Only a day or two away... so an excerpt from Clare's March

The insect world, now sunbeams higher climb,
Oft dream of Spring, and wake before their time:
Bees stroke their little legs across their wings,
And venture short flights where the snow-drop hings
Its silver bell, and winter aconite
Its buttercup-like flowers that shut at night,
With green leaf furling round its cup of gold,
Like tender maiden muffled from the cold:
They sip and find their honey-dreams are vain,
Then feebly hasten to their hives again.
The butterflies, by eager hopes undone,
Glad as a child come out to greet the sun,
Beneath the shadows of a sunny shower
Are lost, nor see to-morrow's April flower.

Clare on the Skylark

Another post on the same day? Well, yes. This morning on my long run turned out to be the day to which I always look forward every year -- the skylarks are 'up' and singing their little hearts out. When they say it is Spring, it is Spring.

Bird of the morn,
When roseate clouds begin
To show the opening dawn
Thou gladly sing'st it in,
And o'er the sweet green fields and happy vales
Thy pleasant song is heard, mixed with the morning gales.

'Tis Spring, My Love, 'Tis Spring

'Tis Spring, my love, 'tis Spring,
And the birds begin to sing:
If 'twas Winter, left alone with you,
Your bonny form and face
Would make a Summer place,
And be the finest flower that ever grew.

'T is Spring, my love, 'tis Spring,
And the hazel catkins hing,
While the snowdrop has its little blebs of dew;
But that's not so white within
As your bosom's hidden skin--
That sweetest of all flowers that ever grew.

The sun arose from bed,
All strewn with roses red,
But the brightest and the loveliest crimson place
Is not so fresh and fair,
Or so sweet beyond compare,
As thy blushing, ever smiling, happy face.

I love Spring's early flowers,
And their bloom in its first hours,
But they never half so bright or lovely seem
As the blithe and happy grace
Of my darling's blushing face,
And the happiness of love's young dream.

The Village Minstrel

Housewives discoursing 'bout their hens and cocks,
Spinning long stories, wearing half the day;
Sad deeds bewailing of the prowling fox;
How in the roost the thief had knav'd his way,
And made their market-profits all a prey.
And other losses too the dames recite,
Of chick, and duck, and gosling gone astray;
All falling prizes to the swooping kite:
And so the story runs both morning, noon, and night.

The Winter's Spring (II)

I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.

It is the foliage of the woods
That winters bring--the dress,
White Easter of the year in bud,
That makes the winter Spring.
The frost and snow his posies bring,
Nature's white spurts of the spring.

The Winter's Spring (I)

THE winter comes; I walk alone,
I want no bird to sing;
To those who keep their hearts their own
The winter is the spring.
No flowers to please--no bees to hum--
The coming spring's already come.

I never want the Christmas rose
To come before its time;
The seasons, each as God bestows,
Are simple and sublime.
I love to see the snowstorm hing;
'Tis but the winter garb of spring.

I never want the grass to bloom:
The snowstorm's best in white.
I love to see the tempest come
And love its piercing light.
The dazzled eyes that love to cling
O'er snow-white meadows sees the spring.

Address to Plenty (excerpt)

I know they are the most well known lines from Address to Plenty, but after the review below I feel it necessary to temper the romantic notions we have of life in the outdoors in the early 19th century as an agricultural labourer.

Toiling in the naked fields,
Where no bush a shelter yields,
Needy Labour dithering stands,
Beats and blows his numbing hands,
And upon the crumping snows
Stamps, in vain, to warm his toes.
Leaves are fled, that once had power
To resist a summer shower;
And the wind so piercing blows,
Winnowing small the drifting snows.

Inspired by the Great Outdoors

I am posting the following review of Ronnie's latest book in its entirety. The review is from the Church Times of 2nd February 2007. Ronnie writes a weekly column for the Church Times, "Word from Wormingford" in which Clare and his writings sometimes figure.

John Whale on the trials and wellsprings of a writer’s life
A Writer’s Day-Book Ronald Blythe
Trent Editions £9.99 (978-1-84233-124-8)

PILGRIMS to distant holy places long ago in search of healing will indeed have found it, Ronald Blythe suggests a touch mischievously: the job will have been done by exercise and fresh air. Several of these pieces (mostly published before in a variety of journals) are about the virtue of being out of doors with your lungs and your eyes open. Especially for the writer, argue Blythe’s examples.

Traherne, 17th-century Herefordshire cleric and mystic, discovered the kingdom of God “via the enchantments of nature”. Coleridge wrote all his best verse in a single year, 1797, at a village near the Somerset coast; the Quantocks, which he stumped to preach in Unitarian chapels, became for him “both a paradise and an oceanic border of terror”.

The three Powys brothers, sons and grandsons of the parsonage, wrote allegorically of the supernatural between the 20th century’s two world wars; at the heart of their work lay “a natural mysticism, that sensuous searching and probing of this life, this earth”.

John Clare, early-19th-century worker of the Northamptonshire soil, qualified as a poet “at the vast university of nature”. The phenomenon above all others in nature that brought him to stillness and contemplation was the bird’s-nest, secret, intimate, vulnerable.

Blythe has a special relation here. He is President of the John Clare Society; he carried a midsummer cushion, a turf stuck with wild flowers, from Wormingford to Westminster Abbey when Clare was commemorated in Poets’ Corner in 1989. “It weighed a ton,” Blythe remembers. (The publishers of this collection have their own Clare link. They are an imprint of Nottingham Trent University, which has a John Clare Lecture Theatre. The copy-editing skills of the new firm need a little honing.)

Though five of the pieces in the book are about Clare, other rural writers have the same sympathetic gaze played on them: Mary Russell Mitford, Francis Kilvert, Ted Hughes. Shrewd things are said, too, about letter-writers and the needs that impel them. This group includes Conrad, Baudelaire, Katherine Mansfield, Pound, Arnold Bennett, and Shaw. Altogether, Blythe’s reader gleans, like Ruth, in a rich field. Ruth’s Boaz was “a mighty man of wealth”; it is stored literary wealth, in particular, that makes a good diarist.

The life of a writer is not represented here as an easy one, even when nourished out of doors. A perceptive reading of another letter-writer, Virginia Woolf, fastens on her increasing difficulty in getting anything except letters down on paper. “This tension”, Blythe observes, “between the compulsion to work, the dread — and even the hatred — of the toil involved, and the fear of having nothing left inside is, of course, a common one to writers, probably the most common.”
It is a tension that, out of modesty and courtesy, is seldom even hinted at in “Word from Wormingford”.

John Whale is a former editor of the Church Times.

The Shepherd's Calendar - February

[Detail from Carry Akroyd’s wonderful linocut illustrating February, from “The Shepherd’s Calendar 2007” published by Carcanet Publications]

A Thaw

Odd hive bees fancying winter oer
And dreaming in their combs of spring
Creeps on the slab beside their door
And strokes its legs upon its wing
While wild ones half asleep are humming
Round snowdrop bells a feeble note
And pigions coo of summer coming
Picking their feathers on the cote

Hens leave their roosts wi cackling calls
To see the barn door free from snow
And cocks flye up the mossy walls
To clap their spangld wings and crow