Vagabondage in a Native Place

Sometimes I watch a film or read a book, come-to and tell myself, 'But I was there! I heard it, I saw it.' It is a not uncommon experience. It occurs when I read John Clare on the gypsies. He both hobnobbed with them and was fastidious where they were concerned, was prejudiced and unprejudiced at the same time. He wrote many poems about them which envied their lot, their freedom, their women, and one poem which envied them nothing.

The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half-roasted dog squats close and ribs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare.
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
'Tis thus they live- a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.

It is masterly in its realism. Though one observation would not be ours- 'a picture to the place'. Today's Travellers' encampment has swapped the vardo for the mobile home, horses for horse-power and horse-dealing for scrap metal, and is anathema in our twinked countryside. We, the council, intended the Traveller (is 'gypsy' P.C.?- or not? - it is all rather worrying) to just winter on the official site, then push on, not to purchase them and turn them into messy caravan additions to our village. We like the gypsies best at the horse-fairs, when they return to being their colourful selves, painted wagons, fortune tellers, dark-eyed beauties, lively yearlings and all. Appleby Fair is where they should be. No scrap-dealing there.

‘John Clare and the Gypsies’
An excerpt from 'A Writer's Day-Book', by Ronald Blythe,

published by Trent Editions, 2006

(As always, a treat)!

No comments: