Untitled [Langley Bush is no more]

The hind that were chopping them up for his fire
Een stood like a poet awhile to admire
& when I last sat here to listen the thrush
I lookd on yon knowll at our favourite bush
Were gipseys campd round it in freedom did dwell
& a swain told its history that knew it so well
About a court yearly being kept neath its boughs
In its youth—when his forefathers herded the cows
While the bush oer our heads blooming feeble & old
Seemd listning in sorrow the story he told
& sighd as the winds summer breath flutterd bye
Its few scatterd leaves as one ready to dye
Tho the gipseys haunt still the lovd spot as before
& the swain calls it still by the name it once bore
Langley bush with its scard trunk & grey mossy bough
Is fled & the scene is left desolate now
A storm that made shepherds in dread for an hour
& boild oer the hills with its thunder & shower
Struck it down to the earth were it withering lay
Till the gipseys sought firing & hauld it away
When the shepherd returnd as the tempest was bye
From his hut of thatchd brakes that had sheltered him dry
He lookd with supprise & a fearful anoy
On the fall of his favourite known from a boy
& I thus to witness its sorrowful end
Feel a loss for its fate as I do for a friend

Langley Bush was an old whitethorn tree that stood at the junction of the parishes of Ufford, Upton, Ailsworth and Helpston and was the traditional meeting place of Langdyke Hundred and the hundred court. It was a key landmark for Clare, not least as one of the favoured haunts of the local gypsies, with whom Clare had a particular affinity. The original bush was one of the victims of the enclosure movement, as Clare notes:

“By Langley Bush I roam, but the bush have left its hill” (Remembrances)

A new Langley Bush has been planted in recent years and can be seen from King Street (the old Roman Road running north/south through the area) just before the sharp turn west towards Southey Woods after Heath Farm.

The Gipsies Evening Blaze

To me how wildly pleasing is that scene
Which does present in evenings dusky hour
A Group of Gipsies center'd on the green
In some warm nook where Boreas has no power
Where sudden starts the quivering blaze behind
Short shrubby bushes nibbl'd by the sheep
That alway on these shortsward pastures keep
Now lost now shines now bending with the wind
And now the swarthy Sybil kneels reclin'd
With proggling stick she still renews the blaze
Forcing bright sparks to twinkle from the flaze
When this I view the all attentive mind
Will oft exclaim (so strong the scene prevades)
‘Grant me this life, thou spirit of the shades!’

Song: Mary Ann Abbott

Mary Ann Abbott,
I’ve a secret or two,
But love dare not blab it
To any but you:

It’s a secret as simple
As secrets all are,
In Mary Ann’s dimples
And beautiful hair.

Dark curls of her youth
And love light o’ her eye:
In that beautiful truth
Why is Mary so shy?

Nature ripened those charms, love,
Pride never made vain,
Why not come to my arms, love,
And kiss me again?

Lay bare those twin roses
That hide in thy hair,
Thy eye’s discloses
The sweetness hid there,

For thy dark curls lie on them
Like night in the air,
Like a nightmare upon them,
As nothing were there.

Come, my sweet Mary Ann,
Let me kiss and adore thee:
There’s none in this world
That ever was before thee


Maid of the Wilderness

Maid of the wilderness,
Sweet in thy rural dress,
Fond thy rich lips I press
Under this tree.

Morning her health bestows,
Sprinkles dews on the rose,
That by the bramble grows:
Maid happy be.
Womanhood round thee glows,
Wander with me.

The restharrow blooming,
The sun just a-coming,
Grass and bushes illuming,
And the spreading oak tree;

Come hither, sweet Nelly,
* * *
The morning is loosing
Its incense for thee.
The pea-leaf has dews on;
Love wander with me.

We'll walk by the river,
And love more than ever;
There's nought shall dissever
My fondness from thee.

Soft ripples the water,
Flags rustle like laughter,
And fish follow after;
Leaves drop from the tree.
Nelly, Beauty's own daughter,
Love, wander with me.

I hate to see mans strength employ'd

I hate to see mans strength employ’d
To desolate the wood
To see a favourite tree destroy’d
That has for ages stood
To see the stript oak stretch’d its length
A mournful thought the scene attends
Those seem that’s left still green in strength
To mourn their fallen friends

From "The Poets Wish"

While one snug room not over small
Containd my ness[ess]ary all
& night & day left me secure
'Mong books my chiefest furniture
With littering papers many a bit
Scrawld by the muse in fancied fit—
& curse upon that routing jade
My territorys to invade
That found me out in evil hour
To brush & clean & scrub & scour
& with a dreaded brush & broom
Disturbd my learned lumber room
Such Busy things I hate to see
Such troublers neer should trouble me
Let dust keep gathering on the ground
& roaping cobwebs dangle round
(Inspired by Ronnie's talk at the festival)

Helpston 2008 (A personal reflection)

SO much to think about from a memorable weekend at the festival in Helpston. As always it is not just a meeting of 'literary types', but, well, fun!
Ronnie Blythe's talk was, as always, most interesting, taking as its theme Clare's lack of paper on which to write, and how how desperate he became from time to time. How Ronnie has kept up the 'gold standard' of erudition, humour and learning is quite breathtaking -- who else would (and could) raise such a simple difficulty and be able to comment in such a fascinating way. His description (as asides) of Edmund Blunden's drinking capacity, and Charles Causley's exaggerated limp to stop the traffic, brought the house down.
Dave Townsend's exploration of "Poets and fiddlers: musical traditions in the poetry of Clare and Hardy" was, especially for non-musicians, intriguing and informative. Made me go a purchase a copy of George Deacon's "John Clare and the folk tradition" from the Peakirk Books stall.

The Mellstock Band's evening performance of "A Midsummer Cushion - Music and Songs of John Clare" was masterful. In some ways a musical exploration of Dave's afternoon talk, mixing Clare's words and music he collected, with his journal entries. Dave's final piece, "Hopes and Ashes" (Fantasia based on Old Through the Wood Laddie in the Clare MSS) hit for me, that sense of longing and loss that I find so touching in Clare's work. As a long term fan of the band I was entranced, as it seemed were the rest of the audience. Thank you Dave.

Lovely to see Professor Eric Robinson present (from Virginia) in eloquent and amusing form. We all owe Eric a debt of gratitude for his magisterial work on the Clare corpus. He plans to be in England until August, yes, working amongst other things, on Clare manuscripts in Northampton and Peterborough. Among his revelations was an amusing description of appearing on "In Town Tonight" that long-running BBC Radio and later Television programme, with presenter Cliff Michelmore, in the late 1950s!
Hail scenes obscure so near & dear to me
The church the brook the cottage & the tree
Still shall obscurity reherse the song
& hum your beauties as I stroll along
(Lines 47-50 of Clare's "Helpstone")

Helpstone (excerpt)

[Clare's Monument in the centre of 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.
Away tomorrow for the John Clare Festival in Helpston... the yearly gathering of the Society and other interested folk. This year we have many treats in store:

1.30 pm
Midsummer Cushion Ceremony and presentation of poetry prizes at St Botolphs Church in Helpston

6 pm
A Clare Guided Walk around Helpston (meet at the Butter Cross in the centre of the village)

7.30 pm
An evening of folk music at the Exeter Arms barn

10 am
Stalls open in the John Clare Primary School – with a chance to buy tickets for the evening event and the coach trip.

10.30 am
The John Clare Society AGM takes place in the marquee behind the school.

Report from the Trust on the cottage development – in the marquee

11.15 am
Ronnie Blythe’s Address – in the marquee.

12 noon until 2pm
An opportunity to browse the stalls, the exhibitions around the village, etc. There will be folk dancing around the village, and Botolphs Barn will be open. Renovation work has now started on the cottage and so that will unfortunately not be open to visitors.

Plenty of food available in the village. You can get hot and cold foot at the Blue Bell or Exeter Arms. Or step back in time for a traditional English country lunch in the village hall (laid on by the Ladies of the Church) – it could be the best village lunch you have ever had!

2 pm

John Clare, Thomas Hardy and William Barnes are among the most important poets of English rural life, and all make reference to traditional music in their works. In this talk, Dave will explore their differing musical backgrounds and their varying poetic responses to the music of their own community.

3 pm
Coach tour, departing from outside the School (ticket only) – visiting Glinton, Northborough/Maxey Mill, with on board commentary (tickets on sale in the morning)

3 pm
For those not taking the coach tour there will be guided village walks – departing from the butter cross in the centre of the village.

Traditional English teas will be available in the village hall.

5.30 pm
Poetry readings in St Botolphs Church – bring along your favourite Clare poem!

7 pm – 9 pm
The Mellstock Band – in the marquee (by ticket only)

More folk music in the Blue Bell the same evening – with Ock ‘n Dough. To get a taste of their music visit their website at http://www.ockndough.co.uk/

11 am
Family service in St Botolphs – focussing on Clare – led by the Revd Ron Ingamells (Society Committee member)

Langdyke Trust activities in the village – probably Botolphs Barn.

Display of Clare items in the Peterborough Museum.

Young Chloe (excerpt)

Young Chloe looks sweet as the rose
And her love might be reckoned no less
But her bosom so freely bestows
That all may a portion possess.
Her smiles would be cheering to see
But so freely they’re lavished abroad
That each silly swain well as me
Can boast of the smiles she bestowed.

Her smiles and her kisses so free
Blesses all like the rain from the sky
As the blossoms love is to the bee
Each swain is as welcome as I.
And tho’ I my folly can see
Yet still must I love and adore
Tho’ I know the love whispered to me
Is a lie told to many before.

A Kiss

They may say what they will upon love
They may make what they will of a kiss
The matter is easy to prove
If truth wasn't taken amiss
‘Tis as plain as one reading a book
Like the parson reciting his text
We hear from what chapter it’s took
And the sermon of course follows next

I Pluck Summer Blossoms

I pluck Summer blossoms,
And think of rich bosoms -
The bosoms I've leaned on, and worshipped, and won.
The rich valley lilies,
The wood daffodillies,
Have been found in our rambles when Summer begun.

Where I plucked thee the bluebell,
'T was where the night dew fell,
And rested till morn in the cups of the flowers;
I shook the sweet posies,
Bluebells and brere roses,
As we sat in cool shade in Summer's warm hours.

Bedlam-cowslips and cuckoos,
With freck'd lip and hooked nose,
Growing safe near the hazel of thicket and woods,
And water blobs, ladies' smocks,
Blooming where haycocks
May be found, in the meadows, low places, and floods.

And cowslips a fair band
For May ball or garland,
That bloom in the meadows as seen by the eye;
And pink ragged robin,
Where the fish they are bobbing
Their heads above water to catch at the fly.

Wild flowers and wild roses!
'T is love makes the posies
To paint Summer ballads of meadow and glen.
Floods can't drown it nor turn it,
Even flames cannot burn it;
Let it bloom till we walk the green meadows again.