from 'December'

And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In fancy's infant ecstasy;

Laughing, with superstitious love,
O'er visions wild that youth supplies,
Of people pulling geese above,
And keeping Christmas in the skies.

As tho' the homestead trees were drest,
In lieu of snow, with dancing leaves,
As tho' the sun-dried martin's nest,
Instead of ickles, hung the eaves,

The children hail the happy day—
As if the snow were April's grass,
And pleas'd, as 'neath the warmth of May,
Sport o'er the water froze to glass.

Thou day of happy sound and mirth,
That long with childish memory stays,
How blest around the cottage hearth
I met thee in my younger days!

Harping, with rapture's dreaming joys,
On presents which thy coming found,
The welcome sight of little toys,
The Christmas gift of cousins round:

The wooden horse with arching head,
Drawn upon wheels around the room,
The gilded coach of gingerbread,
And many-colour'd sugar-plum,

Gilt-cover'd books for pictures sought,
Or stories childhood loves to tell,
With many an urgent promise bought,
To get to-morrow's lesson well;

And many a thing, a minute's sport,
Left broken on the sanded floor,
When we would leave our play, and court
Our parents' promises for more.

(lines 73-108)

The Hour of Prayer

Ave Maria! woman mild,—
Mother ever young and fair,
Hushing slumbers to her child,—
It is the hour of Prayer!

When children bend the artless knee,
And mothers kneel beside 'em there,
Maiden mild my guardian be,
In eve's still hour of Prayer!

A light in darkness, be thou still,
Let love's affections be thy care;
Thou beacon light of good and ill,
Attend the hour of Prayer!

The darkness comes, the dews descend;—
Thou woman ever mild and fair!
Be to the friendless still a friend,
In the silent hour of Prayer!

'Tis come!—the o'erpowering heat of day
Seeks night, its peace to share;
Sweet maiden teach us how to pray
In silent hours of Prayer!

LP I 383

After a Fine Winters Day

[Image: Eddie Bairstow]

The sun lookd out the dreary scene to bless
Old winters grinning horrors forcful smild
His flinty bosom thawd wi tenderness
So fiercfull savages have melted mild
Neath the sweet looks of womans lovliness
So poesy thy witcheries so wild
Doth warm the chilly heart of wants distress
& forcful give a joy to natures child
Spite of his anguish—ah he coud express
Full many a pleasure & full many a pain
Mingling like gaul & honey sun & rain
A fine decembers day thou art to me
Tho winter still beneath thy rays remain
Her grinning frowns are melted soft by thee

The Robin

Now the snow hides the ground little birds leave the wood
And flie to the cottage to beg for their food
While the domestic robin more tame then the rest
(With its wings drooping down and rough feathers undrest)
Comes close to our windows as much as to say
‘I would venture in if I could find a way
I'm starv'd and I want to get out of the cold
O! make me a passage and think me not bold’
Ah poor little creature thy visits reveal
Complaints such as these to the heart that can feel
Nor shall such complainings be urged in vain
I'll make thee a hole if I take out a pane

Come in and a welcome reception thou'lt find
I keep no grimalkins to murder inclin'd
—But O! little robin be careful to shun
That house where the peasant makes use of a gun
For if thou but taste of the seed he has strew'd
Thy life as a ransom must pay for thy food
His aim is unerring his heart is as hard
And thy race tho so harmles he'll never regard
Distinction with him boy is nothing at all
Both the wren and the robin with sparrows must fall
For his soul (tho he outwardly looks like a man)
Is in nature like wolves of the appenine clan

Like them his whole study is bent on his prey
Like them he devours what e'er comes in his way
Then be careful and shun what is meant to betray
And flie from these men-masked wolves far away
Come come to my cottage and thou shalt be free
To perch on my finger or sit on my knee
Thou shalt eat of the crumbles of bread to thy fill
And have leisure to clean both thy feathers and bill
Then come little robin and never believe
Such warm Invitations are meant to deceive
In duty I'm bound to show mercy on thee
While God dont deny it to sinners like me!

Her Love is all to me

O' cold is the winter day And iron is the ground
And winters snow has found his way For fifty miles around
I turn a look to every way And nothing to be seen
The frozen clouds shuts out the day And snow hide[s] all the green
The hedges all of leaves are bare my heart beats cold & chill
O' once I loved a pretty girl and love her dearly still
Though love is but a frozen pearl as you may plainly see
My lovely girl is handsome as any maid can be

Freeze on the bitter biteing sky Snows shade the naked tree
All desolate alone am I Yet I'll love none but thee
No tears I shed my love to show To freeze before they fall
No sighs I send along the snow But she's my all in all
The footpath leaves the ruts and carts O'er furrow and o'er rig
And my love lives at the ‘White Hart’ a stone throw from the brig
She's like a ballad sung in tune And deep in love to be
Her face is like the rose in June And her love is all to me

Distant Hills (excerpt)

[Image: Eddie Bairstow]

If so my fancy idly clings
To notions far away,
And longs to roam for common things
All round her every day,
Right idle would the journey be
To leave one's home so far,
And see the moon I now can see
And every little star.

And have they there a night and day,
And common counted hours?
And do they see so far away
This very moon of ours?
I mark him climb above the trees
With one small cousin star,
And think me in my reveries—
He cannot shine so far.

And o'er his face that ancient man
Will ever stooping be;
What else he in no sort of plan
Could ever get to see.
The poets in the tales they tell
And with their happy powers
Have made lands where their fancies dwell
Seem better lands than ours.

(lines 29-52)

December

['December' from Carry Akroyd - Shepherd's Calendar 2007]

The Shepherd’s Calendar

Each house is swept the day before
And windows stuck wi evergreens
The snow is beesomd from the door
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes
Gilt holly wi its thorny pricks
And yew and box wi berrys small
These deck the unusd candlesticks
And pictures hanging by the wall
Neighbours resume their anual cheer
Wishing wi smiles and spirits high
Glad christmass and a happy new year
To every morning passer bye
Milk maids their christmass journeys go
Accompanyd wi favourd swain
And childern pace the crumping snow
To taste their grannys cake again
Hung wi the ivys veining bough
The ash trees round the cottage farm
Are often stript of branches now
The cotters christmass hearth to warm
He swings and twists his hazel band
And lops them off wi sharpend hook
And oft brings ivy in his hand
To decorate his chimney nook
Old winter whipes his icles bye
And warms his fingers till he smiles
Where cottage hearths are blazing high
And labour resteth from his toils

December (lines 9-36)

Clare's self-doubt

I very infrequently post anything to this weblog but Clare's work, but here is a short extract from a recent paper that will be of interest to all Clare followers.


Clare was never confident that he had fully attained the status of author that he had learned and been encouraged to value, in part because he could never fully shake off the status of peasant or rustic that had been thrust upon him as an authenticating signature, and in part because he suspected that his first success may have been founded upon the fleeting judgment of fashion rather than solid principles of taste.

Throughout his letters, Clare worries that his reputation as an author may rest upon false premises. As early as February 24, 1821, Clare worried Taylor with the idea that his patrons, Lord Radstock and Mrs. Emmerson, may have dropped him for a fresher child of nature: "so god send they may find out a new 'child of nature' to foster & flatter whose name is rather fresher then mine ..." (Letters 160).

Summing up his career as a poet to Henry, Francis Cary sometime after October 20,1832, Clare writes: "I felt some vanity that I had a claim to the title of a poet & it was the praise & commendation of men of genius that fostered that ambition" (Letters 594); anticipating the response to a new collection of poems, Clare goes on to say, "I wished to be judged of by the book itself without any appeals to want of education lowness of origin or any other foil that officousness [sic] chuses to encumber my path with" (Letters 594).

Thus, though there were moments when Clare asserted his poetic powers as strongly as any poet, his letters betray a long-standing ambivalence about the measure of his success. When, after 1827, Clare's correspondence with his "friends" in the literary establishment of London began to drop off, that ambivalence gave way to disappointment and even regret that he had ever knocked upon the door of literary success, for more often than not, he relied upon the approval of those literary men and women of genius to bolster his self-confidence.

from "Hybridity, Mimicry and John Clare's Child Harold"
by Gary Harrison

Love Scorned by Pride

Oh, far is fled the winter wind,
And far is fled the frost and snow,
But the cold scorn on my love's brow
Hath never yet prepared to go.

More lasting than ten winters' wind,
More cutting than ten weeks of frost,
Is the chill frowning of thy mind,
Where my poor heart was pledged and lost.

I see thee taunting down the street,
And by the frowning that I see
I might have known it long ere now,
Thy love was never meant for me.

Oh, had I known ere I began
That love had been so hard to win,
I would have filled my heart with pride,
Nor left one hope to let love in.

I would have wrapped it in my breast,
And pinned it with a silver pin,
Safe as a bird within its nest,
And 'scaped the trouble I am in.

I wish I was a happy bird,
And thou a true and timid dove:
Oh, I would fly the land of grief,
And rest me in the land of love.

Oh, I would rest where I love best;
Where I love best I may not be:
A hawk doth on that rose-tree sit,
And drives young love to fear and flee.

Oh, would I were the goldfinch gay!
My richer suit had tempted strong.
Oh, would I were the nightingale!
Thou then hadst listened to my song.

Though deep thy scorn, I cannot hate;
Thy beauty's sweet, though sour thy pride;
To praise thee is to love thee still,
And it doth cheer my heart beside.

For I could swim the deepest lake,
And I could climb the highest tree,
The greatest danger face and brave,
And all for one kind kiss of thee.

Oh, love is here, and love is there:
Oh, love is like no other thing:
Its frowns can make a king a slave,
Its smiles can make a slave a king.

The Dream

Fierce raged destruction, sweeping o'er the land,
And the last counted moment seemed at hand:
As scales near equal hang the earnest eyes
In doubtful balance which shall fall or rise,
So, in the moment of that crashing blast,
Eyes, hearts, and hopes paused trembling for the last.
Loud burst the thunder's clap, and yawning rents
Gashed the frail garments of the elements;
Then sudden whirlwinds, winged with purple flame
And lightnings' flash, in stronger terrors came;
Burning all life and nature where they fell,
And leaving earth as desolate as hell.
(lines 49-60)

Left in the world alone

[Image: 'Crow' from a Carry Akroyd poster]

Left in the world alone
Where nothing seems my own
And everything is weariness to me

'Tis a life without an end
'Tis a world without a friend
And everything is sorrowful I see

There's the crow upon the stack
And other birds all black
While November's frowning wearily

And the black-clouds dropping rain
'Till the floods hide half the plain
And everything is weariness to me

The sun shines wan and pale
Chill blows the northern gale
And odd leaves shake and shiver on the tree

While I am left alone
Chilled as a mossy stone
And all the world is frowning over me

Song

I dreamed of love and thought it sweet
And took the winter for the spring;
A maiden's charms won me to woo
Where beauty's blooms so thick did hing
That I from thence did fear no blast
To bid young hope's frail bud decay,
Till tenderest words met bitter scorn
And then I wished myself away—

But all too late; and such as she
Might well deceive the wisest mind,
For love sure ne'er met one before
So scornful bent, so seeming kind;
For fair as spring, as summer warm,
Her young blood it did seem to flow;
And yet her heart did prove so cold
Love's bud died there and could not blow.

Her face looks open as the day,
And in her lips and in her eyes
Smiles and goodwill do seem to play,
That are love's deaths in green disguise;
Her breasts peep from her kerchief folds
Like sunshine thro' a parting cloud,
And yet love finds within that bed
Naught but a dead and wintry shroud.

All hopes are gone that wished her mine;
And now her mind I prove and know
I'm glad—and yet methinks those hopes
That then did cheat did cheer me so
I almost wish I ne'er had sued,
But still hoped on and still believed;
For it were best to dream of joy
Than thus to wake and be deceived.

The autumn morn...

[ Image: ‘Autumn Field’ – NaomiBlum (naomiblum.com) ]

The autumn morn looks mellow as the fruit
& ripe as harvest — every field & farm
Is full of health & toil — yet never mute
With rustic mirth & peace the day is warm
The village maid with gleans upon her arm
Brown as the hazel nut from field to field
Goes cheerily — the valleys native charm —
I seek for charms that autumn best can yield
In mellowing wood & time bleaching field

(Child Harold – lines 657-665)

Written in November

Autumn I love thy latter end to view
In cold novembers day so bleak & bare
When like lifes dwindld thread worn nearly thro
Wi lingering pottering pace & head bleachd bare
Thou like an old man bids the world adieu
I love thee well & often when a child
Have roamd the bare brown heath a flower to find
& in the moss clad vale & wood bank wild
Have cropt the little bell flowers paley blue
That trembling peept the sheltering bush behind
When winnowing north winds cold & blealy blew
How have I joyd wi dithering hands to find
Each fading flower & still how sweet the blast
Woud bleak novembers hour Restore the joy thats past

Autumn

The autumn day it fades away,
The fields are wet and dreary;
The rude storm takes the flowers of May,
And nature seemeth weary.

The partridge coveys shunning fate,
Hide in the bleaching stubble;
And many a bird without its mate,
Mourns o'er its lonely trouble.

On awthorns shine the crimson awe,
Where spring brought may-day blossoms;
Decay is natures cheerless law,
Life's winter in our bosoms.

The fields are brown and naked all,
But hedges still are green:
But storms shall come at autumns fall,
And not a leaf be seen!

Yet happy love that warms the heart,
Through darkest storms severe;
Keeps many a tender flower to start,—
When spring shall reappear,

Affections hope shall roseys meet;
Like those of summer bloom:—
And joys, and flowers, smell as sweet,
In seasons yet to come.

November

[Image: 'November' - Carry Akroyd]

The hedger soakd wi the dull weather chops
On at his toils which scarcly keeps him warm
And every stroke he takes large swarms of drops
Patter about him like an april storm
The sticking dame wi cloak upon her arm
To guard against a storm walks the wet leas
Of willow groves or hedges round the farm
Picking up aught her splashy wanderings sees
Dead sticks the sudden winds have shook from off the trees
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

The Shepherds Calendar
(lines 37-54)

The chaffinch on the hedge row sings

The chaffinch on the hedge row sings
The matin bell from steeple rings
The rising sun its welcome brings
To dew bent flower & bee —
Around thy chimney swallows sing
Beneath thy Eaves the sparrows cling:

“My love my dear
Awake & hear
Thy Love waits for thee”

The linnet green as white thorn leaves
Of wool & moss a warm nest weaves
Where beds o' moss the dew receives
& still appears as dry —
The Robin from his root pops out
The brown hedge sparrow cheeps about:

“My life my dear
Awake appear
Thy Lover waiteth nigh”

Autumn 1841 - Northborough

Now melancholly autumn comes anew
With showery clouds & fields of wheat tanned brown
Along the meadow banks I peace pursue
& see the wild flowers gleaming up & down
Like sun & light—the ragworts golden crown
Mirrors like sunshine when sunbeams retire
& silver yarrow—there's the little town
& oer the meadows gleams that slender spire
Reminding me of one—& waking fond desire

I love thee nature in my inmost heart
Go where I will thy truth seems from above
Go where I will thy landscape forms a part
Of heaven—e'en these fens where wood nor grove
Are seen—their very nakedness I love
For one dwells nigh that secret hopes prefer
Above the race of women—like the dove
I mourn her abscence—fate that would deter
My hate for all things—strengthens love for her

(Child Harold lines 357-374)

The Sweetest Woman There

From bank to bank the water roars Like thunder in a storm
A Sea in sight of both the shores Creating no alarm
The water birds above the flood fly O'er the foam and spray
And nature wears a gloomy hood On this October day
And there I saw a bonny maid That proved my hearts delight
All day she was a Goddess made An angel fair at night
We loved and in each others power Felt nothing to condemn
I was the leaf and she the flower And both grew on one stem
I loved her lip her cheek her eye She cheered my midnight gloom
A bonny rose neath Gods own sky In one perennial bloom
She lives mid pastures evergreen And meadows ever fair
Each winter spring and summer scene The sweetest woman there
She lives among the meadow floods That foams and roars away
While fading hedge rows distant woods Fade off to naked spray
She lives to cherish and delight All nature with her face
She brought me joy morn noon and night In that low lonely place

In Autumn

The fields all cleared, the labouring mice
To sheltering hedge and wood patrol,
Where hips and haws for food suffice
That chumbled lie about the hole.
And squirrel, bobbing from the eye,
Is busy now about its hoard,
And in old nest of crow and pie
Its winter store is oft explored.
The leaves now leave the willows grey
And down the brook they wind:
So hopes and pleasures whirl away
And vanish from the mind.

Farewell to love and all I see

Farewell to love and all I see
In these dull English skies
For all the world turns round wi' me
Lost in thy two bright eyes

So fare-thee-well—a lover lost
I go where none can blame
And dearly shall I rue the cost
And scarcely keep a name

The little flowers and wild birds song
I leave them far away
In other lands and other tongues
A lonely bard to stray

In other lands I'll think of thee
Nor mortal love adore
The north star must its temple be
Where nought can change no more

Mary (A Ballad)

Love is past and all the rest
Thereto belonging fled away
The most esteemed and valued best
Are faded all and gone away

How beautiful was Mary's dress
While dancing at the meadow ball
—'Tis twenty years or more at least
Since Mary seemed the first of all

Lord how young bonny Mary burnt
With blushes like the roses hue
My face like water thrown upon't
Turned white as lilies i' the dew

When grown a man I went to see
The school where Mary's name was known
I looked to find it on a Tree
But found it on a low grave stone

Now is past—was this the now
In fine straw-hat and ribbons gay
I'd court her neath the white thorn bough
And tell her all I had to say

But all is gone—and now is past
And still my spirits chill alone
Loves name that perished in the blast
Grows mossy on a church-yard stone

(11th November 1848)

Putting my land-longing into words

[Heartland, near Helpston, Northamptonshire, home of John Clare]

THE English language is frequently the victim of fashion. It contains words that have fallen from use, those whose meaning has been transmogrified, and a bewildering array of new terms. It also contains potentially useful words that have scarcely been discovered, including some that could be of immense value to us. “Heartland” is one such word.

The Oxford Dictionary pays it scant attention, defining it merely as “the central or most important part of an area”. The use of the word “area” here is disappointingly vague and rather devalues the overall con­cept. It seems as if heartland lacks reson­ance with us, being confined in everyday use to media statements about such things as NATO troops penetrating the Taliban heartland. But the word may yet develop useful depth.

The concept of cynefin — in some ways similar to heartland — is central to Welsh language and cul­ture, though it has no straight­for­ward translation. It is a spiritual and poetic idea concerning relation­ship with a place of true belonging, ex­pressed primarily through the Welsh language.

Bedwyr Lewis Jones (a former Professor of Welsh at Bangor Uni­versity) argues: “Cynefin is the Welsh­man’s first and foremost window on the world.” Scots Gaelic appears to have an equivalent word, duthchas. The Welsh language also includes the concept of hiraeth, which in its extreme form is a spiritual sickness that develops when one’s cynefin is broken.

The life of John Clare (1793-1864), poet, naturalist, and profound countryman, is worth examining through the perspectives of cynefin and hiraeth. The landscape of his homeland, around the village of Helpston, in Northamptonshire, was his heartland, his real and fantasy worlds combined. But that landscape was ruthlessly destroyed by En­closures Acts early in his adult life. Worse, he was tempted to London and the bright lights.

There, however, something funda­mental was missing; he broke down and was confined to an asylum. Yet home was calling him. He escaped and walked back to Help­ston, a beggar forced to eat grass. But home was no longer recognisable; his cynefin lay shattered. He spent the last 30 years of his life in a lunatic asylum.

CLARE’s fall may have resonance for many of us. I went off the rails when, as a student, I became entombed within a city a long way from the woods and meadows where my soul dwelt. Strangely, home was not the West Country landscape where I was born and raised, but the woods of the West Sussex Weald where I went to school.

Few people can have felt more alienated from a boarding-school system than me, yet none has loved their school’s landscape surround­ings more. On leaving university, I went to work on the land, half-recognising that I was suffering from the spiritual sickness of nature-deficit disorder, long before Richard Louv coined the term and laid out a convincing thesis for it in Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books, 2006).

Cynefin is important to us all, to a lesser or greater extent, if only for the emotive and yin-yang senses of longing and belonging it instils. In which case, we must ask what is happening to our kind as we become progressively urbanised or sub-urbanised, as our contextual setting regresses further away from nature. Small wonder, then, that there are so many second homes in the country­side, owned by urban man — who seeks cynefin, which lies in not urbi, but rure.

To explain why we turn away from nature, where our true cynefin lies — besides referring to the obvious lure of materialism — I would point to a line of sublime depth by T. S. Eliot: “Human kind Cannot bear very much reality” (Murder in the Cathedral and Burnt Norton, 1935). The line, spoken by a bird in the poem, primarily concerns there our relationship with nature. Seemingly, we feel that nature, like God, demands too much of us.

I WOULD argue that the word heartland should be developed in the English language as the equivalent of cynefin, as it represents a concept that should be fundamental in our culture, our spirituality, and in poetic use of language. Such usage is seri­ously out of vogue at present, as our language is becoming dominated by professional “industry” speech based on science and business cul­ture.

So often, a word has a standard­ised meaning within professional lan­guage, but variable or little meaning elsewhere. For example, a recent DEFRA survey of public un­der­stand­ing of environmental terms con­cluded: “Biodiversity was not under­stood, and even when ex­plained it was not engaging.” So much for the king-pin word of the environmental movement.

Poetic language must have a central part to play in commun­ication on environmental, spiritual, and religious issues — not least because, in addition to a literal sense, it offers tiers of meaning. Jonathan Bate gives a cogent argument to this effect in The Song of the Earth (Picador, 2000), emphasising that the poetic approach is “our way of stepping outside the frame of the technological, of reawakening the momentary wonder of unconceal­ment”.

Tennyson hit the nail on the head in In Memoriam: “For words, like Nature, half reveal And half conceal the Soul within.”

Our inability, or refusal, to think in, and use, poetic language hinders us terribly. In particular, it prevents us from seeing the big picture, which in turn can lead us to becoming ob­sessed with and blinded by detail.

This could well be one of our main cultural problems. To take one of St Paul’s many profound state­ments out of context, though with honest intent, we struggle to cope with the spirit, and so the letter killeth. The word heartland must have a central part to play in helping us understand our­selves, our spirituality, our relation­ship with nature and our environ­ment, and with the Almighty.

Church Times - 1st October 2010
Matthew Oates
(a naturalist, writer, and broadcaster working for the National Trust. He is a co-founder of VINE (Values in Nature and Environ­ment: www.vineproject.org.uk). These views are his own).

On seeing two swallows late in October

[Image: Carry Akroyd]

But, little lingerers, old esteem detains
Ye haply thus to brave the chilly air
When skies grow dull with winter's heavy rains
And all the orchard trees are nearly bare;
Yet the old chimneys still are peeping there
Above the russet thatch where summer's tide
Of sunny joys gave you such social fare
As makes you haply wishing to abide
In your old dwelling through the changing year.
I wish ye well to find a dwelling here,
For in the unsocial weather ye would fling
Gleanings of comfort through the winter wide,
Twittering as wont above the old fireside,
And cheat the surly winter into spring.

Song: "The autumn's come again"

The autumn's 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

Fled is the cuckoo's note
To countries far remote
& the nightingale is vanished from the wood
If you search the Lordship round
There is not a blossom found
& where the haycock scented is the flood

My true loves fled away
Since we walked in cocks of hay
On the sabbath in the summer of the year
& she's nowhere to be seen
On the meadow or the green
But she's coming when the happy spring is near

When the birds begin to sing
& the flowers begin to spring
& the cowslips in the meadows reappear
When the woodland oaks are seen
In their monarchy of green
Then Mary & loves pleasure will be here

Where is the heart (excerpt)

Where is the heart thou once hast won
Can cease to care about thee
Where is the eye thou'st smiled upon
Can look for joy without thee
Lorn is the lot one heart hath met
That’s lost to thy caressing
Cold is the hope that loves thee yet
Now thou art past possessing
Fare thee well

We met we loved we’ve met the last
The farewell word is spoken
O Mary canst thou feel the past
& keep thy heart unbroken
To think how warm we loved & how
Those hopes should blossom never
To think how we are parted now
& parted, oh! for ever
Fare thee well

I think of Thee

David's latest YouTube upload of original music for Clare poems/songs (click on the title above).

I think of thee at early day
& wonder where my love can be
& when the evening shadows grey
O how I think of thee
Along the meadow banks I rove
& down the flaggy fen
& hope my first & early love
To meet thee once again

From Child Harold… a song (so Clare calls it) of Clare’s disturbed time in Northborough in 1841, after his long walk from Epping Forest. It is thought this poem was written in mid November of that year, and is a painful realisation that he had lost Mary Joyce forever. Perhaps he had some knowledge that he was destined for another asylum, as the last two lines of the poem read:

“whether in freedom or in thrall,
Mary, I think of thee”

Sweetly comes the grassy summer

[Double Click on the photo for the full effect]

Sweetly comes the grassy summer
And the bee its minstrel hummer
And the Swallow a new comer
Winged serpents oer the lea
Swimming in a serpentine
While their glossy black backs shine
From the sun that gleams divine
Oer wheatfield, lake and tree
Then come sweet Julie in thy prime
And we'll enjoy the summer time
Light is the cloud and bright the skies
And rich the wings of butterflies
Like Argus with a hundred eyes
Go skipping through the day
Dancing from flower to clover flower
In the warm and wanton hour
And on the white thorn blooming bower
Upon the clumps of May

Come Julie in thy youthful prime
And let's enjoy the summer time
We'll go where waters clear are flowing
We'll go where green the grass is growing
We'll go where sweet the wind is blowing
Among the willows grey

So come along my dearest Julie
Ill court thee in the meadows duly
By white thorn hedges love thee truly
And spend the summers day
On grass banks sit in pleasant weather
And gather wild flowers both together

The autumn morn...

[Image: Carry Akroyd]

The autumn morn looks mellow as the fruit
& ripe as harvest—every field & farm
Is full of health & toil—yet never mute
With rustic mirth & peace the day is warm
The village maid with gleans upon her arm
Brown as the hazel nut from field to field
Goes cheerily—the valleys native charm—
I seek for charms that autumn best can yield
In mellowing wood & time bleaching field

Child Harold (lines 657-665)

A reflection in autumn

To mark what looks like early autumn here in East Devon, a poem from Clare's wonderful collection "Poems descriptive of rural life and scenery" (1820)

A REFLECTION IN AUTUMN
Now Autumn's come—adieu the pleasing greens
The charming Lanscape & the flowrey plain
All are deserted from these motley scenes
With blighted yellow ting'd & russet stain
Tho desolation seems to triumph here
Yet these are spring to what we still shall find
The trees must all in nakedness appear
'Reft of their foliage by the blustry wind
Just so 'twill fare with me in Autumns life
Just so I'd wish—but may the trunk & all
Die with the leaves—nor taste that wintry strife
Where Sorrows urge—& fear Impedes the fall!

Cloud Shapes

Clouds rack and drive before the wind
In shapes and forms of every kind,
Like waves that rise without the roar,
And rocks that guard an untrodden shore;
Now castles pass majestic by
And ships in peaceful havens lie;
These gone, ten thousand shapes ensue,
For ever beautiful and new.

The scattered clouds lie calm and still,
And day throws gold on every hill;
Their thousand heads in glory run,
As each were worlds and owned a sun.
The rime it clings to everything,
It beards the early buds of spring;
The mossy pales, the orchard spray,
Are feathered with its silver-grey.

The Stranger (click here)

In 'Hymns Ancient and Modern' there is a single song/poem by John Clare: 'The Stranger'. For some years we have felt it needed a modern setting, so here is our offering. The music was composed by David Rowe, and was first performed in St. Botolph's Church, Helpston at the John Clare Festival in July 2010. Helpston, is the village in which John Clare was born, and was his muse throughout his long life. Clare died in 1864 and is buried in St. Botolph's Churchyard.

A stranger once did bless the earth
who never caused a heart to mourn,
whose very voice gave sorrow mirth;
and how did earth his worth return?
it spurned him from its lowliest lot:
the meanest station owned him not.

An outcast thrown in sorrow's way,
a fugitive that knew no sin,
yet in lone places forced to stray;
men would not take the stranger in.
Yet peace, though much himself he mourned,
was all to others he returned.

His presence was a peace to all,
he bade the sorrowful rejoice.
Pain turned to pleasure at his call,
health lived and issued from his voice;
he healed the sick, and sent abroad
the dumb rejoicing in the Lord.

The blind met daylight in his eye,
the joys of everlasting day;
the sick found health in his reply,
the cripple threw his crutch away.
Yet he with troubles did remain,
and suffered poverty and pain.

It was for sin he suffered all
to set the world-imprisoned free,
to cheer the weary when they call;
and who could such a stranger be?
The God, who hears each human cry,
and came, a Saviour, from on high.

The Village Funeral (excerpt)

The Orphans' grief and sorrow, so severe,
To every heart in pity's language speak ;
E'en the rough sexton can't withhold the tear,
That steals unnotic'd down his furrow'd cheek.

Who but is griev'd to see the Fatherless
Stroll with their rags unnotic'd through the street?
What eye but moistens at their sad distress,
And sheds compassion's tear whene'er they meet?

Yon Workhouse stands as their asylum now.
The place where Poverty demands to live;
Where parish Bounty scowls his scornful brow,
And grudges the scant fare he's forc'd to give.

Oh, may I die before I'm doom'd to seek
That last resource of hope, but ill supplied ;
To claim the humble pittance once a week,
Which justice forces from disdainful pride! —

AVhere the lost Orphan, lowly bending, weeps,
Unnotic'd by the heedless as they pass.
There the grave closes where a Mother sleeps.
With brambles platted on the tufted grass.

Search to find Britain's favourite poem (Click here)

The National Trust has set itself the near impossible task of choosing Britain’s favourite poem about the countryside, and Clare's sonnet "On a lane in Spring" is on the shortlist. Seems to me after reading the list of selected poems, that I could have chosen rather better... as could many. That being said, click on the title above to read the Daily Telegraph's piece on the 'search', published today.

The Clare poem 'chosen' is "On a lane in Spring":

A Little Lane, the brook runs close beside
And spangles in the sunshine while the fish glide swiftly by
And hedges leafing with the green spring tide
From out their greenery the old birds fly
And chirp and whistle in the morning sun
The pilewort glitters 'neath the pale blue sky
The little robin has its nest begun
And grass green linnets round the bushes fly
How Mild the Spring Comes in; the daisy buds
Lift up their golden blossoms to the sky
How lovely are the pingles and the woods
Here a beetle runs; and there a fly
Rests on the Arum leaf in bottle green
And all the Spring in this Sweet lane is seen

Mist in the Meadows

The evening oer the meadow seems to stoop
More distant lessens the diminished spire
Mist in the hollows reaks and curdles up
Like fallen clouds that spread – and things retire
Less seen and less – the shepherd passes near
And little distant most grotesquely shades
As walking without legs – lost to his knees
As through the rawky creeping smoke he wades
Now half way up the arches disappear
And small the bits of sky that glimmer through
Then trees loose all but tops – I meet the fields
And now indistinctness passes bye
The shepherd all his length is seen again
And further on the village meets the eye.

(Thanks to Simona Cola for reminding me of this brilliant poem)

Nutting... by David Rowe

'Nutting' ~ Clare's poem set to music by David Rowe (just click on the title above).

In 'nutting' Clare recalls his early courtship with Mary Joyce, who was to become his life-long muse. They never married although in his later life Clare was convinced she had been his first wife.

Right rosy gleamed the autumn morn
Right golden shone the autumn sun
The mowers swept the bleach├ęd corn
While long their early shades did run

The leaves were burnt to many hues
The hazel nuts were ripe & brown
My Mary’s kindness could but choose
To pluck them when I bore them down

The shells her auburn hair did show
A semblance faint yet beautiful
She smiled to hear me tell her so
Till I forgot the nuts to pull

She started at each little sound
The branches made—yet would her eye
Regret the gloom encroaching round
That told her night was in the sky

I helped her through the hedge row gap
& thought the very thorns unkind
As not to part—while in her lap
She sought the ripest bunch to find

T’was Mary’s smiles & sweet replies
That gave the sky so sweet a stain
So bright I never saw him rise
Nor ever set so sweet again

Farewell to the Cornfield

Farewell to the cornfield and meadow so green
Farewell to the white thorn and willow and Jean
Farewell to the haunts O' her childhood and mine
Where green banks had peace and my Jean looked divine
We're parted and may be for ever we part
Still Jeanie shall be the choice girl of my heart

Farewell to the cornfield and meadow so green
Farewell to the white thorn and willow and Jean
The meadows will be just as green when I'm gone
To the eyes o' my Jean while my heart like a stone
Lies cold in my breast while the scene I survey
To think of to-morrow that bears me away

From all I once loved and am cherishing yet
The wild flowers O' summer wi' honey dews wet
The path o'er the meadows the style i' the lane
My Jeanie will see them and know them again
To the wide roaring ocean and fathomless brine
I wander my Jean where thou still may be mine

If thy heart it be true love mine still thou shalt be
Though I perish by shipwreck and drown i the Sea
So farewell green meadows and farewell my Jean
To the willow and thorn where together we've been
All lonely I go to the wide raving sea
But true love will bring me safe back unto thee

Solitude (lines 81-104)

Where the swain the branches lops,
And o'erhead with rushes tops;
Where, with woodbine's sweet perfume,
And the rose's blushing bloom,
Loveliest ceiling of the bower,
Arching in, peeps many a flower;
While a hill of thyme so sweet,
Or a moss'd stone, forms a seat.

There, as 'tween-light hangs the eve,
I will watch thy bosom heave;
Marking then the darksome flows
Night's gloom o'er thy mantle throws;
Fondly gazing on thine eye
As it rolls its ecstasy,
When thy solemn musings caught
Tell thy soul's absorb'd in thought.

When thy finely folded arm
O'er thy bosom beating warm
Wraps thee melancholy round;
And thy ringlets wild unbound
On thy lily shoulders lie,
Like dark streaks in morning's sky.
Peace and silence sit with thee,
And peace alone is heaven to me.

A Scene

[Image: ‘Out of Doors’ by Carry Akroyd]

The Landscape’s stretching view that opens wide,
With dribbling brooks, and river’s wider floods,
And hills, and vales, and darksome lowering woods
With grains of varied hues, and grasses pied;
The low brown cottage in the shelter'd nook;
The steeple, peeping just above the trees
Whose dangling leaves keep rustling in the breeze;
And thoughtful shepherd bending o’er his hook;
And maidens stripp’d, haymaking too, appear;
And Hodge a whistling at his fallow plough;
And herdsman hallooing to intruding cow;
All these, with hundreds more, far off and near
Approach my sight; and please to such excess,
That language fails the pleasure to express.

There's music in the songs of birds

There's music in the songs of birds
There's music in the bee
There's music in a woman’s voice
When sitting on your knee

While walking in the mossy vales
Beneath the spreading beech
Song lives in singing nightingales
And in a woman’s speech

To hear her whisper in the dark
'Tis heavens melody
Her calm reply her wise remark
Is more than song to me

The harp can touch no sweeter chord
In music's thrilling choice
Nor music breathe a sweeter word
Than comes from woman’s voice

There's music in the singing lark
That carols to the sky
To hear her whisper in the dark
'Tis heavens melody

There's music in a woman’s voice
While sitting on your knee
And Emma is my own heart's choice
When e'er she chooses me

The Mock Bird

I've often tried, when tending sheep and cow,
With bits of grass and peels of oaten straw,
To whistle like the birds. The thrush would start
To hear her song, and pause, and fly away;
The blackbird never cared, but sang again;
The nightingale's fine song I could not try;
And when the thrush would mock her song, she paused,
And sang another song no bird could do!
She sang when all were done, and beat them all.
I've often sat and mocked them half the day,
Behind the hedge-row, thorn, or bullace tree:
I thought how nobly I could act in crowds.
The woods and fields were all the books I knew,
And every leisure thought was Love and Fame.

When gentle even oer the wild scene creeping

When gentle even oer the wild scene creeping
Lays labour down free from his care
& the moons silver pencil nights landscape is sweeping
On the tree heads & thro mountains tops peeping
As fair as sweet woman is fair

When the lone night bird his love song is breathing
& his sorrow melts sweet on the ear
& the blew mist round the horison wreathing
On the moist cheek & the still bough is [sweep]ing
As sweetly as kind warming tear

While the wild night wind his love tidings hushes
As a watch nurse oer her childs [closing eye]
Whispering soft thro the trees & the bushes
While the brooke oer its [mountain] bed murmuring gushes
As soft as a sweet womans sigh

O blest at that hour when the [doves tribes] are snoozing
[As morn] with sweet [blushes o] care
When the Nights fears in the moon light is loosing
& gilds sweet the snow of her soft heaving bosom
Sure never seems woman so fair

But sad at that hour is fond lovers meeting
& fate frowning fate [hovers] near
Forcd from each other fond vows soft repeating
To part & perchance never more to be meeting
How dearer then life is sweet womans tear

When gentle eve in nights lap is desarting
& sinking moon dims in the eye
When modesty wispers its leave to be parting
When love seals a vow on their lips at departing
How sweet is the good womans sigh

Native Scenes (click here)

[Near Torpel Manor Field just outside Helpston]

O native scenes for ever ever dear
So blest so happy where I long have been
So charmd with nature in each varied scene
To leave ye all is cutting & severe
Ye hanging bushes that from winds woud screen
Where oft Ive shelterd from an aprils shower
In youths past bliss in Childhoods happy hour
Ye Woods Ive wanderd searching out the nest
Ye Meadows gay that reard me many a flower
Culling my cow slips Ive been doubly blest
Huming gay fancies As I bound the prize
O Fate unkind beloved scenes adieu
Your vanishd pleasures crowd my swimming eyes
& makes this wounded heart to bleed anew

To Anna, three years old

My Anna, summer laughs in mirth,
And we will of the party be,
And leave the crickets in the hearth
For green fields' merry minstrelsy.

I see thee now with little hand
Catch at each object passing by,
The happiest thing in all the land
Except the bee and butterfly.

The weed-based arches' walls that stride
O'er where the meadow water falls
Will turn thee from thy path aside
To gaze upon the mossy walls.

And limpid brook that leaps along,
Gilt with the summer's burnished gleam,
Will stop thy little tale or song
To gaze upon its crimping stream.

Thou'lt leave my hand with eager speed
The new-discovered things to see—
The old pond with its water-weed
And danger-daring willow-tree,
Who leans, an ancient invalid,
O'er spots where deepest waters be.

In sudden shout and wild surprise
I hear thy simple wonderment,
As new things meet thy childish eyes
And wake some innocent intent.

As bird or bee or butterfly
Bounds through the crowd of merry leaves
And starts the rapture of thine eye
To run for what it ne'er achieves.

The simple reasoning arguments
Shaped to thy fancy's little view,
The joys and rapturous intents
That everywhere pursue.

So dreamed I over hope's young boon,
When merry summer was returning,
And little thought that time so soon
Would change my early hope to mourning.

I thought to have heard thee mid the bowers
To mock the cuckoo's merry song,
And see thee seek thy daisy flowers
That's been thy anxious choice so long.

But thou art on the bed of pain,
So tells each poor forsaken toy.
Ah, could I see that happy hour
When these shall be thy heart's employ,
And see thee toddle o'er the plain,
And stoop for flowers, and shout for joy.

When with our little ones we spent

When with our little ones we spent
Each Sunday after tea,
And up the wood's dark side we went
Or pasture's rushy lea,
To look among the woodland boughs
To find the bird's retreat,
Or crop the cowslip for the cows;
Then sat to rest the little feet
In many a pleasant place,
And see the lambs, who tried to bleat,
Come first in every race,
Then laugh'd the children's joys to view,
Who ran across the lea
At birds that from the rushes flew,
And many a wandering bee.

Great Casterton

Ronald Blythe deep in conversation with David Rowe in the garden of the Crown Inn, Great Casterton just opposite the church in which Clare and Patty were married in March 1820. David sang two of Clare's poems - 'Maid of Walkherd' and 'The Courtship' as part of the presentation of poems, songs and readings in the Church. It is hoped that these songs will form part of a Clare CD in the near future. At present I can offer a 'Demo' recording of David's settings of 9 of Clare's poems for the princely sum of £3-00.

A womans is the dearest love
Theres nought on earth sincerer
The leisure upon beautys breast
Can any thing be dearer

I saw her love in beauty’s face
I saw her in the rose
I saw her in the fairest flowers
In every weed that grows

(from 'The Courtship')

Summer Heat at Helpston

Back from Helpston and lovely three days of Festival. Although the heat was quite oppressive, the programme and fellow Society members were at their stimulating best.

Theres beauty in the intercourse of nature with her kind
Then come my dear Miss W--- and hear the sueing wind
That will not let thy hair alone, for all its glossy curls
But blows it in disorder like a string of broken pearls
That winnows round thy snowy neck to cool the summer heat
I wish I was the wind myself that kisses one so sweet
.
(from "To Miss W---") excerpt.

My love's like a lily my love's like a rose

For my final posting before the Festival starts on Friday lunchtime in Helpston, a lovely poem from Clare's youthful courting of Patty. Published in "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life & Scenery" in the Spring of 1820. Clare and Patty were married on the 20th March, 1820 in Bridge Casterton Church. On Saturday afternoon, the 10th July, we will be re-visiting the church in the village -- now called Great Casterton.

My love’s like a lily my loves like a rose
My love’s like a smile the spring morning’s disclose
And sweet as the rose on her cheek—her love glows
When sweetly she smileth on me

& as cold as the snow of the lily—my rose
Behaves to pretenders who ever they be
In vain higher stations their passions disclose
To win her affections from me

My love’s like the lily my love’s like the rose
My love’s like the smile the spring morning’s disclose
& fine as the lily & sweet as the rose
My loves beauty bloometh to me

& smiles of more pleasure my heart only knows
To think that pretenders who ever they be
But vainly their love & their passions disclose
My love remains constant to me

July - The Shepherds Calendar

Image: “Summer Parish” by Carry Akroyd*

The weary thresher leaves his barn
And emptys from his shoes the corn

That gatherd in them thro the day
And homward bends his weary way

The gardener he is sprinkling showers
From watering pans on drooping flowers

And set away his hoe and spade
While goody neath the cottage shade

Sits wi a baskett tween her knees
Ready for supper shelling peas

And cobler chatting in the town
Hath put his window shutter down

And the knowing parish clerk
Feign to do his jobs ere dark

Hath timd the church clock to the sun
And wound it up for night and done

And turnd the hugh kee in the door
Chatting his evening story oer

Up the street the servant maid
Runs wi her errands long delayd

And ere the door she enters in
She stops to right a loosend pin

And smooth wi hasty fingers down
The crumpling creases in her gown

Which Rogers oggles rudly made
For may games forfeit never paid

And seizd a kiss against her will
While playing quoits upon the hill

Wi other shepherds laughing nigh
That made her shoy and hurry bye

(lines 621-650)

* Carry Akroyd will be signing her new book “Landscape Change, John Clare and me” at Annakin’s Art Shop in Helpston on the 10th July -- during the John Clare Festival]

Helpstone

Hail, humble Helpstone ! where thy vallies spread,
And thy mean village lifts its lowly head ;
Unknown to grandeur, and unknown to fame;
No minstrel boasting to advance thy name :
Unletter'd spot! unheard in poets' song;
Where bustling labour drives the hours along ;
Where dawning genius never met the day;
Where useless ignorance slumbers life away ;
Unknown nor heeded, where, low genius tries
Above the vulgar and the vain to rise.