Spring's Messengers

Here in East Devon we had the first 'heavy' snowfall for 5 years today, but still the spring bulbs are showing, the witch-hazel in full bloom, and our pink rhododendron in bloom too. Made me think of John Clare's 'Spring Messengers':

Where slanting banks are always with the sun
The daisy is in blossom even now;
And where warm patches by the hedges run
The cottager when coming home from plough
Brings home a cowslip root in flower to set.
Thus ere the Christmas goes the spring is met
Setting up little tents about the fields
In sheltered spots.--Primroses when they get
Behind the wood's old roots, where ivy shields
Their crimpled, curdled leaves, will shine and hide.
Cart ruts and horses' footings scarcely yield
A slur for boys, just crizzled and that's all.
Frost shoots his needles by the small dyke side,
And snow in scarce a feather's seen to fall.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (Final)

And now I've done, ye're each at once as free
To take your trundle as ye used to be;
To take right ways, as Jenny should have ta'en,
Or headlong run, and be a second Jane;
For by one thoughtless girl that's acted ill
A thousand may be guided if they will:
As oft mong folks to labour bustling on,
We mark the foremost kick against a stone,
Or stumble oer a stile he meant to climb,
While hind ones see and shun the fall in time.
But ye, I will be bound, like far the best
Love's tickling nick-nacks and the laughing jest,
And ten times sooner than be warned by me,
Would each be sitting on some fellow's knee,
Sooner believe the lies wild chaps will tell
Than old dames' cautions, who would wish ye well:
So have your wills."--She pinched her box again,
And ceased her tale, and listened to the rain,
Which still as usual pattered fast around,
And bowed the bent-head loaded to the ground;
While larks, their naked nest by force forsook,
Pruned their wet wings in bushes by the brook.

The maids, impatient now old Goody ceased,
As restless children from the school released,
Right gladly proving, what she'd just foretold,
That young ones' stories were preferred to old,
Turn to the whisperings of their former joy,
That oft deceive, but very rarely cloy.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (IX)

But, Lord protect us! time such change does bring,
We cannot dream what oer our heads may hing;
The very house she lived in, stick and stone,
Since Goody died, has tumbled down and gone:
And where the marjoram once, and sage, and rue,
And balm, and mint, with curled-leaf parsley grew,
And double marygolds, and silver thyme,
And pumpkins neath the window used to climb;
And where I often when a child for hours
Tried through the pales to get the tempting flowers,
As lady's laces, everlasting peas,
True-love-lies-bleeding, with the hearts-at-ease,
And golden rods, and tansy running high
That oer the pale-tops smiled on passers-by,
Flowers in my time that every one would praise,
Though thrown like weeds from gardens nowadays;
Where these all grew, now henbane stinks and spreads,
And docks and thistles shake their seedy heads,
And yearly keep with nettles smothering oer;--
The house, the dame, the garden known no more:
While, neighbouring nigh, one lonely elder-tree
Is all that's left of what had used to be,
Marking the place, and bringing up with tears
The recollections of one's younger years.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (VIII)

But now she's gone:--girls, shun deceitful men,
The worst of stumbles ye can fall agen;
Be deaf to them, and then, as twere, ye'll see
Your pleasures safe as under lock and key.
Throw not my words away, as many do;
They're gold in value, though they're cheap to you.
And husseys hearken, and be warned from this,
If ye love mothers, never do amiss:
Jane might love hers, but she forsook the plan
To make her happy, when she thought of man.
Poor tottering dame, it was too plainly known,
Her daughter's dying hastened on her own,
For from the day the tidings reached her door
She took to bed and looked up no more,
And, ere again another year came round,
She, well as Jane, was laid within the ground;
And all were grieved poor Goody's end to see:
No better neighbour entered house than she,
A harmless soul, with no abusive tongue,
Trig as new pins, and tight's the day was long;
And go the week about, nine times in ten
Ye'd find her house as cleanly as her sen.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (VII)

A melancholy story, far too true;
And soon the village to the pasture flew,
Where, from the deepest hole the pond about,
They dragged poor Jenny's lifeless body out,
And took her home, where scarce an hour gone by
She had been living like to you and I.
I went with more, and kissed her for the last,
And thought with tears on pleasures that were past;
And, the last kindness left me then to do,
I went, at milking, where the blossoms grew,
And handfuls got of rose and lambtoe sweet,
And put them with her in her winding-sheet.
A wilful murder, jury made the crime;
Nor parson 'lowed to pray, nor bell to chime;
On the cross roads, far from her friends and kin,
The usual law for their ungodly sin
Who violent hands upon themselves have laid,
Poor Jane's last bed unchristian-like was made;
And there, like all whose last thoughts turn to heaven,
She sleeps, and doubtless hoped to be forgiven.
But, though I say't, for maids thus veigled in
I think the wicked men deserve the sin;
And sure enough we all at last shall see
The treachery punished as it ought to be.
For ere his wickedness pretended love,
Jane, I'll be bound, was spotless as the dove,
And's good a servant, still old folks allow,
As ever scoured a pail or milked a cow;
And ere he led her into ruin's way,
As gay and buxom as a summer's day:
The birds that ranted in the hedge-row boughs,
As night and morning we have sought our cows,
With yokes and buckets as she bounced along,
Were often deafed to silence with her song.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (VI)

"So, as I said, next morn I heard the bell,
And passing neighbours crossed the street, to tell
That my poor partner Jenny had been found
In the old flag-pool, on the pasture, drowned.
God knows my heart! I twittered like a leaf,
And found too late the cause of Sunday's grief;
For every tongue was loosed to gabble oer
The slanderous things that secret passed before:
With truth or lies they need not then be strict,
The one they railed at could not contradict.
Twas now no secret of her being beguiled,
For every mouth knew Jenny died with child;
And though more cautious with a living name,
Each more than guessed her master bore the blame.
That very morning, it affects me still,
Ye know the foot-path sidles down the hill,
Ignorant as babe unborn I passed the pond
To milk as usual in our close beyond,
And cows were drinking at the water's edge,
And horses browsed among the flags and sedge,
And gnats and midges danced the water oer,
Just as I've marked them scores of times before,
And birds sat singing, as in mornings gone,--
While I as unconcerned went soodling on,
But little dreaming, as the wakening wind
Flapped the broad ash-leaves oer the pond reclin'd,
And oer the water crinked the curdled wave,
That Jane was sleeping in her watery grave.
The neatherd boy that used to tend the cows,
While getting whip-sticks from the dangling boughs
Of osiers drooping by the water-side,
Her bonnet floating on the top espied;
He knew it well, and hastened fearful down
To take the terror of his fears to town,--

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (V)

The cowslip blossom, with its ruddy streak,
Would tempt her furlongs from the path to seek;
And gay long purple, with its tufty spike,
She'd wade oer shoes to reach it in the dyke;
And oft, while scratching through the briary woods
For tempting cuckoo-flowers and violet buds,
Poor Jane, I've known her crying sneak to town,
Fearing her mother, when she'd torn her gown.
Ah, these were days her conscience viewed with pain,
Which all are loth to lose, as well as Jane.
And, what I took more odd than all the rest,
Was, that same night she neer a wish exprest
To see the gipsies, so beloved before,
That lay a stone's throw from us on the moor:
I hinted it; she just replied again--
She once believed them, but had doubts since then.
And when we sought our cows, I called, "Come mull!"
But she stood silent, for her heart was full.
She loved dumb things: and ere she had begun
To milk, caressed them more than eer she'd done;
But though her tears stood watering in her eye,
I little took it as her last good-bye;
For she was tender, and I've often known
Her mourn when beetles have been trampled on:
So I neer dreamed from this, what soon befell,
Till the next morning rang her passing-bell.
My story's long, but time's in plenty yet,
Since the black clouds betoken nought but wet;
And I'll een snatch a minute's breath or two,
And take another pinch, to help me through.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (IV)

Poor thoughtless wench! it seems but Sunday past
Since we went out together for the last,
And plain enough indeed it was to find
She'd something more than common on her mind;
For she was always fond and full of chat,
In passing harmless jokes bout beaus and that,
But nothing then was scarcely talked about,
And what there was, I even forced it out.
A gloomy wanness spoiled her rosy cheek,
And doubts hung there it was not mine to seek;
She neer so much as mentioned things to come,
But sighed oer pleasures ere she left her home;
And now and then a mournful smile would raise
At freaks repeated of our younger days,
Which I brought up, while passing spots of ground
Where we, when children, "hurly-burlied" round,
Or "blindman-buffed" some morts of hours away--
Two games, poor thing, Jane dearly loved to play.
She smiled at these, but shook her head and sighed
When eer she thought my look was turned aside;
Nor turned she round, as was her former way,
To praise the thorn, white over then with May;
Nor stooped once, though thousands round her grew,
To pull a cowslip as she used to do:
For Jane in flowers delighted from a child--
I like the garden, but she loved the wild--
And oft on Sundays young men's gifts declined,
Posies from gardens of the sweetest kind,
And eager scrambled the dog-rose to get,
And woodbine-flowers at every bush she met.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (III)

So out we went:--Jane's place was reckoned good,
Though she bout life but little understood,
And had a master wild as wild can be,
And far unfit for such a child as she;
And soon the whisper went about the town,
That Jane's good looks procured her many a gown
From him, whose promise was to every one,
But whose intention was to wive with none.
Twas nought to wonder, though begun by guess;
For Jane was lovely in her Sunday dress,
And all expected such a rosy face
Would be her ruin--as was just the case.
The while the change was easily perceived,
Some months went by, ere I the tales believed;
For there are people nowadays, Lord knows,
Will sooner hatch up lies than mend their clothes;
And when with such-like tattle they begin,
Don't mind whose character they spoil a pin:
But passing neighbours often marked them smile,
And watched him take her milkpail oer a stile;
And many a time, as wandering closer by,
From Jenny's bosom met a heavy sigh;
And often marked her, as discoursing deep,
When doubts might rise to give just cause to weep,
Smothering their notice, by a wished disguise
To slive her apron corner to her eyes.
Such signs were mournful and alarming things,
And far more weighty than conjecture brings;
Though foes made double what they heard of all,
Swore lies as proofs, and prophesied her fall.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (III)

So out we went:--Jane's place was reckoned good,
Though she bout life but little understood,
And had a master wild as wild can be,
And far unfit for such a child as she;
And soon the whisper went about the town,
That Jane's good looks procured her many a gown
From him, whose promise was to every one,
But whose intention was to wive with none.
Twas nought to wonder, though begun by guess;
For Jane was lovely in her Sunday dress,
And all expected such a rosy face
Would be her ruin--as was just the case.
The while the change was easily perceived,
Some months went by, ere I the tales believed;
For there are people nowadays, Lord knows,
Will sooner hatch up lies than mend their clothes;
And when with such-like tattle they begin,
Don't mind whose character they spoil a pin:
But passing neighbours often marked them smile,
And watched him take her milkpail oer a stile;
And many a time, as wandering closer by,
From Jenny's bosom met a heavy sigh;
And often marked her, as discoursing deep,
When doubts might rise to give just cause to weep,
Smothering their notice, by a wished disguise
To slive her apron corner to her eyes.
Such signs were mournful and alarming things,
And far more weighty than conjecture brings;
Though foes made double what they heard of all,
Swore lies as proofs, and prophesied her fall.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (II)

“Now wenches listen, and let lovers lie,
Ye'll hear a story ye may profit by;
I'm your age treble, with some oddments to't,
And right from wrong can tell, if ye'll but do't:
Ye need not giggle underneath your hat,
Mine's no joke-matter, let me tell you that;
So keep ye quiet till my story's told,
And don't despise your betters cause they're old.”

“That grave ye've heard of, where the four roads meet,
Where walks the spirit in a winding-sheet,
Oft seen at night, by strangers passing late,
And tarrying neighbours that at market wait,
Stalking along as white as driven snow,
And long as one's shadow when the sun is low;
The girl that's buried there I knew her well,
And her whole history, if ye'll hark, can tell.
Her name was Jane, and neighbour's children we,
And old companions once, as ye may be;
And like to you, on Sundays often strolled
To gipsies' camps to have our fortunes told;
And oft, God rest her, in the fortune-book
Which we at hay-time in our pockets took,
Our pins at blindfold on the wheel we stuck,
When hers would always prick the worst of luck;
For try, poor thing, as often as she might,
Her point would always on the blank alight;
Which plainly shows the fortune one's to have,
As such like go unwedded to the grave,--
And so it proved.--The next succeeding May,
We both to service went from sports and play,
Though in the village still; as friends and kin
Thought neighbour's service better to begin.

The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story (I)

Stopt by the storm, that long in sullen black
From the south-west stained its encroaching track,
Haymakers, hustling from the rain to hide,
Sought the grey willows by the pasture-side;
And there, while big drops bow the grassy stems,
And bleb the withering hay with pearly gems,
Dimple the brook, and patter in the leaves,
The song or tale an hour's restraint relieves.
And while the old dames gossip at their ease,
And pinch the snuff-box empty by degrees,
The young ones join in love's delightful themes,
Truths told by gipsies, and expounded dreams;
And mutter things kept secrets from the rest,
As sweethearts' names, and whom they love the best;
And dazzling ribbons they delight to show,
And last new favours of some veigling beau,
Who with such treachery tries their hearts to move,
And, like the highest, bribes the maidens' love.
The old dames, jealous of their whispered praise,
Throw in their hints of man's deluding ways;
And one, to give her counsels more effect,
And by example illustrate the fact
Of innocence oercome by flattering man,
Thrice tapped her box, and pinched, and thus began.

The Tramp

He eats (a moment's stoppage to his song)
The stolen turnip as he goes along;
And hops along and heeds with careless eye
The passing crowded stage coach reeling bye.
He talks to none but wends his silent way,
And finds a hovel at the close of day,
Or under any hedge his house is made.
He has no calling and he owns no trade.
An old smoaked blanket arches oer his head,
A whisp of straw or stubble makes his bed.
He knows a lawless law that claims no kin
But meet and plunder on and feel no sin—
No matter where they go or where they dwell
They dally with the winds and laugh at hell.

And yet another "Autumn" poem:

The thistle-down's flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we're eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

The Shepherd's Calendar


The village sleeps in mist from morn till noon
And if the sun wades thro tis wi a face
Beamless and pale and round as if the moon
When done the journey of its nightly race
Had found him sleeping and supplyd his place
For days the shepherds in the fields may be
Nor mark a patch of sky-blindfold they trace
The plains that seem wi out a bush or tree
Whistling aloud by guess to flocks they cannot see

The timid hare seems half its fears to loose
Crouching and sleeping neath its grassy
And scarely startles tho the shepherd goes
Close by its home and dogs are barking there
The wild colt only turns around to stare
At passers bye then naps his hide again
And moody crows beside the road forbeer
To flye tho pelted by the passing swain
Thus day seems turned to night and trys to wake in vain

The Owlet leaves her hiding place at noon
And flaps her grey wings in the doubting light
The hoarse jay screams to see her out so soon
And small birds chirp and startle with affright
Much doth it scare the superstitious white
Who dreams of sorry luck and sore dismay
While cow boys think the day a dream of night
And oft grow fearful on their lonly way
Who fancy ghosts may wake and leave their graves byday

Sabbath Walks

Upon the sabbath, sweet it is to walk
'Neath wood-side shelter of oak's spreading tree,
Or by a hedge-row track, or padded balk;
Or stretch 'neath willows on the meadow lea,
List'ning, delighted, hum of passing bee,
And curious pausing on the blossom's head;
And mark the spider at his labour free,
Spinning from bent to bent his silken thread;
And lab'ring ants, by careful nature led
To make the most of summer's plenteous stay;
And lady-cow, beneath its leafy shed,
Call'd, when I mix'd with children, "clock-a-clay,"
Pruning its red wings on its pleasing bed,
Glad like myself to shun the heat of day.

The Maid of Ocram (Final)

He sought her east, he sought her west,
He sought through park and plain;
He sought her where she might have been
But found her not again.
I cannot curse thee, mother,
Though thine's the blame, said he
I cannot curse thee, mother,
Though thou'st done worse to me.
Yet do I curse thy pride that aye
So tauntingly aspires;
For my love was a gay knight's heir,
And my father was a squire's.

And I will sell my park and hall;
And if ye wed again
Ye shall not wed for titles twice
That made ye once so vain.
So if ye will wed, wed for love,
As I was fain to do;
Ye've gave to me a broken heart,
And I'll give nought to you.

Your pride has wronged your own heart's blood;
For she was mine by grace,
And now my lady love is gone
None else shall take her place.
I'll sell my park and sell my hall
And sink my titles too.
Your pride's done wrong enough as now
To leave it more to do.

She owneth none that owned them all
And would have graced them well;
None else shall take the right she missed
Nor in my bosom dwell.--
And then he took and burnt his will
Before his mother's face,
And tore his patents all in two,
While tears fell down apace--
But in his mother's haughty look
Ye nought but frowns might trace.

And then he sat him down to grieve,
But could not sit for pain.
And then he laid him on the bed
And ne'er got up again.

The Maid of Ocram (IV)

And must none close my dying feet,
And must none close my hands,
And will none do the last kind deeds
That death for all demands?—
Your sister, she may close your feet,
Your brother close your hands,
Your mother, she may wrap your waist
In death's fit wedding bands;
Your father, he may tie your locks
And lay you in the sands.—

My sister, she will weep in vain,
My brother ride and run,
My mother, she will break her heart;
And ere the rising sun
My father will be looking out—
But find me they will none.
I go to lay my woes to rest,
None shall know where I'm gone.
God must be friend and father both,
Lord Gregory will be none.—

Lord Gregory started up from sleep
And thought he heard a voice
That screamed full dreadful in his ear,
And once and twice and thrice.
Lord Gregory to his mother called:
O mother dear, said he,
I've dreamt the Maid of Ocram
Was floating on the sea.

Lie still, my son, the mother said,
Tis but a little space
And half an hour has scarcely passed
Since she did pass this place.—
O cruel, cruel mother,
When she did pass so nigh
How could you let me sleep so sound
Or let her wander bye?
Now if she's lost my heart must break—
I'll seek her till I die.

The Maid of Ocram (III)

O ask me no more tokens
For fast the snow doth fall.
Tis sad to strive and speak in vain,
You mean to break them all.--
If you are the Maid of Ocram,
As I take you not to be,
You must mention the third token
That passed with you and me.--

Twas when you stole my maidenhead;
That grieves me worst of all.--
Begone, you lying creature, then
This instant from my hall,
Or you and your vile baby
Shall in the deep sea fall;
For I have none on earth as yet
That may me father call.--

O must none close my dying feet,
And must none close my hands,
And may none bind my yellow locks
As death for all demands?
You need not use no force at all,
Your hard heart breaks the vow;
You've had your wish against my will
And you shall have it now.

The Maid of Ocram (II)

O pause not thus, you know me well,
Haste down my way to win.
The wind disturbs my yellow locks,
The snow sleeps on my skin.—
If you be the Maid of Ocram,
As much I doubt you be,
Then tell me of three tokens
That passed with you and me.—

O talk not now of tokens
Which you do wish to break;
Chilled are those lips you've kissed so warm,
And all too numbed to speak.
You know when in my father's bower
You left your cloak for mine,
Though yours was nought but silver twist
And mine the golden twine.—

If you're the lass of Ocram,
As I take you not to be,
The second token you must tell
Which past with you and me.—
O know you not, O know you not
Twas in my father's park,
You led me out a mile too far
And courted in the dark?

When you did change your ring for mine
My yielding heart to win,
Though mine was of the beaten gold
Yours but of burnished tin,
Though mine was all true love without,
Yours but false love within?

The Maid Of Ocram or, Lord Gregory

Over the next week a longer narrative poem from Clare's
early work, "The Maid of Ocram or, Lord Gregory"

Gay was the Maid of Ocram
As lady eer might be
Ere she did venture past a maid
To love Lord Gregory.
Fair was the Maid of Ocram
And shining like the sun
Ere her bower key was turned on two
Where bride bed lay for none.

And late at night she sought her love--
The snow slept on her skin--
Get up, she cried, thou false young man,
And let thy true love in.
And fain would he have loosed the key
All for his true love's sake,
But Lord Gregory then was fast asleep,
His mother wide awake.

And up she threw the window sash,
And out her head put she:
And who is that which knocks so late
And taunts so loud to me?
It is the Maid of Ocram,
Your own heart's next akin;
For so you've sworn, Lord Gregory,
To come and let me in.

Mary Bayfield

How beautiful the summer night
When birds roost on the mossy tree,
When moon and stars are shining bright
And home has gone the weary bee!
Then Mary Bayfield seeks the glen,
The white hawthorn and grey oak tree,
And nought but heaven can tell me then
How dear thy beauty is to me.

Dear is the dewdrop to the flower,
The old wall to the weary bee,
And silence to the evening hour,
And ivy to the stooping tree.
Dearer than these, than all beside,
Than blossoms to the moss-rose tree,
The maid who wanders by my side--
Sweet Mary Bayfield is to me.

Sweet is the moonlight on the tree,
The stars above the glassy lake,
That from the bottom look at me
Through shadows of the crimping brake.
Such are sweet things--but sweeter still
Than these and all beside I see
The maid whose look my heart can thrill,
My Mary Bayfield's look to me.

O Mary with the dark brown hair,
The rosy cheek, the beaming eye,
I would thy shade were ever near;
Then would I never grieve or sigh.
I love thee, Mary dearly love--
There's nought so fair on earth I see,
There's nought so dear in heaven above,
As Mary Bayfield is to me.

To an Angry Bee

Malicious insect, little vengeful bee,
With venom-sting thou'rt whirling round and round
A harmless head that ne'er meant wrong to thee,
And friendship's hand it is thou'dst wish to wound:
Cool thy revenge, and judge thy foes aright;
The harden'd neatherd and the sweet-tooth'd boy -
Thy moss-wrapp'd treasures, if but in their sight,
Soon would they all thy honey'd lives destroy:
But delve the cowslip-peep in labour free,
And dread no pilferer of thy hoards in me. -
Thus man to man oft takes a friend for foe,
And spurns a blessing when its in his power,
Mistakes real happiness for worldly woe,
Crops sorrow's weed, and treads on pleasure's flower.


And yet another of Clare's 'autumn' poems:

The thistle-down's flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we're eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.


... another of John's Autumn poems:

Autumn comes laden with her ripened load
Of fruitage and so scatters them abroad
That each fern-smothered heath and mole-hill waste
Are black with bramble berries--where in haste
The chubby urchins from the village hie
To feast them there, stained with the purple dye;
While painted woods around my rambles be
In draperies worthy of eternity.
Yet will the leaves soon patter on the ground,
And death's deaf voice awake at every sound:
One drops--then others--and the last that fell
Rings for those left behind their passing bell.
Thus memory every where her tidings brings
How sad death robs us of life's dearest things.

Excerpt from "The Village Minstrel"

Swamps of wild rush-beds and sloughs' squashy traces,
Grounds of rough fallows with thistle and weed.
Flats and low valleys of kingcups and daisies,
Sweetest of subjects are ye for my reed:
Ye commons left free in the rude rags of nature,
Ye brown heaths beclothed in furze as ye be,
My wild eye in rapture adores every feature,
Ye are dear as this heart in my bosom to me.

O native endearments! I would not forsake ye,
I would not forsake ye for sweetest of scenes:
For sweetest of gardens that Nature could make me
I would not forsake ye, dear valleys and greens:
Though Nature ne'er dropped ye a cloud-resting mountain,
Nor waterfalls tumble their music so free,
Had Nature denied ye a bush, tree, or fountain,
Ye still had been loved as an Eden by me.

A Confession of Faith

My creed may be different from other creeds, but the difference is nothing when the end is the same. If I did not expect and hope for eternal happiness I should be ever miserable; and as every religion is a rule leading to good by its professor, the religions of all nations and creeds, where that end is the aim, ought rather to be respected than scoffed at. A final judgment of men by their deeds and actions in life is inevitable, and the only difference between an earthly assize and the eternal one is, that the final one needs no counsellors to paint the bad or good better or worse than they are. The Judge knows the hearts of all men, and the sentence may be expected to be just as well as final, whether it be for the worst or the best. This ought to teach us to pause and think, and try to lead our lives as well as we can.

John Clare - Prose Fragments


One gloomy eve I roamed about
Neath Oxey's hazel bowers,
While timid hares were darting out,
To crop the dewy flowers;
And soothing was the scene to me,
Right pleased was my soul,
My breast was calm as summer's sea
When waves forget to roll.

But short was even's placid smile,
My startled soul to charm,
When Nelly lightly skipt the stile,
With milk-pail on her arm:
One careless look on me she flung,
As bright as parting day;
And like a hawk from covert sprung,
It pounced my peace away.


From a look at John's ladies, it's back to his
view of the seasons on this sunny November day
in England.

I love the fitful gust that shakes
The casement all the day,
And from the glossy elm tree takes
The faded leaves away,
Twirling them by the window pane
With thousand others down the lane.

I love to see the shaking twig
Dance till the shut of eve,
The sparrow on the cottage rig,
Whose chirp would make believe
That Spring was just now flirting by,
In Summer's lap with flowers to lie.

I love to see the cottage smoke
Curl upwards through the trees,
The pigeons nestled round the cote
On November days like these;
The cock upon the dunghill crowing,
The mill sails on the heath a-going.

The feather from the raven's breast
Falls on the stubble lea,
The acorns near the old crow's nest
Drop pattering down the tree;
The grunting pigs, that wait for all,
Scramble and hurry where they fall.

The Lass With the Delicate Air

Timid and smiling, beautiful and shy,
She drops her head at every passer bye.
Afraid of praise she hurries down the streets
And turns away from every smile she meets.
The forward clown has many things to say
And holds her by the gown to make her stay,
The picture of good health she goes along,
Hale as the morn and happy as her song.
Yet there is one who never feels a fear
To whisper pleasing fancies in her ear;
Yet een from him she shuns a rude embrace,
And stooping holds her hands before her face,--
She even shuns and fears the bolder wind,
And holds her shawl, and often looks behind.

My Bonny Alice and her Pitcher

There's a bonny place in Scotland,
Where a little spring is found;
There Nature shows her honest face
The whole year round.
Where the whitethorn branches, full of may,
Hung near the fountain's rim,
Where comes sweet Alice every day
And dips her pitcher in;
A gallon pitcher without ear,
She fills it with the water clear.

My bonny Alice she is fair;
There's no such other to be found.
Her rosy cheek and dark brown hair—
The fairest maid on Scotland's ground.
And there the heather's pinhead flowers
All blossom over bank and brae,
While Alice passes by the bowers
To fill her pitcher every day;
The pitcher brown without an ear
She dips into the fountain clear.

O Alice, bonny, sweet, and fair,
With roses on her cheeks!
The little birds come drinking there,
The throstle almost speaks.
He dips his wings and wimples makes
Upon the fountain clear,
Then vanishes among the brakes
For ever singing near;
While Alice, listening, stands to hear,
And dips her pitcher without ear.

O Alice, bonny Alice, fair,
Thy pleasant face I love;
Thy red-rose cheek, thy dark brown hair,
Thy soft eyes, like a dove.
I see thee by the fountain stand,
With the sweet smiling face;
There's not a maid in all the land
With such bewitching grace
As Alice, who is drawing near,
To dip the pitcher without ear.

Young Jenny

The cockchafer hums down the rut-rifted lane
Where the wild roses hang and the woodbines entwine,
And the shrill squeaking bat makes his circles again
Round the side of the tavern close by the sign.
The sun is gone down like a wearisome queen,
In curtains the richest that ever were seen.

The dew falls on flowers in a mist of small rain,
And, beating the hedges, low fly the barn owls;
The moon with her horns is just peeping again,
And deep in the forest the dog-badger howls;
In best bib and tucker then wanders my Jane
By the side of the woodbines which grow in the lane.

On a sweet eventide I walk by her side;
In green hoods the daisies have shut up their eyes.
Young Jenny is handsome without any pride;
Her eyes (O how bright!) have the hue of the skies.
O 'tis pleasant to walk by the side of my Jane
At the close of the day, down the mossy green lane.

We stand by the brook, by the gate, and the stile,
While the even star hangs out his lamp in the sky;
And on her calm face dwells a sweet sunny smile,
While her soul fondly speaks through the light of her eye.
Sweet are the moments while waiting for Jane;
'T is her footsteps I hear coming down the green lane.

Lassie, I Love Thee

Lassie, I love thee!
The heavens above thee
Look downwards to move thee,
And prove my love true.
My arms round thy waist, love,
My head on thy breast, love;
By a true man caressed love,
Ne'er bid me adieu.

Thy cheek's full o' blushes,
Like the rose in the bushes,
While my love ardent gushes
With over delight.
Though clouds may come o'er thee,
Sweet maid, I'll adore thee,
As I do now before thee:
I love thee outright.

It stings me to madness
To see thee all gladness,
While I'm full of sadness
Thy meaning to guess.
Thy gown is deep blue, love,
In honour of true love:
Ever thinking of you, love,
My love I'll confess.

My love ever showing,
Thy heart worth the knowing,
It is like the sun glowing,
And hid in thy breast.
Thy lover behold me;
To my bosom I'll fold thee,
For thou, love, thou'st just told me,
So here thou may'st rest.

To Isabel

Arise, my Isabel, arise!
The sun shoots forth his early ray,
The hue of love is in the skies,
The birds are singing, come away!
O come, my Isabella, come,
With inky tendrils hanging low;
Thy cheeks like roses just in bloom,
That in the healthy Summer glow.

That eye it turns the world away
From wanton sport and recklessness;
That eye beams with a cheerful ray,
And smiles propitiously to bless.
O come, my Isabella, dear!
O come, and fill these longing arms!
Come, let me see thy beauty here,
And bend in worship o'er thy charms.

O come, my Isabella, love!
My dearest Isabella, come!
Thy heart's affection, let me prove,
And kiss thy beauty in its bloom.
My Isabella, young and fair,
Thou darling of my home and heart,
Come, love, my bosom's truth to share,
And of its being form a part.

I Love Thee, Sweet Mary

I love thee, sweet Mary, but love thee in fear;
Were I but the morning breeze, healthful and airy,
As thou goest a-walking I'd breathe in thine ear,
And whisper and sigh, how I love thee, my Mary!

I wish but to touch thee, but wish it in vain;
Wert thou but a streamlet, a-winding so clearly,
And I little globules of soft dropping rain,
How fond would I press thy white bosom, my Mary!

I would steal a kiss, but I dare not presume;
Wert thou but a rose in thy garden, sweet fairy,
And I a bold bee for to rifle its bloom,
A whole Summer's day would I kiss thee, my Mary!

I long to be with thee, but cannot tell how;
Wert thou but the elder that grows by thy dairy,
And I the blest woodbine to twine on the bough,
I'd embrace thee and cling to thee ever, my Mary!

Peggy's the Lady of the Hall

And will she leave the lowly clowns
For silk and satins gay,
Her woollen aprons and drab gowns
For lady's cold array?
And will she leave the wild hedge rose,
The redbreast and the wren,
And will she leave her Sunday beaus
And milk shed in the glen?
And will she leave her kind friends all
To be the Lady of the Hall?

The cowslips bowed their golden drops,
The white thorn white as sheets;
The lamb agen the old ewe stops,
The wren and robin tweets.
And Peggy took her milk pails still,
And sang her evening song,
To milk her cows on Cowslip Hill
For half the summer long.
But silk and satins rich and rare
Are doomed for Peggy still to wear.

But when the May had turned to haws,
The hedge rose swelled to hips,
Peggy was missed without a cause,
And left us in eclipse.
The shepherd in the hovel milks,
Where builds the little wren,
And Peggy's gone, all clad in silks--
Far from the happy glen,
From dog-rose, woodbine, clover, all
To be the Lady of the Hall.

To a Primrose

According to his friend Octavius Gilchrist -- recorded in the “London Magazine” for January 1820 -- Clare composed the following sonnet “To a Primrose” at the age of sixteen:

Welcome, pale primrose, starting up between
Dead matted leaves of oak and ash, that strew
The every lawn, the wood, and spinney through,
Mid creeping moss and ivy's darker green!
How much thy presence beautifies the ground!
How sweet thy modest, unaffected pride
Glows on the sunny bank and wood's warm side!
And where thy fairy flowers in groups are found
The schoolboy roams enchantedly along,
Plucking the fairest with a rude delight,
While the meek shepherd stops his simple song,
To gaze a moment on the pleasing sight,
O'erjoyed to see the flowers that truly bring
The welcome news of sweet returning Spring.

The Fallen Elm (Final)

No matter--wrong was right and right was wrong,
And freedom's bawl was sanction to the song.
--Such was thy ruin, music-making elm;
The right of freedom was to injure thine:
As thou wert served, so would they overwhelm
In freedom's name the little that is mine.
And there are knaves that brawl for better laws
And cant of tyranny in stronger power
Who glut their vile unsatiated maws
And freedom's birthright from the weak devour.

The Fallen Elm (V)

Thou'st heard the knave supply his canting powers
With wrong's illusions when he wanted friends;
That bawled for shelter when he lived in showers
And when clouds vanished made thy shade amends--
With axe at root he felled thee to the ground
And barked of freedom--O I hate the sound
Time hears its visions speak,--and age sublime
Hath made thee a disciple unto time.
--It grows the cant term of enslaving tools
To wrong another by the name of right;
Thus came enclosure--ruin was its guide,
But freedom's cottage soon was thrust aside
And workhouse prisons raised upon the site.
Een nature's dwellings far away from men,
The common heath, became the spoiler's prey;
The rabbit had not where to make his den
And labour's only cow was drove away.

The Fallen Elm (IV)

What cant assumes, what hypocrites will dare,
Speaks home to truth and shows it what they are.
I see a picture which thy fate displays
And learn a lesson from thy destiny;
Self-interest saw thee stand in freedom's ways--
So thy old shadow must a tyrant be.
Tnou'st heard the knave, abusing those in power,
Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free;
Thou'st sheltered hypocrites in many a shower,
That when in power would never shelter thee.

The Fallen Elm (III)

The children sought thee in thy summer shade
And made their playhouse rings of stick and stone;
The mavis sang and felt himself alone
While in thy leaves his early nest was made.
And I did feel his happiness mine own,
Nought heeding that our friendship was betrayed,
Friend not inanimate - though stocks and stones
There are, and many formed of flesh and bones.
Thou owned a language by which hearts are stirred
Deeper than by a feeling clothed in word,
And speakest now what's known of every tongue,
Language of pity and the force of wrong.

The Fallen Elm (II)

It seasoned comfort to our hearts' desire,
We felt thy kind protection like a friend
And edged our chairs up closer to the fire,
Enjoying comfort that was never penned.
Old favourite tree, thou'st seen time's changes lower,
Though change till now did never injure thee;
For time beheld thee as her sacred dower
And nature claimed thee her domestic tree.
Storms came and shook thee many a weary hour,
Yet stedfast to thy home thy roots have been;
Summers of thirst parched round thy homely bower
Till earth grew iron--still thy leaves were green.

The Fallen Elm (I)

Old elm, that murmured in our chimney top
The sweetest anthem autumn ever made
And into mellow whispering calms would drop
When showers fell on thy many coloured shade
And when dark tempests mimic thunder made--
While darkness came as it would strangle light
With the black tempest of a winter night
That rocked thee like a cradle in thy root--
How did I love to hear the winds upbraid
Thy strength without--while all within was mute.


Autumn comes laden with her ripened load
Of fruitage and so scatters them abroad
That each fern-smothered heath and mole-hill waste
Are black with bramble berries - where in haste
The chubby urchins from the village hie
To feast them there, stained with the purple dye;
While painted woods around my rambles be
In draperies worthy of eternity.
Yet will the leaves soon patter on the ground,
And death's deaf voice awake at every sound:
One drops--then others--and the last that fell
Rings for those left behind their passing bell.
Thus memory every where her tidings brings
How sad death robs us of life's dearest things.

Song's Eternity (II)

Mighty songs that miss decay,
What are they?
Crowds and cities pass away
Like a day.
Books are out and books are read;
What are they?
Years will lay them with the dead -
Sigh, sigh;
Trifles unto nothing wed,
They die.

Dreamers, mark the honey bee;
Mark the tree
Where the blue cap "tootle tee"
Sings a glee
Sung to Adam and to Eve
Here they be.
When floods covered every bough,
Noah's ark
Heard that ballad singing now;
Hark, hark,

"Tootle tootle tootle tee" -
Can it be
Pride and fame must shadows be?
Come and see -
Every season own her own;
Bird and bee
Sing creation's music on;
Nature's glee
Is in every mood and tone

Song's Eternity (I)

What is song's eternity?
Come and see.
Can it noise and bustle be?
Come and see.
Praises sung or praises said
Can it be?
Wait awhile and these are dead--
Sigh, sigh;
Be they high or lowly bred They die.

What is song's eternity?
Come and see.
Melodies of earth and sky,
Here they be.
Song once sung to Adam's ears
Can it be?
Ballads of six thousand years
Thrive, thrive;
Songs awaken with the spheres

The Evening Hours (II)

Pride of the vales, the nightingales
Now charm the oaken grove;
And loud and long, with amorous tongue,
They try to please their love:
And where the rose reviving blows
Upon the swelter'd bower,
I'll take my seat, my love to meet,
And wait th' appointed hour.

And like the bird, whose joy is heard
Now he his love can join,
Who hails so loud the even's shroud,
I'll wait as glad for mine:
As weary bees o'er parched leas
Now meet reviving flowers,
So on her breast I'll sink to rest,
And bless the evening hours.

The Evening Hours (I)

The sultry day it wears away,
And o'er the distant leas
The mist again, in purple stain,
Falls moist on flower and trees:
His home to find, the weary hind
Glad leaves his carts and ploughs;
While maidens fair, with bosoms bare,
Go coolly to their cows.

The red round sun his work has done,
And dropp'd into his bed;
And sweetly shin'd the oaks behind
His curtains fringed with red:
And step by step the night has crept,
And day, as loth, retires;
But clouds, more dark, night's entrance mark.
Till day's last spark expires.

The Firetail's nest

"Tweet" pipes the robin as the cat creeps by
Her nestling young that in the elderns lie,
And then the bluecap tootles in its glee,
Picking the flies from orchard apple tree,
And "pink" the chaffinch cries its well-known strain,
Urging its kind to utter "pink" again,
While in a quiet mood hedgesparrows try
An inward stir of shadowed melody.
Around the rotten tree the firetail mourns
As the old hedger to his toil returns,
Chopping the grain to stop the gap close by
The hole where her blue eggs in safety lie.
Of everything that stirs she dreameth wrong
And pipes her "tweet tut" fears the whole day long.

To John Clare

Well, honest John, how fare you now at home?
The spring is come, and birds are building nests;
The old cock robin to the stye is come,
With olive feathers and its ruddy breast;
And the old cock, with wattles and red comb,
Struts with the hens, and seems to like some best,
Then crows, and looks about for little crumbs,
Swept out by little folks an hour ago;
The pigs sleep in the stye; the bookman comes--
The little boy lets home-close nesting go,
And pockets tops and taws, where daisies bloom,
To look at the new number just laid down,
With lots of pictures, and good stories too,
And Jack the Giant-killer's high renown.

An excerpt from ‘Remembrances’:

Just one of the places that Clare mentions Langley Bush (see previous post)

Summer's pleasures they are gone like to visions every one,
And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on.
I tried to call them back, but unbidden they are gone
Far away from heart and eye and forever far away.
Dear heart, and can it be that such raptures meet decay?
I thought them all eternal when by Langley Bush I lay,
I thought them joys eternal when I used to shout and play
On its bank at “clink and bandy,” “chock” and “taw” and “ducking stone,”
Where silence sitteth now on the wild heath as her own
Like a ruin of the past all alone.

September 29, 1824 (from Clare’s short-lived diary)

Took a walk in the fields: saw an old wood stile taken away from a familiar spot which it had occupied all my life. The posts were overgrown with ivy, and it seemed akin to nature and the spot where it stood, as though it had taken it on lease for an undisturbed existence. It hurt me to see it was gone, for my affections claim a friendship with such things; but nothing is lasting in this world. Last year Langley Bush was destroyed — an old white-thorn that had stood for more than a century, full of fame. The gipsies, shepherds, and herdsmen all had their tales of its history, and it will be long ere its memory is forgotten.

From "The Parish: A Satire"


A thing all consequence here takes the lead,
Reigning knight-errant oer this dirty breed--
A bailiff he, and who so great to brag
Of law and all its terrors as Bumtagg;
Fawning a puppy at his master's side
And frowning like a wolf on all beside;
Who fattens best where sorrow worst appears
And feeds on sad misfortune's bitterest tears?
Such is Bumtagg the bailiff to a hair,
The worshipper and demon of despair,
Who waits and hopes and wishes for success
At every nod and signal of distress,
Happy at heart, when storms begin to boil,
To seek the shipwreck and to share the spoil.
Brave is this Bumtagg, match him if you can;
For there's none like him living--save his man.

As every animal assists his kind
Just so are these in blood and business joined;
Yet both in different colours hide their art,
And each as suits his ends transacts his part.
One keeps the heart-bred villain full in sight,
The other cants and acts the hypocrite,
Smoothing the deed where law sharks set their gin
Like a coy dog to draw misfortune in.
But both will chuckle oer their prisoners' sighs
And are as blest as spiders over flies.
Such is Bumtagg, whose history I resign,
As other knaves wait room to stink and shine;
And, as the meanest knave a dog can brag,
Such is the lurcher that assists Bumtagg.

From "The Parish: A Satire"

The next two days will seem very familiar... Politician vs Farmer. Have we learned nothing in 2 centuries? (But it works both ways)!

In politics and politicians' lies
The modern farmer waxes wondrous wise;
Opinionates with wisdom all compact,
And een could tell a nation how to act;
Throws light on darkness with excessive skill,
Knows who acts well and whose designs are ill,
Proves half the members nought but bribery's tools,
And calls the past a dull dark age of fools.

As wise as Solomon they read the news,
Not with their blind forefathers' simple views,
Who read of wars, and wished that wars would cease,
And blessed the King, and wished his country peace;
Who marked the weight of each fat sheep and ox,
The price of grain and rise and fall of stocks;
Who thought it learning how to buy and sell,
And him a wise man who could manage well.
No, not with such old-fashioned, idle views
Do these newsmongers traffic with the news.
They read of politics and not of grain,
And speechify and comment and explain,
And know so much of Parliament and state
You'd think they're members when you heard them prate;
And know so little of their farms the while
They can but urge a wiser man to smile.

To Anna Three Years Old

My Anna, summer laughs in mirth,
And we will of the party be,
And leave the crickets in the hearth
For green fields' merry minstrelsy.

I see thee now with little hand
Catch at each object passing bye,
The happiest thing in all the land
Except the bee and butterfly.

* * * * *

And limpid brook that leaps along,
Gilt with the summer's burnished gleam,
Will stop thy little tale or song
To gaze upon its crimping stream.

Thou'lt leave my hand with eager speed
The new discovered things to see--
The old pond with its water weed
And danger-daring willow tree,
Who leans an ancient invalid
Oer spots where deepest waters be.

In sudden shout and wild surprise
I hear thy simple wonderment,
As new things meet thy childish eyes
And wake some innocent intent;

As bird or bee or butterfly
Bounds through the crowd of merry leaves
And starts the rapture of thine eye
To run for what it neer achieves.

But thou art on the bed of pain,
So tells each poor forsaken toy.
Ah, could I see that happy hour
When these shall be thy heart's employ,
And see thee toddle oer the plain,
And stoop for flowers, and shout for joy.

Sudden Shower

Black grows the southern sky, betokening rain,
And humming hive-bees homeward hurry bye:
They feel the change; so let us shun the grain,
And take the broad road while our feet are dry.
Ay, there some dropples moistened on my face,
And pattered on my hat--tis coming nigh!
Let's look about, and find a sheltering place.
The little things around, like you and I,
Are hurrying through the grass to shun the shower.
Here stoops an ash-tree--hark! the wind gets high,
But never mind; this ivy, for an hour,
Rain as it may, will keep us dryly here:
That little wren knows well his sheltering bower,
Nor leaves his dry house though we come so near.

Rural Morning (Final)

There they to hunt the luscious fruit delight,
And dabbling keep within their charges' sight;
Oft catching prickly struttles on their rout,
And miller-thumbs and gudgeons driving out,
Hid near the arched brig under many a stone
That from its wall rude passing clowns have thrown.
And while in peace cows eat, and chew their cuds,
Moozing cool sheltered neath the skirting woods,
To double uses they the hours convert,
Turning the toils of labour into sport;
Till morn's long streaking shadows lose their tails,
And cooling winds swoon into faultering gales;
And searching sunbeams warm and sultry creep,
Waking the teazing insects from their sleep;
And dreaded gadflies with their drowsy hum
On the burnt wings of mid-day zephyrs come,--
Urging each lown to leave his sports in fear,
To stop his starting cows that dread the fly;
Droning unwelcome tidings on his ear,
That the sweet peace of rural morn's gone by.

Rural Morning (VI)

Last on the road the cowboy careless swings,
Leading tamed cattle in their tending strings,
With shining tin to keep his dinner warm
Swung at his back, or tucked beneath his arm;
Whose sun-burnt skin, and cheeks chuffed out with fat,
Are dyed as rusty as his napless hat.
And others, driving loose their herds at will,
Are now heard whooping up the pasture-hill;
Peeled sticks they bear of hazel or of ash,
The rib-marked hides of restless cows to thrash.
In sloven garb appears each bawling boy,
As fit and suiting to his rude employ;
His shoes, worn down by many blundering treads,
Oft show the tenants needing safer sheds:
The pithy bunch of unripe nuts to seek,
And crabs sun-reddened with a tempting cheek,
From pasture hedges, daily puts to rack
His tattered clothes, that scarcely screen the back,--
Daubed all about as if besmeared with blood,
Stained with the berries of the brambly wood
That stud the straggling briars as black as jet,
Which, when his cattle lair, he runs to get;
Or smaller kinds, as if beglossed with dew
Shining dim-powdered with a downy blue,
That on weak tendrils lowly creeping grow
Where, choaked in flags and sedges, wandering slow,
The brook purls simmering its declining tide
Down the crooked boundings of the pasture-side.

Rural Morning (V)

And now the blossom of the village view,
With airy hat of straw, and apron blue,
And short-sleeved gown, that half to guess reveals
By fine-turned arms what beauty it conceals;
Whose cheeks health flushes with as sweet a red
As that which stripes the woodbine oer her head;
Deeply she blushes on her morn's employ,
To prove the fondness of some passing boy,
Who, with a smile that thrills her soul to view,
Holds the gate open till she passes through,
While turning nods beck thanks for kindness done,
And looks -- if looks could speak-proclaim her won.
With well-scoured buckets on proceeds the maid,
And drives her cows to milk beneath the shade,
Where scarce a sunbeam to molest her steals --
Sweet as the thyme that blossoms where she kneels;
And there oft scares the cooing amorous dove
With her own favoured melodies of love.
Snugly retired in yet dew-laden bowers,
This sweetest specimen of rural flowers
Displays, red glowing in the morning wind,
The powers of health and nature when combined.

Rural Morning (IV)

And lowing steers that hollow echoes wake
Around the yard, their nightly fast to break,
As from each barn the lumping flail rebounds
In mingling concert with the rural sounds;
While oer the distant fields more faintly creep
The murmuring bleatings of unfolding sheep,
And ploughman's callings that more hoarse proceed
Where industry still urges labour's speed,
The bellowing of cows with udders full
That wait the welcome halloo of "come mull,"
And rumbling waggons deafening again,
Rousing the dust along the narrow lane,
And cracking whips, and shepherd's hooting cries,
From woodland echoes urging sharp replies.
Hodge, in his waggon, marks the wondrous tongue,
And talks with echo as he drives along;
Still cracks his whip, bawls every horse's name,
And echo still as ready bawls the same:
The puzzling mystery he would gladly cheat,
And fain would utter what it can't repeat,
Till speedless trials prove the doubted elf
As skilled in noise and sounds as Hodge himself;
And, quite convinced with the proofs it gives,
The boy drives on and fancies echo lives,
Like some wood-fiend that frights benighted men,
The troubling spirit of a robber's den.

Rural Morning (III)

And now, when toil and summer's in its prime,
In every vill, at morning's earliest time,
To early-risers many a Hodge is seen,
And many a Dob's heard clattering oer the green.
Now straying beams from day's unclosing eye
In copper-coloured patches flush the sky,
And from night's prison strugglingly encroach,
To bring the summons of warm day's approach,
Till, slowly mounting oer the ridge of clouds
That yet half shows his face, and half enshrouds,
The unfettered sun takes his unbounded reign
And wakes all life to noise and toil again:
And while his opening mellows oer the scenes
Of wood and field their many mingling greens,
Industry's bustling din once more devours
The soothing peace of morning's early hours:
The grunt of hogs freed from their nightly dens
And constant cacklings of new-laying hens,
And ducks and geese that clamorous joys repeat
The splashing comforts of the pond to meet,
And chirping sparrows dropping from the eaves
For offal kernels that the poultry leaves,
Oft signal-calls of danger chittering high
At skulking cats and dogs approaching nigh.

Rural Morning (II)

With weather-beaten hat of rusty brown,
Stranger to brinks, and often to a crown;
With slop-frock suiting to the ploughman's taste,
Its greasy skirtings twisted round his waist;
And hardened high-lows clenched with nails around,
Clamping defiance oer the stoney ground,
The deadly foes to many a blossomed sprout
That luckless meets him in his morning's rout.
In hobbling speed he roams the pasture round,
Till hunted Dobbin and the rest are found;
Where some, from frequent meddlings of his whip,
Well know their foe, and often try to slip;
While Dobbin, tamed by age and labour, stands
To meet all trouble from his brutish hands,
And patient goes to gate or knowly brake,
The teasing burden of his foe to take;
Who, soon as mounted, with his switching weals,
Puts Dob's best swiftness in his heavy heels,
The toltering bustle of a blundering trot
Which whips and cudgels neer increased a jot,
Though better speed was urged by the clown--
And thus he snorts and jostles to the town.

Rural Morning (I)

During July we read Clare's wonderful "Summer Evening", and met Dick and Doll and a few other residents of Helpstone, including dear old Dob(bin) the cart-horse. Well in early September, we'll look at the same community in the early morning of a late summer's day.

Soon as the twilight through the distant mist
In silver hemmings skirts the purple east,
Ere yet the sun unveils his smiles to view
And dries the morning's chilly robes of dew,
Young Hodge the horse-boy, with a soodly gait,
Slow climbs the stile, or opes the creaky gate,
With willow switch and halter by his side
Prepared for Dobbin, whom he means to ride;
The only tune he knows still whistling oer,
And humming scraps his father sung before,
As "Wantley Dragon," and the "Magic Rose,"
The whole of music that his village knows,
Which wild remembrance, in each little town,
From mouth to mouth through ages handles down.
Onward he jolls, nor can the minstrel-throngs
Entice him once to listen to their songs;
Nor marks he once a blossom on his way;
A senseless lump of animated clay—

To John Milton (II)

Though friendly praise hath but its hour.
And little praise with thee hath been;
The bay may lose its summer flower,
But still its leaves are green;
And thine, whose buds are on the shoot,
Shall only fade to change to fruit.

Fame lives not in the breath of words,
In public praises' hue and cry;
The music of these summer birds
Is silent in a winter sky,
When thine shall live and flourish on,
Oer wrecks where crowds of fames are gone.

The ivy shuns the city wall,
When busy clamorous crowds intrude,
And climbs the desolated hall
In silent solitude;
The time-worn arch, the fallen dome,
Are roots for its eternal home.

The bard his glory neer receives
Where summer's common flowers are seen,
But winter finds it when she leaves
The laurel only green;
And time from that eternal tree,
Shall weave a wreath to honour thee;

A sunny wreath for poets meet,
From Helicon's immortal soil,
Where sacred Time with pilgrim feet
Walks forth to worship, not to spoil,
A wreath which Fame creates and bears,
And deathless genius only heirs.

Nought but thy ashes shall expire;
Thy genius, at thy obsequies,
Shall kindle up its living fire
And light the muse's skies;
Ay, it shall rise, and shine, and be
A sun in song's posterity.

To John Milton (I)

"From his honoured friend, William Davenant"

Poet of mighty power, I fain
Would court the muse that honoured thee,
And, like Elisha's spirit, gain
A part of thy intensity;
And share the mantle which she flung
Around thee, when thy lyre was strung.

Though faction's scorn at first did shun
With coldness thy inspired song,
Though clouds of malice passed thy sun,
They could not hide it long;
Its brightness soon exhaled away
Dank night, and gained eternal day.

The critics' wrath did darkly frown
Upon thy muse's mighty lay;
But blasts that break the blossom down
Do only stir the bay;
And thine shall flourish, green and long,
With the eternity of song.

Thy genius saw, in quiet mood,
Gilt fashion's follies pass thee by,
And, like the monarch of the wood,
Towered oer it to the sky,
Where thou couldst sing of other spheres,
And feel the fame of future years.

Though bitter sneers and stinging scorns
Did throng the muse's dangerous way,
Thy powers were past such little thorns,
They gave thee no dismay;
The scoffer's insult passed thee by,
Thou smild'st and mad'st him no reply.

Envy will gnaw its heart away
To see thy genius gather root;
And as its flowers their sweets display
Scorn's malice shall be mute;
Hornets that summer warmed to fly,
Shall at the death of summer die.

The Gipsy's Camp

How oft on Sundays, when I'd time to tramp,
My rambles led me to a gipsy's camp,
Where the real effigy of midnight hags,
With tawny smoked flesh and tattered rags,
Uncouth-brimmed hat, and weather-beaten cloak,
Neath the wild shelter of a knotty oak,
Along the greensward uniformly pricks
Her pliant bending hazel's arching sticks:
While round-topt bush, or briar-entangled hedge,
Where flag-leaves spring beneath, or ramping sedge,
Keeps off the bothering bustle of the wind,
And give the best retreat she hopes to find.
How oft I've bent me oer her fire and smoke,
To hear her gibberish tale so quaintly spoke,
While the old Sybil forged her boding clack,
Twin imps the meanwhile bawling at her back;
Oft on my hand her magic coin's been struck,
And hoping chink, she talked of morts of luck:
And still, as boyish hopes did first agree,
Mingled with fears to drop the fortune's fee,
I never failed to gain the honours sought,
And Squire and Lord were purchased with a groat.
But as man's unbelieving taste came round,
She furious stampt her shoeless foot aground,
Wiped bye her soot-black hair with clenching fist,
While through her yellow teeth the spittle hist,
Swearing by all her lucky powers of fate,
Which like as footboys on her actions wait,
That fortune's scale should to my sorrow turn,
And I one day the rash neglect should mourn;
That good to bad should change, and I should be
Lost to this world and all eternity;
That poor as Job I should remain unblest:--
(Alas, for fourpence how my die is cast!)
Of not a hoarded farthing be possesst,
And when all's done, be shoved to hell at last!

Two sonnets to Mary (II)

The flower that's gathered beauty soon forsakes;
The bliss grows feeble as we gain the prize;
Love dreams of joy, and in possession wakes,
Scarce time enough to hail it ere it dies:
Life intermingles, with its cares and sighs,
And rapture's dreams are ended. Heavenly flower!
It is not so with thee! Still fancy's power
Throws rainbow halos round thee, and thine eyes,
That once did steal their sapphire blue from even,
Are beaming on; thy cheeks' bewitching dye,
Where partial roses all their blooms had given,
Still in fond memory with the rose can vie;
And thy sweet bosom, which to view was heaven,
No lily yet a fairer hue supplies.

Two sonnets to Mary (I)

I met thee like the morning, though more fair,
And hopes 'gan travel for a glorious day;
And though night met them ere they were aware,
Leading the joyous pilgrims all astray,
Yet know I not, though they did miss their way,
That joyed so much to meet thee, if they are
To blame or bless the fate that bade such be.
Thou seem'dst an angel when I met thee first,
Nor has aught made thee otherwise to me:
Possession has not cloyed my love, nor curst
Fancy's wild visions with reality.
Thou art an angel still; and Hope, awoke
From the fond spell that early raptures nurst,
Still feels a joy to think that spell ne'er broke.

The Ragwort

Ragwort, thou humble flower with tattered leaves
I love to see thee come & litter gold,
What time the summer binds her russet sheaves;
Decking rude spots in beauties manifold,
That without thee were dreary to behold,
Sunburnt and bare-- the meadow bank, the baulk
That leads a wagon-way through mellow fields,
Rich with the tints that harvest's plenty yields,
Browns of all hues; and everywhere I walk
Thy waste of shining blossoms richly shields
The sun tanned sward in splendid hues that burn
So bright & glaring that the very light
Of the rich sunshine doth to paleness turn
& seems but very shadows in thy sight.

The Cottager (Final)

And thus he lives too happy to be poor
While strife neer pauses at so mean a door.
Low in the sheltered valley stands his cot,
He hears the mountain storm and feels it not;
Winter and spring, toil ceasing ere tis dark,
Rests with the lamb and rises with the lark,
Content his helpmate to the day's employ
And care neer comes to steal a single joy.
Time, scarcely noticed, turns his hair to grey,
Yet leaves him happy as a child at play.

The Cottager (VI - Penultimate)

Within his cot the largest ears of corn
He ever found his picture frames adorn:
Brave Granby's head, De Grosse's grand defeat;
He rubs his hands and shows how Rodney beat.
And from the rafters upon strings depend
Beanstalks beset with pods from end to end,
Whose numbers without counting may be seen
Wrote on the almanack behind the screen.
Around the corner up on worsted strung
Pooties in wreaths above the cupboard hung.
Memory at trifling incidents awakes
And there he keeps them for his children's sakes,
Who when as boys searched every sedgy lane,
Traced every wood and shattered clothes again,
Roaming about on rapture's easy wing
To hunt those very pooty shells in spring.

The Cottager (V)

The "Pilgrim's Progress" and the "Death of Abel"
Are seldom missing from his Sunday table,
And prime old Tusser in his homely trim,
The first of bards in all the world with him,
And only poet which his leisure knows;
Verse deals in fancy, so he sticks to prose.
These are the books he reads and reads again
And weekly hunts the almanacks for rain.
Here and no further learning's channels ran;
Still, neighbours prize him as the learned man.
His cottage is a humble place of rest
With one spare room to welcome every guest,
And that tall poplar pointing to the sky
His own hand planted when an idle boy,
It shades his chimney while the singing wind
Hums songs of shelter to his happy mind.

The Cottager (IV)

All words of reverence still his heart reveres,
Low bows his head when Jesus meets his ears,
And still he thinks it blasphemy as well
Such names without a capital to spell.
In an old corner cupboard by the wall
His books are laid, though good, in number small,
His Bible first in place; from worth and age
Whose grandsire's name adorns the title page,
And blank leaves once, now filled with kindred claims,
Display a world's epitome of names.
Parents and children and grandchildren all
Memory's affections in the lists recall.
And prayer-book next, much worn though strongly bound,
Proves him a churchman orthodox and sound.

The Cottager (III)

He deems it sin to sing, yet not to say
A song--a mighty difference in his way.
And many a moving tale in antique rhymes
He has for Christmas and such merry times,
When "Chevy Chase," his masterpiece of song,
Is said so earnest none can think it long.
Twas the old vicar's way who should be right,
For the late vicar was his heart's delight,
And while at church he often shakes his head
To think what sermons the old vicar made,
Downright and orthodox that all the land
Who had their ears to hear might understand,
But now such mighty learning meets his ears
He thinks it Greek or Latin which he hears,
Yet church receives him every sabbath day
And rain or snow he never keeps away.

The Cottager (II)

He goes to market all the year about
And keeps one hour and never stays it out.
Een at St. Thomas tide old Rover's bark
Hails Dapple's trot an hour before it's dark.
He is a simple-worded plain old man
Whose good intents take errors in their plan.
Oft sentimental and with saddened vein
He looks on trifles and bemoans their pain,
And thinks the angler mad, and loudly storms
With emphasis of speech oer murdered worms.
And hunters cruel--pleading with sad care
Pity's petition for the fox and hare,
Yet feels self-satisfaction in his woes
For war's crushed myriads of his slaughtered foes.
He is right scrupulous in one pretext
And wholesale errors swallows in the next.

The Cottager (I)

For the next few days we will be looking at Clare's affectionate portrayal of the reactionary elderly in Helpston in "The Cottager". Living as I do in the country, I find the cottager's attitudes alive and well in 21st Century English Shires.

True as the church clock hand the hour pursues
He plods about his toils and reads the news,
And at the blacksmith's shop his hour will stand
To talk of "Lunun" as a foreign land.
For from his cottage door in peace or strife
He neer went fifty miles in all his life.
His knowledge with old notions still combined
Is twenty years behind the march of mind.
He views new knowledge with suspicious eyes
And thinks it blasphemy to be so wise.
On steam's almighty tales he wondering looks
As witchcraft gleaned from old blackletter books.
Life gave him comfort but denied him wealth,
He toils in quiet and enjoys his health,
He smokes a pipe at night and drinks his beer
And runs no scores on tavern screens to clear.


One gloomy eve I roamed about
Neath Oxey's hazel bowers,
While timid hares were darting out,
To crop the dewy flowers;
And soothing was the scene to me,
Right pleased was my soul,
My breast was calm as summer's sea
When waves forget to roll.
But short was even's placid smile,
My startled soul to charm,
When Nelly lightly skipt the stile,
With milk-pail on her arm:
One careless look on me she flung,
As bright as parting day;
And like a hawk from covert sprung,
It pounced my peace away.


Grasshoppers go in many a thumming spring
And now to stalks of tasseled sow-grass cling,
That shakes and swees awhile, but still keeps straight;
While arching oxeye doubles with his weight.
Next on the cat-tail-grass with farther bound
He springs, that bends until they touch the ground.

September 29, 1824 and 'The Yellowhammer'

Took a walk in the fields: saw an old wood stile taken away from a familiar spot which it had occupied all my life. The posts were overgrown with ivy, and it seemed akin to nature and the spot where it stood, as though it had taken it on lease for an undisturbed existence. It hurt me to see it was gone, for my affections claim a friendship with such things; but nothing is lasting in this world. Last year Langley Bush was destroyed — an old white-thorn that had stood for more than a century, full of fame. The gipsies, shepherds, and herdsmen all had their tales of its history, and it will be long ere its memory is forgotten.

The Yellowhammer

When shall I see the white-thorn leaves agen,
And yellowhammers gathering the dry bents
By the dyke side, on stilly moor or fen,
Feathered with love and nature's good intents?
Rude is the tent this architect invents,
Rural the place, with cart ruts by dyke side.
Dead grass, horse hair, and downy-headed bents
Tied to dead thistles--she doth well provide,
Close to a hill of ants where cowslips bloom
And shed oer meadows far their sweet perfume.
In early spring, when winds blow chilly cold,
The yellowhammer, trailing grass, will come
To fix a place and choose an early home,
With yellow breast and head of solid gold.

A letter from Charles Lamb to Clare

Clare visited Charles Lamb, and received from him the following characteristic letter after his return to Helpstone:—

“India House, 1st Aug. 1822.

Dear Clare, — I thank you heartily for your present. I am an inveterate old Londoner, but while I am among your choice collections I seem to be native to them and free of the country. The quantity of your observation has astonished me. What have most pleased me have been 'Recollections after a Ramble,' and those 'Grongar Hill' kind of pieces in eight-syllable lines, my favourite measure, such as 'Cowper Hill' and 'Solitude.' In some of your story-telling ballads the provincial phrases sometimes startle me. I think you are too profuse with them. In poetry, slang of every kind is to be avoided. There is a rustick Cockneyism as little pleasing as ours of London. Transplant Arcadia to Helpstone. The true rustic style, the Arcadian English, I think is to be found in Shenstone. Would his 'Schoolmistress,' the prettiest of poems, have been better if he had used quite the Goody's own language? Now and then a home rusticism is fresh and startling, but where nothing is gained in expression it is out of tenor. It may make folks smile and stare, but the ungenial coalition of barbarous with refined phrases will prevent you in the end from being so generally tasted as you deserve to be... I think I am indebted to you for a sonnet in the 'London' for August...
Yours sincerely,

Dyke Side

The frog croaks loud, and maidens dare not pass
But fear the noisome toad and shun the grass;
And on the sunny banks they dare not go
Where hissing snakes run to the flood below.
The nuthatch noises loud in wood and wild,
Like women turning skreeking to a child.
The schoolboy hears and brushes through the trees
And runs about till drabbled to the knees.
The old hawk winnows round the old crow's nest;
The schoolboy hears and wonder fills his breast.
He throws his basket down to climb the tree
And wonders what the red blotched eggs can be:
The green woodpecker bounces from the view
And hollos as he buzzes bye "kew kew."


Love, though it is not chill and cold,
But burning like eternal fire,
Is yet not of approaches bold,
Which gay dramatic tastes admire.
Oh timid love, more fond than free,
In daring song is ill pourtrayed,
Where, as in war, the devotee
By valour wins each captive maid;--

Where hearts are prest to hearts in glee,
As they could tell each other's mind;
Where ruby lips are kissed as free,
As flowers are by the summer wind.
No! gentle love, that timid dream,
With hopes and fears at foil and play,
Works like a skiff against the stream,
And thinking most finds least to say.

It lives in blushes and in sighs,
In hopes for which no words are found;
Thoughts dare not speak but in the eyes,
The tongue is left without a sound.
The pert and forward things that dare
Their talk in every maiden's ear,
Feel no more than their shadows there--
Mere things of form, with nought of fear.

True passion, that so burns to plead,
Is timid as the dove's disguise;
Tis for the murder-aiming gleed
To dart at every thing that flies.
True love, it is no daring bird,
But like the little timid wren,
That in the new-leaved thorns of spring
Shrinks farther from the sight of men.

The idol of his musing mind,
The worship of his lonely hour,
Love woos her in the summer wind,
And tells her name to every flower;
But in her sight, no open word
Escapes, his fondness to declare;
The sighs by beauty's magic stirred
Are all that speak his passion there.

The Cellar Door (final)

But the tinker he swore he could beat them all three,
For gi' me a pair of old bellows, says he,
And I'll make them roar out like the wind in a storm
And make them blow fire out of coal hardly warm.
The toper said nothing but wished the quart full
And swore he could toss it all off at a pull.
Have one, said the tinker; but wit was away,
When the bet was to bind him he'd nothing to pay.
And thus in the face of life's sun-and-shower weather
They drank, bragged, and sung, and got merry together.

The sun he went down -- the last gleam from his brow
Flung a smile of repose on the holiday plough;
The glooms they approached, and the dews like a rain
Fell thick and hung pearls on the old sorrel mane
Of the horse that the miller had brought to be shod,
And the morning awoke, saw a sight rather odd --
For a bit of the halter still hung at the door,
Bit through by the horse now at feed on the moor;
And the old tinker's budget lay still in the weather,
While all kept on singing and drinking together.

The Cellar Door (VII)

Till the miller, expecting that all would get loose,
Went to seek him and cursed him outright for a goose;
But he dipt his dry beak in the mug once or twice
And forgot all his passion and toil in a trice.
And the flybitten horse at the old smithy post
Might stamp till his shoes and his legs they were lost.
He sung his old songs and forgot his old mill --
Blow winds high or low, she might rest her at will.
And the cobbler, in spite of his bustle for pelf,
Left the shop all the day to take care of itself.

And the toper who carried his house on his head,
No wife to be teazing, no bairns to be fed,
Would sit out the week or the month or the year
Or a life-time so long as he'd credit for beer.
The ploughman he talked of his skill as divine,
How he could plough thurrows as straight as a line;
And the blacksmith he swore, had he but the command,
He could shoe the king's hunter the best in the land;
And the cobbler declared, was his skill but once seen,
He should soon get an order for shoes from the queen.

The Cellar Door (VI)

So helping a thirsty old friend in his need
Is my duty -- take heart, thou art welcome indeed.
Then the smith with his tools in Sir John made a breach,
And the toper he hiccuped and ended his speech;
And pulled at the quart, till the snob he declared
When he went to drink next that the bottom was bared.
No matter for that, said the toper, and grinned;
I had but a soak and neer rested for wind.
That's the law, said the smith, with a look rather vexed,
But the quart was a forfeit; so pay for the next.

Thus they talked of their skill and their labour till noon
When the sober man's toil was exactly half done,
And there the plough lay -- people hardly could pass
And the horses let loose polished up the short grass
And browsed on the bottle of flags lying there,
By the gipsey's old budget, for mending a chair.
The miller's horse tied to the old smithy door
Stood stamping his feet, by the flies bitten sore,
Awaiting the smith as he wanted a shoe;
And he stampt till another fell off and made two:

The Cellar Door (V)

And now, said the blacksmith, let forfeits come first
For the insult swipes offered, or his hoops I will burst.
Here it is, my old hearties -- Then drink your thirst full,
Said the host, for the stingo is worth a strong pull.
Never fear for your legs if they're broken to-day;
Winds only blow straws, dust, and feathers away.
But the cask that is full, like a giant he lies,
And giants alone can his spirits capsize.
If he lies in the path, though a king's coming bye,
John Barleycorn's mighty and there he will lie.

Then the toper sat down with a hiccup and felt
If he'd still an odd coin in his pocket to melt,
And he made a wry face, for his pocket was bare.
But he laughed and danced up, What, old boy, are you there?
When he felt that a stiver had got to his knee
Through a hole in his fob, and right happy was he.
Says the tinker, I've brawled till no breath I have got
And not met with twopence to purchase a pot.
Says the toper, I've powder to charge a long gun,
And a stiver I've found when I thought I'd got none;

The Cellar Door (IV)

The hogshead rolled forward, the toper fell back,
And the host laughed aloud as his sides they would crack
To see the old tinker's toil make such a gap
In his coat as to rend it from collar to flap.
But the tinker he grumbled and cried Fiddle-dee!
This garment hath been an old tenant with me;
And a needle and thread with a little good skill
When I've leisure will make it stand more weathers still.
Then crack went his breeks from the hip to the knee
With his thrusting -- no matter; for nothing cared he.

So long as Sir John rolled along to the door,
He's a chip of our block, said the blacksmith, and swore;
And as sure as I live to drive nails in a shoe
He shall have at my cost a full pitcher or two.
And the toper he hiccuped -- which hindered an oath --
So long as he'd credit, he'd pitcher them both.
But the host stopt to hint when he'd ordered the dray
Sir Barleycorn's order was purchase and pay.
And now the old knight is imprisoned and ta'en
To waste in the tavern man's cellar again.

The Cellar Door (III)

Sir John in his castle without leave or law
And suck out his blood with a reed or a straw
Ere he'd soak at the swipes -- and he turned him to start,
Till the host for high treason came down a full quart.
Just then passed the dandy and turned up his nose:
They'd fain have him shove, but he looked at his clothes
And nipt his nose closer and twirled his stick round
And simpered, Tis nuisance to lie on the ground.
But Bacchus, he laughed from the old tavern sign,
Saying, Go on, thou shadow, and let the sun shine.

Then again they all tried, and the tinker he swore
That the hogshead had grown twice as heavy or more.
Nay nay, said the toper, and reeled as he spoke,
We're all getting weak, that's the end of the joke.
The ploughman came up and cut short his old tune,
Hallooed "woi" to his horses and though it was June
Said he'd help them an hour ere he'd keep them adry;
Well done, said the blacksmith with hopes running high;
He moves, and, by jingo, success to the plough!
Aye aye, said the cobbler, we'll conquer him now.

The Cellar Door (II)

And my strength for your strength and bar your renown
I'd soon try your spirit by cracking your crown.
And the cobbler he tuckt up his apron and spit
In his hands for a burster -- but devil a bit
Would he move -- so as yet they made nothing of land;
For there lay the knight like a whale in the sand.
Said the tinker: If I could but drink of his vein
I should just be as strong and as stubborn again.
Push along, said the toper, the cellar's adry:
There's nothing to moisten the mouth of a fly.

Says the host, We shall burn out with thirst, he's so big.
There's a cag of small swipes half as sour as a wig.
In such like extremes, why, extremes will come pat;
So let's go and wet all our whistles with that.
Says the gipsey, May I never bottom a chair
If I drink of small swipes while Sir John's lying there.
And the blacksmith he threw off his apron and swore
Small swipes should bemoisten his gullet no more:
Let it out on the floor for the dry cock-a-roach --
And he held up his hammer with threatens to broach

The Cellar Door

For the next week or so we will be entertained by Clare's wonderful picture of Helpston characters who are captives of "John Barleycorn".

By the old tavern door on the causey there lay
A hogshead of stingo just rolled from a dray,
And there stood the blacksmith awaiting a drop
As dry as the cinders that lay in his shop;
And there stood the cobbler as dry as a bun,
Almost crackt like a bucket when left in the sun.
He'd whetted his knife upon pendil and hone
Till he'd not got a spittle to moisten the stone;
So ere he could work -- though he'd lost the whole day --
He must wait the new broach and bemoisten his clay.

The cellar was empty, each barrel was drained
To its dregs -- and Sir John like a rebel remained
In the street -- for removal too powerful and large
For two or three topers to take into charge.
Odd zooks, said a gipsey, with bellows to mend,
Had I strength I would just be for helping a friend
To walk on his legs: but a child in the street
Had as much power as he to put John on his feet.
Then up came the blacksmith: Sir Barley, said he,
I should just like to storm your old tower for a spree;

House or Window Flies

After John Clare on Ants, how about a companion piece on flies:

"These little window dwellers, in cottages and halls, were always entertaining to me; after dancing in the window all day from sunrise to sunset they would sip of the tea, drink of the beer, and eat of the sugar, and be welcome all summer long. They look like things of mind or fairies, and seem pleased or dull as the weather permits. In many clean cottages and genteel houses, they are allowed every liberty to creep, fly, or do as they like; and seldom or ever do wrong. In fact they are the small or dwarfish portion of our own family, and so many fairy familiars that we know and treat as one of ourselves."

The Ants

What wonder strikes the curious, while he views
The black ant's city, by a rotten tree,
Or woodland bank! In ignorance we muse:
Pausing, annoyed, -- we know not what we see,
Such government and thought there seem to be;
Some looking on, and urging some to toil,
Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly:
And what's more wonderful, when big loads foil
One ant or two to carry, quickly then
A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men.
Surely they speak a language whisperingly,
Too fine for us to hear; and sure their ways
Prove they have kings and laws, and that they be
Deformed remnants of the Fairy-days.

A PS for today...

... from Ronald Blythe:

At Helpston … I tried to make out the names of John Clare’s contemporaries; but lichens had drawn a veil over them for the most part. Jean de Santeuil, the hymn-writer, in the third verse of his "Disposer supreme" turns "frail earthen vessels and things of no worth", as Clare often thought of himself, into beings "Like clouds" that are borne about the universe to do God’s will. "They thunder, they lighten, the waters o’erflow."

We strolled around Helpston with umbrellas. A house agent’s board flagged Clare’s birthplace. The price? Near on half a million. And to think that his father relied on a good crop of apples to pay the Michaelmas rent. Next to the sign-board there was a plaque that Edmund Blunden unveiled in 1921. The whole village rocked with hollyhocks.

(Word from Wormingford : Church Times - 30 July 2004)

The Shepherd's Tree

From one tree to another.  I'm sure we all know such wonderful trees as the elm that Clare here immortalises in verse in this early poem:
Huge elm, with rifted trunk all notched and scarred,
  Like to a warrior's destiny! I love
To stretch me often on thy shadowed sward,
  And hear the laugh of summer leaves above;
Or on thy buttressed roots to sit, and lean
  In careless attitude, and there reflect
On times, and deeds, and darings that have been --
  Old castaways, now swallowed in neglect;
While thou art towering in thy strength of heart,
  Stirring the soul to vain imaginings,
In which life's sordid being hath no part.
  The wind of that eternal ditty sings,
Humming of future things, that burn the mind
  To leave some fragment of itself behind.


An indolent youth?

"After I had done with going to school it was proposed that I should be bound apprentice to a shoemaker, but I ratherdisliked this bondage.  I whimpered and turned a sullen eye on every persuasion, till they gave me my will.  A neighbour then offered tolearn me his trade -- to be a stone mason, but I disliked this too... I was then sent for to drive the plough at Woodcroft Castle of Oliver Cromwell memory; though Mrs. Bellairs the mistress was a kind-hearted woman, and though the place was a very good one for living, my mind was set against it from the first; ... one of the disagreeable things was getting up so early in the morning ... and another was getting wetshod ... every morning and night -- for in wet weather the moat used to overflow the cause-way that led to the porch, and as there was but one way to the house we were obliged to wade up to the knees to get in and out... I staid here one month, and then on coming home to my parents they could not persuade me to return.  They now gave up all hopes of doing any good with me and fancied that I should make nothing but a soldier; but luckily in this dilemma a next-door neighbour at the Blue Bell, Francis Gregory, wanted me to drive plough, and as I suited him, he made proposals to hire me for a year--which as it had my consent my parents readily agreed to."


The dewdrops on every blade of grass are so much like silver drops that I am obliged to stoop down as I walk to see if they are pearls, and those sprinkled on the ivy-woven beds of primroses underneath the hazels, whitethorns and maples are so like gold beads that I stooped down to feel if they were hard, but they melted from my finger.  And where the dew lies on the primrose, the violet and whitethorn leaves they are emerald and beryl, yet nothing more than the dews of the morning on the budding leaves; nay, the road grasses are covered with gold and silver beads, and the further we go the brighter they seem to shine, like solid gold and silver.  It is nothing more than the sun's light and shade upon them in the dewy morning; every thorn-point and every bramble-spear has its trembling ornament: till the wind gets a little brisker, and then all is shaken off, and all the shining jewelry passes away into a common spring morning full of budding leaves, primroses, violets, vernal speedwell, bluebell and orchis, and commonplace objects.