"TREES - In a Strange Stillness"


[Image : Shelly Rolinson]

From Clare's 'Autobiography'
On Sundays I usd to feel a pleasure to hide in the woods instead of going to church     to nestle among the leaves & lye upon a mossy bank were the fir likefern its under forest keeps

‘In a strange stillness’

watching for hours the little insects climb up & down the tall stems of the woodgrass & broad leaves

‘Oer the smooth plantain leaf a spacious plain’

or reading the often thumbd books which I possesd till fancy ‘made them living things’ I lovd the lonely nooks in the fields & woods & many favourite spots had lasting places in my Memory

‘the boughs that when a school boy screend my head’

before inclosure destroyd them

---oOo---

 Those who had the privilege of attending the Society Festival last July will have encountered, either on my bookstall, in the Clare Cottage or in the Bluebell, one or other of my Arbour Editions Chapbooks.  Clare knew Chapbooks well, and it is in his honour I resurrected the form for my 32-page books.

 Historically a Chapbook is normally octavo in size (A5) and is a book or made up of one or more full sheets of paper on which 16 pages of text were printed, which were then folded three times to produce eight leaves. Each leaf of an octavo book thus represents one eighth the size of the original sheet.  These eight leaves are also known as ‘signatures’.  So my Chapbooks being 32 pages in length are two signatures long, or 16 octavo (A5) sheets.

Chapbooks first came about in 16th century England with popular fairy tales like "Jack and Giant Killer" which Clare mentions of course:

To John Clare
 Well honest John how fare you now at home 

 The spring is come & birds are building nests 

 The old cock robin to the stye is come 

 With olive feathers & its ruddy breast 

 & the old cock with wattles & red comb 

 Struts with the hens & seems to like some best 

 Then crows & looks about for little crumbs 

 Swept out bye little folks an hour ago 

 The pigs sleep in the sty the bookman comes 

 The little boys lets home close nesting go 

 & pockets tops & tawes where daiseys bloom 

 To look at the new number just laid down 

 With lots of pictures & good stories too 

 & Jack the jiant killers high renown 


  (written in around 1861)

 Chapbooks were cheaply constructed and often roughly printed, but during the 17th Century and later they were purchased by people who otherwise weren't able to afford books.  Very few survive as they were often thrown out after reading, or often (it is said) used as toilet paper!

The number of chapbooks printed in England is mind boggling.  During the 1660s, as many as 400,000 almanacs were printed every year, enough to distribute to one of every three households in the country.

 I've been planning such for several years, to introduce the general reader to a wider range of 'Clare-related' subjects, each book concentrating on just one topic.  In keeping with their history my Arbour Editions Chapbooks are very inexpensive, but in a break with tradition the books are high quality productions with gloss covers.  

I have around a dozen titles planned, and have to date published five, all at £3.50:

1.             'Drinking with John Clare'
2.             'Helpston's Fountains'
3.             'With the Gypsies'
4.             ‘Playing Games with John Clare’
5.             “Accursed Wealth”
  
The sixth, ‘Trees – In a Strange Stillness’ is of double length (64 pages) and the first Chapbook in full colour - 17 colour photographs illustrating Clare’s text – priced at £6.50 including post and & packing.  The idea for this book came from an essay written by Professor Eric Robinson in 1989 which has not been widely read, so with his permission ‘Trees’ was created with the ‘Introduction’ by Professor Eric and myself.  Here is a extract:

“Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss.  

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations.

Clare was concerned about maintaining the tree population of his environment, and in a sense the history of Helpston and of our poet, is that partly told in trees.  Then came enclosure when, for the trees, a wholesale devastation took place.”

So there we have it, inexpensive, paperback sized, quality productions... the ideal gift for the lover of Clare.  Or perhaps that friend who just might love Clare if only they had opportunity to read the great man’s work.

The book will be published on Friday, 19th January, priced at £6.50 (including P&P)


TO **** ON NEWYEARS DAY


  1. (Image by Lady Clementina Hawarden)

    A new years welcome lovely maid
  2. Awakes the poets song
  3. Be not of moral truths afraid
  4. Nor deem the lesson wrong
  5. Though newyears still their welcomes bring
  6. & hails thy blooming hour
  7. & on the green lap of the spring
  8. Leaves thee its fairest flower

  9. The withered year had youth & pride
  10. As thy unclouded joy
  11. But the today though deified
  12. To morrow shall destroy
  13. & sweet as is thy lovely bloom
    Of mingled white & red
  14. A days in waiting yet to come
  15. Shall find that beauty fled

  16. Bind not thy heart to things so frail
  17. A worshipher of pride
  18. Let choice of better things prevail
  19. & meaner ones deride
  20. As fair as is that lovely bloom
  21. Thy witching youth puts on
  22. A frowning year is yet to come
  23. Shall find its blossom gone

  24. The withered year saw many flowers
  25. As fair as thou art seen
  26. That now are lost to suns & showers
  27. With blossoms that have been
  28. Then live from pride & folly free
  29. & wear an angels bosom
  30. & when the last new year shall be
  31. Live an unfading blossom 

    MP III 476

Ballad 'The spring returns the pewet screams'

I expect lots of folk know it, but I only discovered this Mary Joyce poem recently - as is often the case with a poet as prolific as Clare.  Must admit that it would have been in our "In the Shadows" Signed/Numbered Handmade Limited Edition book if we had encountered it sooner.  The book tells the story, in Clare's own words, of his largely illusory relationship with Mary.  I still have a few copies of the book should anyone want to acquire one.

The spring returns the pewet screams 

Loud welcomes to the dawning 

Though harsh & ill as now it seems 

Twas music last may morning 

The grass so green—the daisy gay 

Wakes no joy in my bosom 

Although the garland last mayday 

Wore not a finer blossom 


For by this bridge my Mary sat 

& praised the screaming plover 

As first to hail the day—when I 

Confessed myself her lover 

& at that moment stooping down 

I pluckt a daisy blossom 

Which smilingly she called her own 

May garland for her bosom 


& in her breast she hid it there 

As true loves happy omen 

Gold had not claimed a safer care 

I thought loves name was woman 

I claimed a kiss she laughed away 

I sweetly sold the blossom 

I thought myself a king that day 

My throne was beautys bosom 


& little thought an evil hour 

Was bringing clouds around me 

& least of all that little flower 

Would turn a thorn to wound me— 

She showed me after many days 

Though withered—how she prized it 

& then she leaned to wealthy praise 

& my poor love despised it 


Aloud the whirring pewet screams 

The daisy blooms as gaily 

But where is Mary—absence seems 

To ask that question daily 

No where on earth where joy can be 

To glad me with her pleasure 

Another name she owns—to me 

She is as stolen treasure 


When lovers part—the longest mile 

Leaves hope of some returning 

Though mines close bye—no hope the while 

Within my heart is burning 

One hour would bring me to her door 

Yet sad & lonely hearted 

If seas between us both should roar 

We were not further parted 


Though I could reach her with my hand 

Ere suns the earth goes under 

Her heart from mine—the sea & land 

Are not more far asunder 

The wind & clouds now here now there 

Hold not such strange dominion 

As womans cold perverted will 

& soon estranged opinion 


MP IV 34

Ann hath a way

Clare's copy of Shakespeare's works (1825) contains lines pretended to be from the pen of the poet to his wife, Anne Hathaway.  The book is further inscribed in Clare's hand 'John Clare / His Book / Novr 15. 1827'

The lines are in Clare's handwriting could well be of his own composition, for we know that he had imitated several of the early poets.  There has been much speculation over the years, but no-one is any further forward as far as I know, to proving or disproving Clare's authorship.  Very interesting...

Would ye be taught, ye feathered throng,   
With love’s sweet notes to grace your song,
To perce the heart with thrilling lay,        
Listen to mine Ann Hathaway!               
She hath a way to sing so clear,               
Phoebus might wondering stop to hear.      
To melt the sad, make blythe the gay,       
& nature charm, Ann hath a way.          
        She hath a way,                             
        Ann Hathaway                          
To breathe delight Ann hath a way!          
                                                          
When envy’s breath and rancorous tooth,   
Do soil & bite fair worth & truth,         
& merit to distress betray                    
To soothe the heart, Anne hath a way         
She hath a way to chace despair,               
To heal all grief, to cure all care               
Turn foulest night, to fairest day                
Thou know’st fond heart Ann hath a way            
        She hath a way                           
        Ann Hathaway                           
To make grief bliss Ann hath a way.       
                                                          
Talk not of gems, the orient list,              
The diamond, topaze, amethist,                
The emerald mild, the ruby gay,             
Talk of my gem, Ann Hathaway          
She hath a way with her bright eye,         
Their various colours to defye—                
The jewel she & the foil they,             
So sweet to look, Ann hath a way,          
        She hath a way                              
        Ann Hathaway                             
To shame bright eyes Anne hath a way!

Published in 'Northamptonshire Natural History Society & Field Club' 
Vol XXV - No 199 - September 1929

MP II 345

Winter Walk

The holly bush a sober lump of green
Shines through the leafless shrubs all brown & grey
& smiles at winter, be it e'er so keen
With all the leafy luxury of may
& o it is delicious when the day
In winters loaded garment keenly blows
& turns her back on sudden falling snows
To go where gravel pathways creep between
Arches of ever green that scarce let through
A single feather of the driven snow
& in the bitterest day that ever blew
The walk will find some places still & warm
Where dead leaves rustle sweet & give alarm
To little birds that flirt & start away

Northborough Sonnets
Carcenet (1995)

Brilliant book incidentally !

"In a strange stillness"


Continuing to work on a book entitled "Trees - In a strange stillness' the cover of which will figure this wonderful photograph by Mike Hobson, and will be illustrated throughout with photographs from Shelly Rolinson.  Here is part of the introduction, and one of the selected poems:

Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss. 

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations.

Clare was concerned about maintaining the tree population of his environment, and in a sense the history of Helpston and of our poet is that partly told in trees.  Then came enclosure when, for the trees, a wholesale devastation took place.

Nothingness of Life
I never pass a venerable tree
Pining away to nothingness & dust
Ruins vain shades of power I never see
Once dedicated to times chea
ting trust
But warm reflection wakes her saddest thought
& views lifes vanity in cheerless light
& sees earths bubbles youth so eager sought
Burst into emptiness of lost delight
& all the pictures of lifes early day
Like evenings striding shadows haste away
Yet theres a glimmering of pleasure springs
From such reflections of earths vanity
That pines & sickens oer lifes mortal things
& leaves a relish for eternity


(MP IV 278)

The poor affrican...

The Vicar’s Sermon, from the Novel (1826)

After meeting the African beggar on his second visit to London, I do feel that Clare was moved to write this piece - in the mouth of the local vicar - to express his own thoughts.  In my opinion it says rather a lot about Clare.  Remember that slavery was not abolished until 1833, but even then it was partial, to say the least.  


Here is the telling paragraph from Wikipedia: "The Act had its third reading in the House of Commons on 26 July 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died.  It received the Royal Assent a month later, on 28 August, and came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834.  In practical terms, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies.  Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices", and their servitude was abolished in two stages: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840.  The Act specifically excluded "the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena." The exceptions were eliminated in 1843."


Talk not of distinction – look at the poor affrican     does the color of his skin forbid us to treat him with mercy     is his complextion the liscence for our inhumanity – is it a discontinuance of that link that enacts us to be humane to our fellow creatures in what ever grade or station we find them     is color & complextion any insult to our feelings     no     the blood of that poor emaciated black creature which I have in my minds eye   is as crimson as that which flowed down the temples of our divine master when like the affrican he was injured & scourged & crowned with thorns     & what for bretheren     why he suffered him self to be bound that that poor bleeding affrican might be free     he suffered his own blood to flow that that poor affricans blood might be spared     he suffered himself to die that the affrican might live & be happy in escaping the sufferings that he himself underwent for the very purpose that they might be free –

         & our only way to [b]e happy is to be kind to all for he who [se]es so much difference between the negro & himself   as to think a black man cannot be human like a white one   or that a black man [s]oul cannot be of so much consequence in the registery of heaven as his own   or that he stands [n]ot on the same footing in the favour of god as his self – that man (raising his hand with [his] voice & at the same [time] knocking his spectacles above his nose   which he had not time to adjust) – that man I say   be what he may in his own estimation   is no christian – for to think rightly of others is to feel that the same hand that made one made all – he that made the great behemoth   that monster of the deep which putteth the greatest ships in peril of being over set   made the little butterfly that the feeble child   as soon as it feeleth its feet   chaseth without fear  --

          & if the king upon his throne (god bless him)   yes if the king himself thought contrary to myself upon this subject   I would say   and say it out [loud]   that in the midst of earthly magnificance his majesty had not found that nessesary qualification of christian meekess which is a nessesary unto salvation   as the pen was were bye I write this sermon – do good unto thy neighbour as thyself & be charitable to all men –

This very important and eloquent passage was published in 2017 in Clare's aborted novel 'Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby' (Arbour Editions) the passage forms part of a longer passage Clare intended in setting the scene for his novel.  The novel is unfinished of course, but 'Memoirs' is my attempt at putting together in a logical order all the passages I could find, both in discussion with Professor Eric Robinson and seeking out further enlightenment from the archives.