Peterborough MS A61

John Clare was an assiduous practitioner of the sonnet form at all periods of his poetic career. The sonnets he produced in the last few years before his institutionalisation in 1837, first at High Beech and then in Northampton General Asylum, are of particular interest, since he exploited the inherent brevity of the form to express a simultaneous precision of observation and starkness of vision that he rarely achieved either before or after.

The present volume prints all the sonnets that Clare wrote at Northborough between 1832 and 1837 with the exception of those included in The Midsummer Cushion and The Rural Muse, both available from Carcanet. Northborough Sonnets allows the reader to trace the development of Clare's handling of the form in this period. They constitute fascinating vignettes of rural life in the early nineteenth century and the record of a unique poetic sensibility. They are accompanied by an introduction informative notes, and a glossary of dialect and unfamiliar words.

Sleevenotes to
Northborough Sonnets – (Carcanet 1995)

Lapt up in sacks to shun the rain & wind
& shoes thick clouted with the sticking soil
& sidelings on his horse the careless hind
Rides litherly & singIng to his toil
The boy rides foremost where the sack is gone
& holds [it] with his hands to keep it on
Then splashing down the road in journey slow
Through mire & sludge with cracking whips they go
He lays his jacket with his lunchen bye
& drinks from horses footings when adry
They pass the maiden singing at her cow
& start the lark that roosted by the plough
That sings above them all the live long day
& on they drive & hollow care away

Northborough Sonnets, Page 71

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