steal now he thinks them asleep

Pet MS A39 p11

The Moth a coy lover now ventures to creep
Out at night to steal kisses from flowers when asleep
But the Butterflye bold as the Bee for a plot
Kisses the flowers all the day whether willing or not
Now no longer able his sports to pursue
He lay neath a leaf to get out of the dew
Heres the Cockchaffer to with his old sullen drone
Sings as if he thought no song sweet as his own
The Bee too with grains of red dust on each thigh
Who had drained thro the day all the honey flowers dry
& in vain he attempted straight forward to drive
He reeled and mistook the way home to his hive
Till lost on this spot in a considerable fright
He makes on this thistle a bed for the night
Heres the rope dancing spider a trusting his threads
From his web on the branches high over their heads
Ah well may you laugh at the sports he doth make
While he dances away in no fears for his neck
The rest were all coupled & happy & they
Song the old merry songs which they sang at his day

Pet MS A31 p9
‘Hidden Treasures’ - Arbour Editions – 2016 (2nd edition 2019)


 John Clare’s 1819 poem ‘Solitude’ was published by Taylor & Hessey as part of the 1821 “The Village Minstrel” collection, but alas, with many alterations, omissions and ‘corrections’, as well as added punctuation.  

The altered text in ‘The Village Minstrel’ had been so butchered by its editors that it had become a very different poem indeed.  Why did Taylor & Hessey have this done?  Probably to make it more ‘acceptable’, in their opinion, to the book buying public of 1821.  Unfortunately, completely destroying Clare’s purpose in the poem, clearly seen by comparing their version with Clare’s manuscript.  I know which poem I would rather read, and it certainly is not the VM published version. 
Whilst researching Clare’s manuscripts with Annie Lee in 2014, we came across the ‘Solitude’ manuscript, immediately realising what had been done to Clare’s verse.  Since that moment our, and now my, aim has been to publish Clare’s verse and prose as he wrote it.  Little did we realise at that time, that by doing so we were inadvertently joining a heated argument that has raged for 50 (at least) years.  Certainly, since the first publications by Professor Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield of unchanged Clare texts in the 1960s.

Just to illustrate what the reader will miss reading the VM version, John Taylor removed the following lines from the published text in ‘The Village Minstrel’ (Vol 1, p 200 ff).  I have simply assembled them in the order in which they appear, dotted through the manuscript (Pet MS B2 p256a, C2 p36).

    O how sweet I cannot tell
    With thee at that hour to dwell
    Stretchd the mossy bank beside
    Lye to view the random tide
    Where no clowns has chopt from thence
    Bush nor stake to mend his fence
    Cornerd stones & pebbles round
    Breaking dasht wi mellow sound
    Wether this or that to see
    I am blest if Im wi thee
    & full dear has been the hour
    Spent wi in thy noon day bower
    Prest wi thee thy mossy seat
    O its unexpressive sweet

Why were these lines deleted?  No-one has any idea, but the whole 'Solitude' poem in its restored form was published – with its many variant readings - in the wonderful OUP Clarendon Editions (EP II 338).  I don’t think the poem has been published in its original state apart from that, until Annie Lee and I came along that is, Annie producing the stunning Handmade Limited Edition volume you see above - all long sold out of course.