From 'A Rhapsody'

[Carry Akroyd’s linocut illustrating April from “The Shepherd’s Calendar 2007” published by Carcanet Publications]

Sweet solitude, what joy to be alone--
In wild, wood-shady dell to stay for hours.
Twould soften hearts if they were hard as stone
To see glad butterflies and smiling flowers.
Tis pleasant in these quiet lonely places,
Where not the voice of man our pleasure mars,
To see the little bees with coal black faces
Gathering sweets from little flowers like stars.

The wind seems calling, though not understood.
A voice is speaking; hark, it louder calls.
It echoes in the far-outstretching wood.
First twas a hum, but now it loudly squalls;
And then the pattering rain begins to fall,
And it is hushed--the fern leaves scarcely shake,
The tottergrass it scarcely stirs at all.
And then the rolling thunder gets awake,
And from black clouds the lightning flashes break.

The sunshine's gone, and now an April evening
Commences with a dim and mackerel sky.
Gold light and woolpacks in the west are leaving,
And leaden streaks their splendid place supply.
Sheep ointment seems to daub the dead-hued sky,
And night shuts up the lightsomeness of day,
All dark and absent as a corpse's eye.
Flower, tree, and bush, like all the shadows grey,
In leaden hues of desolation fade away.

Tis May; and yet the March flower Dandelion
Is still in bloom among the emerald grass,
Shining like guineas with the sun's warm eye on--
We almost think they are gold as we pass,
Or fallen stars in a green sea of grass.
They shine in fields, or waste grounds near the town.
They closed like painter's brush when even was.
At length they turn to nothing else but down,
While the rude winds blow off each shadowy crown.

2 comments:

Joe said...

"Mackerel Sky" - how many times would John Clare have seen/tasted mackerel? Thanks for this page!

Nomad said...

OED describes the adjective 'mackerel-sky' as 'a sky dappled with small white fleecy clouds (cirro-cumulus)'; cites Worlidge, 'Syst. Agric.' (1681), 295, writing "In a fair day, if the sky seem to be dapled with white Clouds, (which they usually term a Mackarel-sky) it usually predicts rain."; also cites R. H. Scott, 'Elem. Meteorol.' (1883), 126, "Small detached rounded masses [of cloud]... like the markings of a mackerel, whence the name 'mackerel sky'."

'Cirro-cumulus' does have a nice round feel to it, but would never do for this poem! Smacks too much scientists, anyhow. I wonder if Mr. Clare would agree that rain usually followed such a sky?