The Shepherd’s Calendar (lines 46 – 72)

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

The boy that scareth from the spirey wheat
The mellancholy crow—quakes while he weaves
Beneath the ivey tree a hut and seat
Of rustling flags and sedges tyd in sheaves
Or from nigh stubble shocks a shelter thieves
There he doth dithering sit or entertain
His leisure hours down hedges lost to leaves
While spying nests where he spring eggs hath taen
He wishes in his heart twas summer time again
And oft he'll clamber up a sweeing tree
To see the scarlet hunter hurry bye
And feign woud in their merry uproar be
But sullen labour hath its tethering tye
Crows swop around and some on bushes nigh
Watch for a chance when ere he turns away
To settle down their hunger to supply
From morn to eve his toil demands his stay
Save now and then an hour which leisure steals for play
Gaunt grey hounds now their coursing sports impart
Wi long legs stretchd on tip toe for the chase
And short loose ear and eye upon the start
Swift as the wind their motions they unlace
When bobs the hare up from her hiding place
Who in its furry coat of fallow stain
Squats on the lands or wi a dodging pace
Tryes its old coverts of wood grass to gain
And oft by cunning ways makes all their speed in vain


You can view some of Carry's wonderful work at

Song: To -- E.B.

Emma my darling the summer is bye
The autumn is faded and cloudy the sky
The willows are changing—the hips and the hawe's
Now glow on the hedges—as red as birds claws

'Till fieldfairs come from far far away
And carry off berries and hips all the day
Winds sing in the hedges like notes of a bird
And the sedges they cut like the edge of a sword

The hedges will shelter my Emma and me
As we walk down the wood neath the wind shaking tree
The seugh through the hedges, the swop of black crows
How the bushy tops dance, and how swift the mill goes

How sweet the flags rustle, how swift the waves run
While the river-lock bombs like the sound of a gun
The coots like to snow flakes sweep o'er the flood track
And the grim clouds above them look angry & black

So come my dear Emma lets walk in the fields
The fields of November a pleasant walk yields
There's the roost robbing reynard and the hounds in full cry
The still sweeing crows—pigeon flocks sewing by

The mellow brown fields—and the leaf littered brook
How sweet to the fancy of Emma they'll look
So come dearest Emma we'll up and away
A ramble in Autumn's as sweet as in May

from 'The Dream'

The sleepy birds, scared from their mossy nest,
Beat through the evil air in vain for rest;
And many a one, the withering shades among,
Wakened to perish o'er its brooded young.
The cattle, startled with the sudden fright,
Sicken'd from food, and madden'd into flight;
And steed and beast in plunging speed pursued
The desperate struggle of the multitude,
The faithful dogs yet knew their owners' face.
And cringing follow'd with a fearful pace,
Joining the piteous yell with panting breath,
While blasting lightnings follow'd fast with death;
Then, as Destruction stopt the vain retreat,
They dropp'd, and dying lick'd their masters' feet.

Song: The Autumn's Come Again (excerpt)

The autumns come again
& the clouds descend in rain
& the leaves they are falling from the wood
The summer's voice is still
Save the clacking of the mill
& the lowly muttered thunder of the flood
There's nothing in the mead
But the rivers muddy speed
& the willow leaves all littered by its side
Sweet voices all are still
In the vale & on the hill
& the summer's blooms are withered in their pride


Lo! Autumn's come—wheres now the woodlands green?
The charming Landscape? and the flowrey plain?
All all are fled and left this motly scene
Of fading yellow tingh'd with russet stain

Tho these seem desolatley wild and drear
Yet these are spring to what we still shall find
Yon trees must all in nakednes appear
'Reft of their folige by the blustry wind

Just so 't'will fare with me in Autumns life
Just so I'd wish—but may the trunk and all
Die with the leaves—nor taste that wintry strife
Where Sorrows urge,—but still impede the fall.

Song: The Summer is waining

The summer is waining
The autumn is staining
The hedges and woods with the hues of the west
So come in the dell
To bid it farewell
For sweets at their parting are often the best

Think where we met last love
And live for the past love
For sweet were those walks I once wandered with thee
On the banks of the Nenn
Where I'd wander again
And rest once again 'neath the wide spreading tree

The summer gets duller
The trees are in colour
Yet sweeter than summer was walking with thee
Thy face of rose charmed me
And ne'er could I harm thee
From the day we first sheltered beneath the oak tree

The Luckless Journey

Tho' fine prov'd the morning, O sad prov'd the ramble
Adown by the Willows, adown by the lee
Adown by the cottage where Hedge rows of bramble
Hides it from all strangers but unlucky me.

For there I espied and admir'd a young rosie
I lov'd and had hopes in possesing the flower
Till Cupid flew laughing away with the posie
And left me the thorns which I feel at this hour.

O Willows and brambles—what deamon beset me
To make me to go where your cottage arose
Yet still was you all I could hope to forget ye
But o there's no hopes in forgetting the rose.

The wounds are not lightly that abscence should ease 'em
No no they'r so deep twill but poison the pain
Tho lifes sober autumn may wisely appease 'em
A pang sad Remembrance will ever retain.

Edmund & Hellen (excerpt)

When madness gauls those sorrows to despair
Ah what is hope in sorrows saddest hour
A falling meteor that once seemd a star
A flattering shower on autumns sickly bower
A dewdrop glistning on a withered flower
The fond bird leaves its nest & pines forlorn
When its loved mate becomes the fowlers prey
Een the fair blossom from its partner torn
By maiden choice or childhoods wanton play
Mourns the foul deed & withereth away

Clare's very devotion to write poetry may have been interpreted as madness by his neighbours. Tragically, this seems to be a chief reason why he was eventually confined. As Bate says early on, "In summer he walked in the woods and fields alone, a book in his pocket . . . his love of books began to isolate him from other boys . . . the villagers found this behaviour very odd: `some fancying it symptoms of lunacy.'" Even after reading the book, it is anyone's guess as to whether Clare was insane; but stories of his battles against what illness he may have suffered from as well as the ignorance, incompetence and greed of those purporting to care for him make for a rather heart-breaking read. What we can be sure of, though, is that mad or not, Clare had become more of a liability than a father or husband. "There is no evidence that he was taken to the asylum because he was `mad' in the sense of having lost consciousness of his identity . . . he was taken to the asylum because he needed better care than could be provided by his family," Bate writes.

Helpstone (first 14 lines)

[‘Midsummer Cushions’ round John Clare’s Grave, Helpston]

Hail humble Helpstone where thy valies spread
& thy mean Village lifts its lowly head
Unknown to grandeur & unknown to fame
No minstrel boasting to advance thy name
Unletterd spot unheard in poets song
Where bustling labour drives the hours along
Where dawning genius never met the day
Where usless ign'rance slumbers life away
Unknown nor heeded where low genius trys
Above the vulgar & the vain to rise
Whose low opinions rising thoughts subdues
Whose railing envy damps each humble view
Oh where can friendships cheering smiles abode
To guide young wanderers on a doubtful road
--- oOo ---

John Clare was in free-fall all his life. The various and many helping hands held out to save him proved useless. Eventually they caught him and put him in a cage. Here he went on singing, lyrically, sadly, satirically, nostalgically. None of those who shared his cage get a mention, only those who continued to live in the freedom of Helpston, many of whom were in the churchyard, or who he translated to his other native place, Scotland.

Clare's early boy-deeds had to double with child labour, the latter being the custom and the reality. At eight he was wielding a toy-sized flail in the stone barn alongside Parker, his father, though stopping now and then to draw algebraic signs in the killing dust. A pleasant thing happened when he was about ten. Francis Gregory, the young innkeeper next door, got him to run errands and to help plough and reap his eight acres or so of corn. Francis was unmarried and lived with his mother at the Blue Bell. They were both ill. Looking back, Clare said, 'They used me uncommon well as if I was their own'. Mother and son lie by the church tower, their helper by chancel wall. However, continued Clare, 'Tis irksome to a boy to be alone and he is ready in such situations to snatch hold of any trifle to divert his loss of company, and make up for pleasanter amusements'. Birds-nesting in the ordinary way would have topped these amusements, but Clare, in his autobiographical 'Sketches', confesses to a very different pastime. It was that there, in Francis Gregory's cornfield, he began his 'muttering', his softly speaking aloud of the rhymes which he would later write down in his bedroom, a tile shifted to let in light. He would memorise lines as he walked to and from Maxey Mill, lugging flour. Boys sang, they did not mutter, and eyes would have been upon him, this child talking to himself, a sure sign of something being wrong. Or different, which is not a good thing to be.

'The Poet and the Nest' an excerpt from 'A Writer's Day-Book'
by Ronald Blythe, published by Trent Editions, 2006.

Edward's Grave

When others, fearful of the Gloom,
Their homeward path pursue,
Fond Sally seeks for Edwards tomb
Her sorrows to renew.

Where prayers of tenderness and love
By pilgrims often heard
Does court the angelic realms above
Her lover to reward.

Nor wizzards jump, nor gobblin tale,
Nor mimic elfin sprite,
Nor moping gost, nor spectre pale,
Nay the most dismal night

When hollow winds does wisstle thro
The mournful cypress shade,
When bent in howling rage the Yew—
Can never fright the maid.

No, no, her ever sorrowing mind
Attach'd to grief so strong
Does never listen to the wind,
Nor heed the gobblin throng.

Her sighs are urgh'd in heartfelt grief
For Edward’s haples fate,
She seeks but cannot find relief
All sorrow is too late.

Alas! poor maid, thy Edwards dead
And far beyond thy power;
In vain thy low reclining head
Bends down the sickly flower;

He cannot hear, he cannot see,
Pent low beneath the sod.
Then rise, chear up from misery
And leave his fate to God.