from "Summer Images"

[Image: Carry Akroyd's 'Bendy Lane']

And green lane traverse heedless where it goes
Nought guessing, till some sudden turn espies
Rude battered finger post, that stooping shows
Where the snug mystery lies;
And then a mossy spire, with ivy crown,
Clears up the short surprise,
And shows a peeping town.

I see the wild flowers, in their summer morn
Of beauty, feeding on joy's luscious hours;
The gay convolvulus, wreathing round the thorn,
Agape for honey showers;
And slender kingcup, burnished with the dew
Of morning's early hours,
Like gold yminted new;

And mark by rustic bridge, oer shallow stream,
Cow-tending boy, to toil unreconciled,
Absorbed as in some vagrant summer dream;
Who now, in gestures wild,
Starts dancing to his shadow on the wall,
Feeling self-gratified,
Nor fearing human thrall:

Then thread the sunny valley laced with streams,
Or forests rude, and the oershadowed brims
Of simple ponds, where idle shepherd dreams,
And streaks his listless limbs;
Or trace hay-scented meadows, smooth and long,
Where joy's wild impulse swims
In one continued song.

from "Home Yearnings"

The crows upon the swelling hills,
The cows upon the lea,
Sheep feeding by the pasture rills,
Are ever dear to me,
Because sweet freedom is their mate,
While I am lone and desolate.
I loved the winds when I was young,
When life was dear to me;
I loved the song which Nature sung,
Endearing liberty;
I loved the wood, the vale, the stream,
For there my boyhood used to dream.
There even toil itself was play;
'T was pleasure e'en to weep;
'T was joy to think of dreams by day,
The beautiful of sleep.
When shall I see the wood and plain,
And dream those happy dreams again?

From "The Flitting"

I miss the heath, its yellow furze,
Molehills and rabbit tracks that lead
Through beesom, ling, and teazel burrs
That spread a wilderness indeed;
The woodland oaks and all below
That their white powdered branches shield,
The mossy paths: the very crow
Croaks music in my native field.

I sit me in my corner chair
That seems to feel itself from home,
And hear bird music here and there
From hawthorn hedge and orchard come;
I hear, but all is strange and new:
I sat on my old bench in June,
The sailing puddock's shrill "peelew"
On Royce Wood seemed a sweeter tune.

I walk adown the narrow lane,
The nightingale is singing now,
But like to me she seems at loss
For Royce Wood and its shielding bough.
I lean upon the window sill,
The trees and summer happy seem;
Green, sunny green they shine, but still
My heart goes far away to dream.

The Driving Boy

A thought hit me yesterday... one of those stray ones that arrest you from time to time! Benjamin Britten's Spring Symphony includes lines from Clare:

Spring Symphony Op. 44: Part 1 (4) : The Driving Boy

The texts are boisterous, and include Clare's ‘The Driving Boy’ from ‘May’. Britten's setting of the last lines of the poem are always sung with particular relish:

Cracking his whip in starts of joy
A happy, dirty, driving boy.

The full text from Clare:

The driving boy beside his team
Will oer the may month beauty dream
And cock his hat and turn his eye
On flower and tree and deepning skye
And oft bursts loud in fits of song
And whistles as he reels along
Crack[ing] his whip in starts of joy
A happy dirty driving boy

Midsummer Cushion

Vikki Clayton
Album: Midsummer Cushion (1991)Prestige Records - CDSGP008
Vikki is regarded now almost as 'folk royalty' and is a brilliant acoustic guitarist and wonderful singer. She has recorded regularly for over 15 years and for years has been much in demand on the folk circuit. The Clare album was a real surprise find, and a treat.
01 The Gardeners Bonny Daughter (Clare)
02 Mad Meg (Clare)
03 Dollys Mistake (Clare)
04 Wanton Mary (Trad.)
05 Lucys Lament (Clare)
06 Singing Jenny (Clare)
07 Proud Betsy (Clare)
08 I Love Thee (Clare)
09 The Badger (Clare)
I started to read poetry written by a Georgian poet named John Clare. I was so inspired by these beautiful poems that I was filled with the longing to sing them. When I talked to Gordon Giltrap about this he urged me to make an album. And so Midsummer Cushion was born. It was a wonderful experience to choose the poems and to set them to music. One day I'd like to repeat it. Gordon produced the album for me and if I'm not mistaken it too is a rare find! (But a good investment …)

Summer Evening

The frog half fearful jumps across the path,
And little mouse that leaves its hole at eve
Nimbles with timid dread beneath the swath;
My rustling steps awhile their joys deceive,
Till past, and then the cricket sings more strong,
And grasshoppers in merry moods still wear
The short night weary with their fretting song.
Up from behind the molehill jumps the hare,
Cheat of his chosen bed, and from the bank
The yellowhammer flutters in short fears
From off its nest hid in the grasses rank,
And drops again when no more noise it hears.
Thus nature's human link and endless thrall,
Proud man, still seems the enemy of all.

Summer (A Sonnet)

The oak’s slow-opening leaf, of deepening hue,
Bespeaks the power of Summer once again;
While many a flower unfolds its charms to view,
To glad the entrance of his sultry reign.
Where peep the gaping, speckled cuckoo-flowers,
Sweet is each rural scene she brings to pass;
Prizes to rambling school-boys’ vacant hours,
Tracking wild searches through the meadow grass:
The meadow-sweet taunts high its showy wreath,
And sweet the quaking grasses hide beneath.
Ah, ‘barr’d from all that sweetens life below,
Another Summer still my eyes can see
Freed from the scorn and pilgrimage of woe,
To share the Seasons of Eternity.


[Image: Carry Akroyd's 'At Wicken Fen' (detail)]

As a boy, one of Clare's closest friends explored the country around Helpston with him, as Edmund Blunden comments, "... to the benefit of both". Much later whilst incarcerated in Northampton, he remembers his old friend and dedicates one of his sonnets to him:

Turnill, we toiled together all the day,
And lived like hermits from the boys at play;
We read and walked together round the fields,
Not for the beauty that the journey yields--
But muddied fish, and bragged o'er what we caught,
And talked about the few old books we bought.
Though low in price you knew their value well,
And I thought nothing could their worth excel;
And then we talked of what we wished to buy,
And knowledge always kept our pockets dry.
We went the nearest ways, and hummed a song,
And snatched the pea pods as we went along,
And often stooped for hunger on the way
To eat the sour grass in the meadow hay.

Crazy Nell (III of III)

At that fearful moment, so dreadfully dark,
How welcome the song of the shepherd, or lark;
How cheery to listen, and hear the dog bark,
As though the dark wood she fled fast:
But, horror of horrors, all nature was hush!
Not a sound was there heard – save a blackbird, or thrush,
That, started from sleep, flusker’d out of the bush,
Which her brushing clothes shook as they past.

Fear now truly pictur’d: she ne’er turn’d her head
Either this way or that way – straight forward she fled;
And Fancy, still hearing the horrors with dread,
On faster and fearfuller stole.
The matted leaves rustle – the boughs swiftly part,
Her hands and her face with the brambles did smart;
But, oh! the worst anguish was flet at her hear, -
Ben’s unkindness struck death to her soul.

Now glimmering lighter the forest appears,
And Hope, the sweet comforter, soften’d her fears;
Light and liberty, Darkness! thy horror endears;
Great bliss did the omen impart:
The forest, its end, and its terrors gone by,
She breath’d the free air, and she saw the blue sky;
Her own fields she knew – to her home did she fly,
And great was the joy of her heart.

Oh, prospect endearing! The village to view,
The morn sweet appearing, - and gay the cock crew,
When, mangled by brambles and dabbled in dew,
She gave a loud rap at the door:
The parents in raptures wept over their child;
She mutter’d her terrors – her eyes rolled wild –
“They dig the grave deeper! – Your Nelly’s beguil’d!”
She said, and she siled on the floor.

Poor Nell soon recover’d; but, ah! To her cost,
Her sense and her reason for ever were lost:
And scorch’d by the summer, and chill’d by the frost,
A maniac, restless and wild,
Now crazy Nell rambles; and still she will weep,
And, fearless, at night into hovels will creep. –
Fond parents! Alas, their affliction is deep,
And vainly they comfort their child.