from "The Shepherd's Calendar - January"

[Image : Carry Akroyd]

The schoolboy still in dithering joys
Pastime in leisure hours employs
And be the weather as it may
Is never at a loss for play
Rolling up jiant heaps of snow
As noontide frets its little thaw

Making rude things of various names
Snow men or aught their fancy frames
Till numbd wi cold they quake away
And join at hotter sports to play
Kicking wi many a flying bound
The foot ball oer the frozen ground

Or seeking bright glib ice to play
To sailing slide the hours away
As smooth and quick as shadows run
When clouds in autumn pass the sun
Some hurrying rambles eager take
To skait upon the meadow lake

Scaring the snipe from her retreat
From shelving banks unfrozen seat
Or running brook where icy spars
Which the pale sunlight specks wi stars
Shoots crizzling oer the restless tide
To many a likness petrified

Where fancy often stoops to pore
And turns again to wonder more
The more hen too wi fear opprest
Starts from her reedy shelterd nest
Bustling to get from foes away
And scarcly flies more fast then they

To Religion

Thou sacred light, that right from wrong discerns ;
Thou safeguard of the soul, thou heaven on earth ;
Thou undervaluer of the world's concerns,
Thou disregarder of its joys and mirth;
Thou only home the houseless wanderers have ;
Thou prop by which the pilgrim's woes are borne ;
Thou solace of the lonely hermit's cave,
That beds him down to rest on fate's sharp thorn;
Thou only hope to sorrow's bosom given ;
Thou voice of mercy when the weary call ;
Thou faith extending to thy home in heaven ;
Thou peace, thou rest, thou comfort, all in all :
O sovereign good ! on thee all hopes depend.
Till thy grand source unfolds its realizing end.

Sonnets 205
from 'Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery'

Christmas (4)

The final part of 'Christmas' from The Shepherd's Calendar.  Typical of Clare that there is a barbed sting in the last 4 verses: the flight of those of privilege to poetry as their only real 'authentic' celebration of Christmas?  Finding for me an echo in 2011 in the popular celebration of 'the holidays' in warm and secure 'tradition', but without the content.

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.
Tho' manhood bids such raptures die,
And throws such toys aside as vain,
Yet memory loves to turn her eye,
And count past pleasures o'er again.

Around the glowing hearth at night,
The harmless laugh and winter tale
Go round, while parting friends delight
To toast each other o'er their ale;
The cotter oft with quiet zeal
Will musing o'er his Bible lean;
While in the dark the lovers steal
To kiss and toy behind the screen.

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
However simple they may be:
Whate'er with time hath sanction found,
Is welcome and is dear to me.
Pride grows above simplicity,
And spurns them from her haughty mind,
And soon the poet's song will be
The only refuge they can find.

The Shepherd's Calendar
December (lines 97 - 128)

Christmas (3)

While snows the window-panes bedim,
The fire curls up a sunny charm,
Where, creaming o'er the pitcher's rim,
The flowering ale is set to warm;
Mirth, full of joy as summer bees,
Sits there, its pleasures to impart,
And children, 'tween their parents' knees,
Sing scraps of carols o'er by heart.

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 Shepherd's Calendar
December (lines 65 - 96)

Christmas (2)

The singing waits, a merry throng,
At early morn, with simple skill,
Yet imitate the angels' song,
And chant their Christmas ditty still;
And, mid the storm that dies and swells
By fits, in hummings softly steals
The music of the village bells,
Ringing round their merry peals.

When this is past, a merry crew,
Bedeck'd in masks and ribbons gay,
The ‘Morris-dance,’ their sports renew,
And act their winter evening play.
The clown turn'd king, for penny-praise,
Storms with the actor's strut and swell;
And Harlequin, a laugh to raise,
Wears his hunchback and tinkling bell.

And oft for pence and spicy ale,
With winter nosegays pinn'd before,
The wassail-singer tells her tale,
And drawls her Christmas carols o'er.
While prentice boy, with ruddy face,
And rime-bepowder'd, dancing locks,
From door to door with happy pace,
Runs round to claim his ‘Christmas box.’

The block upon the fire is put,
To sanction custom's old desires;
And many a faggot's bands are cut,
For the old farmers' Christmas fires;
Where loud-tongued Gladness joins the throng,
And Winter meets the warmth of May,
Till feeling soon the heat too strong,
He rubs his shins, and draws away.

The Shepherd's Calendar
December (lines 33 - 64)

Christmas (1)

Glad Christmas comes, and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,
E'en want will dry its tears in mirth,
And crown him with a holly bough;
Though tramping 'neath a winter sky,
O'er snowy paths and rimy stiles,
The housewife sets her spinning by
To bid him welcome with her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before,
And windows stuck with evergreens,
The snow is besom'd from the door,
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes.
Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks,
And yew and box, with berries small,
These deck the unused candlesticks,
And pictures hanging by the wall.

Neighbours resume their annual cheer,
Wishing, with smiles and spirits high,
Glad Christmas and a happy year
To every morning passer-by;
Milkmaids their Christmas journeys go,
Accompanied with favour'd swain;
And children pace the crumping snow,
To taste their granny's cake again.

The shepherd, now no more afraid,
Since custom doth the chance bestow,
Starts up to kiss the giggling maid
Beneath the branch of misletoe
That 'neath each cottage beam is seen,
With pearl-like berries shining gay;
The shadow still of what hath been,
Which fashion yearly fades away.

The Shepherd's Calendar
December (lines 1 - 32)

A poet's entry into 'heaven' by Ronnie Blythe

Published in the Church Times on Friday, 16th December, 2011
THE entrance of Ted Hughes to Poets’ Corner last week took me back to when he and I, and that remarkable Dean, Michael Mayne, himself a good writer, placed a memorial to John Clare in that crowded spot. After Clare, authors went up on the windows above it: Wilde, Herrick. But Hughes’s Welsh tablet found floor space at the feet of T. S. Eliot.

It is an amazing concept, our low Olympus, where visitors are brought to a halt by the sheer splendour of its dust. Poets’ Corner began when a young 16th-century scholar found the bones of Geoffrey Chaucer scattered about, and housed them at his own expense in a fine tomb in this aisle. Edmund Spenser’s lovely monument soon followed it.

Poets’ Corner was pretty full when our greatest rural voice, Clare, went to see it. That he should be in it by what he called his “right to song” would have been unimaginable.

But there he is, up on the wall by Matthew Arnold. Mayne, Hughes, and I put him there on a summer’s evening in 1989. The abbey sculptor carved the returning raven with the olive leaf in its beak over Clare’s name. Edward Storey wrote:

You were there again,
no longer the shy ploughboy
wondering how you had escaped
from the fields of Northamptonshire,
but as an equal with those man
who had been treated better by posterity —
Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and Tennyson.

Hughes read Clare’s “The Nightingale’s Nest”, one of the greatest bird poems in the language, and we sang Clare’s tragic hymn “A stranger once did bless the earth”, to Surrey. There was a tradition in Clare’s village, Helpston, of cutting a summer turf and sticking it with wild flowers and calling it a Midsummer Cushion. So, early in the morning, I cut a turf in my farmhouse garden, and covered it with July flowers, and carried it to Westminster Abbey on the train. It weighed a ton.

The Maynes returned to the Deanery to find it on their draining-board. They carried it to the foot of Clare’s memorial. Hughes and his wife, Carol, arrived in the afternoon, and we all had tea.

Hughes and I had met some years before at the Roundhouse, where we gave readings to raise money for Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage. Hughes read his own poetry, and I read Thomas Hardy’s. Afterwards, he and I had a snack in the ice-cream shop near by. Now he drew the curtain from Clare’s memorial, and we all applauded.

I suppose that being admitted to Poets’ Corner is the literary equivalent of entering heaven. Only the Dean of Westminster can let a writer in, and he can be plagued with applicants. I was staying at the Deanery with the Maynes when Michael said: “How about putting Clare in Poets’ Corner?”, overwhelming me. For I had only recently been made president of the John Clare Society, and this recognition of him was beyond my hopes and dreams.

But thus it was, Hughes, Mayne, and I, hundreds of people, and the fat Midsummer Cushion, and, as with Hughes’s own deserved admission, standing there, marvelling at what we had done. (7761)

A longer account of Clare's induction into Poets' Corner, also by Ronald Blythe, may be found on the Clare Essay site : http://johnclareessays.blogspot.com/p/clares-plaque-in-poets-corner.html

Idle Fame

I would not wish the burning blaze
     Of fame around a restless world,
The thunder and the storm of praise
     In crowded tumults heard and hurled.
I would not be a flower to stand
     The stare of every passer-bye;
But in some nook of fairyland,
     Seen in the praise of beauty's eye.


Clare's malady slowly increased. The exact history of this decline is almost lost, yet we may well believe that the death of his mother on the 18th of December, 1835, was a day of double blackness for him... Patty made a great fight for his reason, and at last persuaded him to go out for walks, which checked the decline. Now he became so passionately fond of being out-of-doors that "he could not be made to stop a single day at home." 

In one of these roving walks he met his old friend Mrs. Marsh, the wife of the Bishop of Peterborough. A few nights later as her guest he sat in the Peterborough theatre watching the "Merchant of Venice." So vivid was his imagination - for doubtless the strolling players were not in themselves convincing - that he at last began to shout at Shylock and try to attack him on the stage.

When Clare returned to Helpston, the change in him terrified his wife. And yet, he rallied and walked the fields, and sitting on the window-seat taught his sons to trim the two yew-trees in his garden into old-fashioned circles and cones.

From "Poems Chiefly From Manuscript"

Opening of the Pasture—Love & Flattery (excerpt)

Within a closes nook beneath a shed
Nigh to the stack where stock in winter fed
Where black thorn thickets crowded close behind
& shielded cows & maidens from the wind
Two maidens sat free from the pasture sloughs
& told each other as they milked their cows
Their evening thoughts of love—while over head
The little Wren from its new dwelling fled
Who neath the hovels thatch with spring-hopes blest
Began to hang & build its curious nest
Of hair & feathers & root mosses green
It watched about & pickt its feathers clean
& cocked its tail & sung its evening strain
Then fluttering ventured to its nest again
While bluecaps blest the swelling buds to see
Repeated their two notes from tree to tree
The ass untethered rambling at his ease
Knapt the black budding twigs of ashen trees
& sheep the green grass champt with greedy bite
A certain sign of sudden showers at night
The mavis sung aloud & seemed to say
Arise my timid love & come away
Fear not the cold the winters gone & past
& green leaves come to hide our homes at last

Cottage Tales
Carcenet Press (1993)

Remember, Dear Mary

Remember, dear Mary, love cannot deceive
Loves truth cannot vary, dear Mary, believe.
You may hear and believe it, believe it and hear--
Love could not deceive it those features so dear

Believe me dear Mary to press thy soft hand
Is sweeter than riches, in houses and Land;
Where I pressed thy soft hand at the dew fall o' eve--
I felt the sweet tremble that cannot deceive

If love you believe in, Belief is my love
As it lived once in Eden ere we fell from above
To this heartless, this friendless, this desolate earth--
And kept in first love Immortality's birth

T'is there we last met I adore thee and love thee
There's nothing beneath thee around thee above thee
I feel it and know it, I know so and feel
If your love cannot show it mine cannot conceal

But knowing I love, I feel, and adore
And the more I behold — only love thee the more

Love Poems -- ed. Simon Kovesi (1999)

December























[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (December) – Carry Akroyd]

Christmass is come and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now
Een want will dry its tears in mirth
And crown him wi a holly bough
Tho tramping neath a winter sky
Oer snow track paths and ryhmey stiles
The hus wife sets her spining bye
And bids him welcome wi her smiles
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

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (December - excerpt)

It was at three o'clock on the afternoon of Christmas Eve that Farmer Joyce's haywain trundled through the streets of Peterborough towards the Minster Gate. Sam Billings, Doctor's coat and hat, held the reins and Joyce's two shires lifted their feathered feet and snorted into the frozen air. Huddled in the back, horse blankets drawn about themselves their faces dark as blackamores, the rest of the Helpston players, musicians and guisers, watched the thronging shops and stalls with pink-rimmed eyes.

When they came to the market Sam reined in the horses and tied them to a rail. He threw blankets across their backs.

"There my sweet-hearts, we won't be gone for long."

The company crossed the market place, that was teeming with revellers, and stationed themselves in the archway of the Minster Gate. Straight away the musicians began to play ‘The Devil among the Tailors’ with Dick blowing his flute, John and Old Otter sawing with their bows as though they could make fire with them. Soon a crowd began to gather, drawn by the music and the four guisers standing behind in their solemn row, bright with ribbons, barely blinking. On and on they played until the crowd stood fifteen deep in a curve before them, children pushing forward to the front so that they could see.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 12 – Christmas)

A Reflection in Autumn



















Now Autumn's come, adieu the pleasing greens,
The charming landscape, and the flow'ry plain !
All have deserted from these motley scenes,
With blighted yellow ting'd, and russet stain.

Though desolation seems to triumph here.
Yet this is Spring to what we still shall find :
The trees must all in nakedness appear,
'Reft of their foliage by the blustiy wind.

Just so 'twill fare with me in Autumn's Life ;
Just so I'd wish : but may the trunk and all
Die with the leaves ; nor taste that wintry strife,
When sorrows urge, and fear impedes the fall.

from "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" (1920)

Mary

'Tis autumn now, and nature's scenes,
The pleachy fields and yellowing tree,
Lose all their blooming hues and greens;
But nature finds no change in me.
The fading woods, the russet grange,
The hues of nature may desert;
But naught in me shall find a change
To wrong the angel of my heart.

For Mary is my angel still
Through every month and every ill.
The leaves they loosen from the branch
And fall upon the gusty wind;
But my heart's silent love is staunch,
And naught can tear her from my mind.

The flowers are gone from dell and bower,
Though crowds from summer's lap were given;
But love is an eternal flower,
Like purple amaranths of heaven.
To Mary first my heart did bow.
And if she's true she keeps it now.

Just as the summer keeps the flower
Which spring concealed in hoods of gold,
Or unripe harvest met the shower
And made earth's blessings manifold;
Just so my Mary lives for me,
A silent thought for months and years;
The world may live in revelry,
Her name my lonely quiet cheers;
And cheer it will, whate'er may be,
While Mary lives in bloom for me.

"Oxford World's Classics" - John Clare Major Works (OUP 2004)

Song: The Fruit is fair to luik upo'






















The Fruit is fair to luik upo'
& the flower is fair to see
But my ain flower wi' her sweet clais on
Is the sweetest gem for me
The flower's o' garden's & o' fields
Right bonny flowers may be
The fruit o' orchards flower's o' brae's
Are na' sae sweet to me
She beets them a' in sunday claes
 There's na' sich like on bauks & braes
Her gown is red & white & blue
The tartan rainbow coloured shade
Her face is roses blushing true
& lilys grow beneath the plaid
Her waist a single arm may span
Her ancle gimp her leg sae bra'
A proper angel for a man
Her foot the smallest o' the sma'
There's na sick like in sunday claes
On scotlands birks & scotlands braes
I've travelled scotland three times oer
& the flower upo' the heather know
I never saw the like before
By hill or flood or birkenshaw
There's fruits & flower's in mony a glen
But o' the like they've nane to show
She beats them oer & oer agen
The maid upo' the heather know
She beats them a' when i' her sunday clais
Theres nae sic like on bauks or brae's

LP I 162

Censorship of the poet.

Clare's first published volume "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery," passed rapidly through three editions, and a fourth was printed. Several of Clare's influential friends took exception to a few passages in the first issue on the ground that they were rather too outspoken in their rusticity, and Lord Radstock strongly urged the omission in subsequent editions of several lines which he characterized as "Radical slang." Mr. Taylor contested both points for some time, but Lord Radstock threatened to disown Clare if he declined to oblige his patrons, and the poet at length made the desired concessions. The following were a few of the passages over which his lordship exercised censorship:

Accursed Wealth! o'erbounding human laws,
Of every evil thou remain'st the cause.

Sweet rest and peace, ye dear, departed charms,
Which industry once cherished in her arms,
When ease and plenty, known but now to few,
Were known to all, and labour had its due.

The rough, rude ploughman, off his fallow-grounds,
(That necessary tool of wealth and pride)...

The Luckless Journey

A special posting for Remembrance Sunday

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

The Wood-cutter's Night Song

Welcome, red and roundy sun,
  Dropping lowly in the west;
Now my hard day's work is done,
  I'm as happy as the best.

Joyful are the thoughts of home,
  Now I'm ready for my chair,
So, till morrow-morning's come,
  Bill and mittens, lie ye there!

Though to leave your pretty song,
  Little birds, it gives me pain,
Yet to-morrow is not long,
  Then I'm with you all again.

If I stop, and stand about,
  Well I know how things will be,
Judy will be looking out
  Every now-and-then for me.

So fare ye well! and hold your tongues,
  Sing no more until I come;
They're not worthy of your songs
  That never care to drop a crumb.

All day long I love the oaks,
  But, at nights, yon little cot,
Where I see the chimney smokes,
  Is by far the prettiest spot.

Wife and children all are there,
  To revive with pleasant looks,
Table ready set, and chair,
  Supper hanging on the hooks.

Soon as ever I get in,
  When my faggot down I fling,
Little prattlers they begin
  Teasing me to talk and sing.

Welcome, red and roundy sun,
  Dropping lowly in the west;
Now my hard day's work is done,
  I'm as happy as the best.

Joyful are the thoughts of home,
  Now I'm ready for my chair,
So, till morrow-morning's come,
  Bill and mittens, lie ye there!

An Outlaw in the Playground

The sense in which Clare is an 'outlaw' is one of perspective rather than law and is bound up with enclosure which, from the farmers' and the landowners' point of view is a fine thing, but 'change the angle of vision, the nature of experience, and the 'never weary plough' provides not wealth but devastation, 'a desert'. And it is, then, the ultimate irony that Clare's own poems themselves become out of bounds.'

Indeed, the reason Clare has been overlooked until recently is because of his being an 'outlaw', speaking with a voice which is not 'English', at least, not in the entirely artificial, literary and culturally orthodox notion of what was and what was not possible for peasant poets to say.

From a review in the
John Clare Society Newsletter No. 27 – March 1990
of England and Englishness
by Prof. John Lucas
Hogarth Press, 1990

The Boy’s Playground
Here lies the germ and happiness of life —
The foot-beat playground of the village boys;
Echo is weary of the rapturous strife,
And almost fades 'neath the excessive noise;
Some race at leap-frog o'er each other's back,
Some chase their shadows in the evening sun,
Some play at hare and hounds, a noisy pack,
Or ‘Duck, duck under water’ shout, and run;
Others at hopscotch try their cautious skill,
Or nine-peg morris cut on grassy hill;
Astraddle upon clapping gates some swee,
Or tie the branches down of willow tree.
A passing-bell scarce makes a deeper sigh
Than the remembrances of days gone by.

November























[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (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
Dull for a time the slumbering weather flings
Its murky prison round then winds wake loud
Wi sudden start the once still forest sings
Winters returning song cloud races cloud
And the orison throws away its shrowd
And sweeps its stretching circle from the eye
Storm upon storm in quick succession crowd
And oer the samness of the purple skye
Heaven paints its wild irregularity

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (November - excerpt)

Charlie Turner's half-wit daughter Isabel is fallen sick. Every morning he's in Royce's Wood gathering wet sticks. He-mixes sawdust with flour for the grey scones he bakes in the-ashes, and pulls leaves and grass and begs an onion to make her a bowl of thin green soup. Jem Ferrar limes the hedgerows with trembling hands for little birds to give meat to his broth. And Joseph Dolby drinks away his wage and sleeps in one of Ralph Wormstall’s lambing sheds while his wife and boys lift stones in the fields.

Parker, John, Dick Turnill, Jem Johnson, Will Mash and all the enclosure team, after four weeks cursing the bitter, slanting rain that soaked their clothes and turned the soil to mire; now curse the cold frost that stiffens earth to stone.

And there is a new sound that echoes and redounds across the parish — the sound of axe to wood. All the streams are to be straightened into dykes and drains, and the willows and alders and dotterels that border Rhyme Dyke and Green Dyke and Round Oak Spring and Eastwell Spring and all the winding river banks are to be felled. The water must run now to the constraints of the ruled line.

With every stroke of iron to timber there is a sudden veering in the flight of a bird; a sudden start in the winter-sleep of badger, hedgehog, mole; a sudden shift in the deep droning note of the bees in their skeps against the church wall. The parish is set a-quiver and every fibre trembles. John knows it too, whose strings are tight-tuned to all sensation, though he is asleep to its cause and knows only a hollow ache of sorrow us the felling troubles his ears from across the fields as he works.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 11 – St. Thomas’ Eve)

from "Autumn"

Syren of sullen moods and fading hues,
Yet haply not incapable of joy,
Sweet Autumn! I thee hail
With welcome all unfeigned;

And oft as morning from her lattice peeps
To beckon up the sun, I seek with thee
To drink the dewy breath
Of fields left fragrant then,

In solitudes, where no frequented paths
But what thine own foot makes betray thine home,
Stealing obtrusive there
To meditate thy end;

By overshadowed ponds, in woody nooks,
With ramping sallows lined, and crowding sedge,
Which woo the winds to play,
And with them dance for joy;

And meadow pools, torn wide by lawless floods,
Where waterlilies spread their oily leaves,
On which, as wont, the fly
Oft battens in the sun.

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 perrenial bloom
She lives mid pastures evergreen - And meadows ever fair
Each winter spring and summer scene - The sweetest woman there

Autumn

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.

You promised me, a year ago

















COLIN
You promised me, a year ago,
When autumn bleach'd the mistletoe,
That you and I should be as one;
But now another autumn's gone—
Its solemn knell is in the blast,
And love's bright sun is overcast;
Yet flowers will bloom and birds will sing,
And e'en the winter claim the spring.

















LUCY
The hedges will be green again,
And flowers will come on hill and plain;
And though we meet a rainy day,
The hawthorn will be white with May.
If love and nature still agree,
Green leaves will clothe the trysting-tree;
And when these pleasing days you view,
Think Lucy's heart yet be true.

from "Child Harold"

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

(lines 357 - 374)

from "The Autumnal Morning"














Now the Village calm & still
Droves its tenants up the hill
Gently lifts as tho it where
shed proaching near
Tho far different be the cause
That the hinds attention draws
While oer wheat fields turning brown
Laughing flings its down
Emigrating swallows now
Sweep no more the green hills brow
Nor in circuits round the spring
Skim & dip their sutty wing
& no more their chimny nigh
Twitter round to catch their flye
But with more majestic rise
Practising their exercise
& their young brood to pursue
Autums weary journy through
Meditating travels long
Wher the freshing year is young
Leaving us our cold sojourn
'Turning more till springs return

On seeing two swallows late in October






















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.

October























[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (October) – Carry Akroyd]

With wicker basket swinging on her arm
Searching the hedges of home close or farm
Where brashy eldern trees to autumn fade
Wild shines the hedge in autumns gay parade
The glossy berrys picturesquely weaves
Their swathy bunches mid the yellow leaves
Where the pert sparrow stains his little bill
And tutling robin picks his meals at will
Black ripening to the wan suns misty ray
Here the industrious hus wives wend their way
Pulling the brittle branches carefull down
And hawking loads of berrys to the town
While village dames as they get ripe and fine
Repair to pluck them for their ‘eldern wine’
That bottld up becomes a rousing charm
To kindle winters icy bosom warm
That wi its merry partner nut brown beer
Makes up the peasants christmass keeping cheer

(lines 71-88)

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (October)

There has been a fermentation too in the mind of John Clare, a fever almost, a frenzy of scribbling. Since first he learned his ABCs he has scratched with his nib at whatever scrap of paper he could lay his hands upon. Most have been scrunched in his fist and thrown into the fire. Some he has folded most careful into the pages of his few precious books. But since Bridge Fair he has writ as one possessed. Whether it was that tattered volume that woke in him something that had long been slumbering. Or whether it is to sharpen and sweeten his tongue for Mary…

Each morning, along with the bread and cheese in his dinner bag, he must carry his paper and pencil stub. When the other men rest from their fencing or hedge-setting or stone-breaking and settle down for their baggin he sits apart and sets down the rhymes he has whispered to himself as he laboured. There are those that mock, and those that shrug, and those that say ‘Good luck to ye', but John is indifferent to them all. He is in amaze of words that will not let him be, they come spilling and rhyming from his tongue and he delights in the pictures they summon. And then, when a poem is done, he will doubt it also.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 10 – All Hallows’ Eve)

Sun-rising in September

How delightfuly pleasant when the cool chilling air
By september is thrown oer the globe
When each morning both hedges and bushes do wear
Instead of their green—a grey robe.
To see the sun rise thro the skirts of the wood
In his mantle so lovley and red
It cheers up my spirits and does me much good
As thro the cold stubbles I tred.
Tho not that his beams more advances the scene
Or adds to the Landscape a charm
But all that delights me by him may be seen
That the ensuing hours will be warm.
And this with the poet as yet in the world
In a parrarel sence will comply
For when he does view the gay scenes there unfurl'd
Tis only to light him on high.

Song - O aince I loved the lily






















O aince I loved the lily
As the first & fairest flower
& aince I luved the rose
On simmers hedge row bower
& I luv'd the white thorn bower
Clad softly green at spring
But sweeter then the flower
Is my luv' Mary King

I luved her in her childhood
In sorrow & in joy
Red as blossoms i' the wildwood
& brown as any boy
As the linnet luv's its young
I' the green leaves o' the spring
So I've often said & sung
Of my true luv' Mary King

Sae I've often said & sung
When her links o' flaxen hair
Oer her fair shoulders hung
& her little breast was bare
I luved her more & more
Till she got a fair young thing
Fond & tender as before
Was the bonny Mary King

& now she's ripe & blooming
I' the prime o' rosey may
& her bosoms luv' untombing
Bursts lace & pins away
‘All sueing to be prest’
White as snow drops o' the spring
Love warms the lily breast
O sweet bonny Mary King
My bonny Mary King

Ripe & rosey Mary King
Sweetest flower o' a' the spring
Is my ain true luv' Mary King
Sae I luv' her night & day
A ripe & bonny thing
Till lifes sands waste away
Young handsome Mary King

from "The Harvest Morning"






















Cocks wake the early morn wi' many a Crow
Loud ticking village clock has counted four
The labouring rustic hears his restless foe
& weary bones & pains complaining sore
Hobbles to fetch his horses from the moor
Some busy 'gin to team the loaded corn
Which night throng'd round the barns becrouded door
Such plentious scenes the farmers yards adorn
Such busy bustling toils now mark the harvest morn
The birdboy's pealing horn is loudly blow'd
The waggons jostle on wi' rattling sound
& hogs & geese now throng the dusty road
Grunting & gabbling in contension round
The barley ears that litter on the ground—
What printing traces mark the waggons way
What busy bustling wakens echo round
How drives the suns warm beams the mist away
How labour sweats & toils & dreads the sultry day

(lines 1 to 18)

September






















[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (September) – Carry Akroyd]

Harvest awakes the morning still
And toils rude groups the valleys fill
Deserted is each cottage hearth
To all life save the crickets mirth
Each burring wheel their sabbath meets
Nor walks a gossip in the streets
The bench beneath its eldern bough
Lined oer with grass is empty now
Where black birds caged from out the sun
Would whistle while their mistress spun
All haunt the thronged fields still to share
The harvests lingering bounty there
As yet no meddling boys resort
About the streets in idle sport
The butterflye enjoys his hour
And flirts unchaced from flower to flower
And humming bees that morning calls
From out the low huts mortar walls
Which passing boy no more controuls
Flye undisturbed about their holes
And sparrows in glad chirpings meet
Unpelted in the quiet street

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (September - excerpt)

Today has been the last of the harvest. The day broke with but one small stand of wheat still waiting on Lolham Bridge Field. But though it should have been a day of ease and joy with the promise of largesse and horkey writ large in every heart, it was a sombre village that woke to the harvest horn.

Dick and Bob Turnill had been leading a loaded cart back to their yard from Lolham Bridge Field when the bank beside Green Dyke gave way and the piled load lurched out of true. The cart tipped its grain into the dyke and one of the horses fell with his full weight upon his collar. He was struggling so fierce that none could get close enough to cut him free. Soon he was strangled, his tongue lolling between his teeth. Many had rallied to rake the soaked straw from the dyke and lay it to dry again, but a broken cart, a dead gelding and half a wagon-load of corn are a higher toll than Bob Turnill can afford to pay, as all the parish knows. It is a harsh God that he prays to so avid.

And there is a third sorrow too in the fence-posts and quick-thorn seedlings that wait on the moment when the harvest largesse is finished and autumn comes riding across the fields in her russets and ochres, red as the leaves of the dock and brown as its steeples of seed.

John and Parker Clare walked silently out to the field this morning. The other men were muted too, avoiding John's eye. For although most believed that the gypsy had reaped his just deserts, the transportation of a known man puts a quiet on the busiest tongue. There was not the usual babble of talk among the women either, rather a whispered, subdued gossiping. The children, though, ran and whooped as oblivious to care as the barking village dogs.

When they reached the stand of wheat the old rhythms of harvest that have governed these months of high summer were a balm to John's heart, for they demanded no more than the song of whet-stone to blade and the mindless drudgery of hard labour. Yesterday's sharp sorrow was numbed by an aching shoulder and a sweating back. Slowly and steadily as the morning progressed the wheat diminished in front of him and the stooks gathered behind.

It was mid-morning, when the wheat was all but taken, that a hare leapt out from between the stalks and dodged between the legs of the men. It was one of this year's leverets, full grown but gangly still, sleek and brown…

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 8 – Harvest)

The Last of Summer (I)

A beauty on the scene attends
Ere autumn comes and summer ends,
When summer's glory first we see
As stained with its mortality.

Each morn wakes wan, its sunlight wanes
On yellowing leaves and fading plains;
Green fields no more the summer views,
All sickened into ripened hues

Of brown and grey and darksome glooms
That mark the path where autumn comes;
And in each woodland's buried way
The dewdrop lives for half the day.

Dank mists oft creep 'twixt earth and sky,
And dreaming dim the morning's eye,
And dullness wears along the while
As if the sun was loath to smile.

Yet at midday his feebled powers
Will brighten up in sultry hours,
And sweating toil, that often stops
To wipe aside the falling drops.

Pierced with his downward daily ray,
Wishes the lagging hours away.
By swallows we may plain perceive
When summer's on the point to leave.

(to be continued...)

The Nightingale

This is the month the nightingale, clod brown,
Is heard among the woodland shady boughs:
This is the time when in the vale, grass-grown,
The maiden hears at eve her lover's vows,
What time the blue mist round the patient cows
Dim rises from the grass and half conceals
Their dappled hides. I hear the nightingale,
That from the little blackthorn spinney steals
To the old hazel hedge that skirts the vale,
And still unseen sings sweet. The ploughman feels
The thrilling music as he goes along,
And imitates and listens; while the fields
Lose all their paths in dusk to lead him wrong,
Still sings the nightingale her soft melodious song.

from "Holywell"

















From covert hedge, on either side,
The blackbirds flutter'd terrified,
Mistaking me for pilfering boy
That doth too oft their nests destroy;
And ‘prink, prink, prink,’ they took to wing,
In snugger shades to build and sing.
From tufted grass or bush, the hare
Oft sprung from her endanger'd lair;
Surprise was startled on her rout,
So near one's feet she bolted out.
The sun each tree-top mounted o'er,
And got church-steeple height or more:
And as I soodled on and on,
The ground was warm to look upon,
It e'en invited one to rest,
And have a nap upon its breast:
But thought upon my journey's end,
Where doubtful fancies did depend,
Urg'd on my lazy feet to roam,
Like truant school-boy kept from home

(lines 53 - 72)

The Nightingale's Nest

Ronnie Blythe on Desert Island Discs in 2001 -
 http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/castaway/aa729d2d#p00948y7

(One of his choices being Ted Hughes reading "The Nightingale's Nest" at Westminster Abbey on 13th June 1989 - see posting below):

Up this green woodland-ride let's softly rove,
And list the nightingale — she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love;
For here I've heard her many a merry year—
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man's-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o'er the road, and stops the way —
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails—
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ:
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel's under boughs, I've nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as 'twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer's fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain:
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast;
The nightingale to summer's life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter's nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide—
Hark ! there she is as usual— let's be hush—
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious 'neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We'll wade right through, it is a likely nook:
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They'll build, where rude boys never think to look—
Aye, as I live! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump! I've searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by—
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops — as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We'll leave it as we found it: safety's guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she's sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on, sweet bird! may no worse hap befall
Thy visions, than the fear that now deceives.
We will not plunder music of its dower,
Nor turn this spot of happiness to thrall;
For melody seems hid in every flower,
That blossoms near thy home. These harebells all
Seem bowing with the beautiful in song;
And gaping cuckoo-flower, with spotted leaves,
Seems blushing of the singing it has heard.
How curious is the nest; no other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots: dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within,
And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare,
What scarcely seem materials, down and hair;
For from men's haunts she nothing seems to win.
Yet Nature is the builder, and contrives
Homes for her children's comfort, even here;
Where Solitude's disciples spend their lives
Unseen, save when a wanderer passes near
That loves such pleasant places. Deep adown,
The nest is made a hermit's mossy cell.
Snug lie her curious eggs in number five,
Of deadened green, or rather olive brown;
And the old prickly thorn-bush guards them well.
So here we'll leave them, still unknown to wrong,
As the old woodland's legacy of song.

Song









One gloomy eve I roamed about
  Neath Oxey's hazel bowers,
While timid hares were darting out,
  To crop the dewy flowers;
And soothing was the scene to me,
  Right pleased was my soul,
My breast was calm as summer's sea
  When waves forget to roll.

But short was even's placid smile,
  My startled soul to charm,
When Nelly lightly skipt the stile,
  With milk-pail on her arm:
One careless look on me she flung,
  As bright as parting day;
And like a hawk from covert sprung,
  It pounced my peace away.

A World for Love

O this world is all too rude for thee with much ado & care
O this world is but a rude world & hurts a thing so fair
Was there a nook in which the world had never been to sere
That world would prove a paradise when thou & love was near
& there to pluck the blackberry & there to reach the sloe
How joyously & quietly would love thy partner go
Then rest when weary on a bank where not a grassy blade
Had ere been bent by troubles feet & love thy pillow made
For summer would be evergreen though sloes was in their prime
& winter smile his frowns to spring in beautys happy clime
& months would come & months would go & all in sunny moods
& every thing inspired by thee grow beautifully good
& there to seek a cot unknown to any care & pain
& there to shut the door alone on singing wind & rain
Far far away from all the world more rude then rain or wind
& who could wish a sweeter home or better place to find
Then thus to live & love with thee thou beautiful delight
Then thus to love & live with thee the summer day & night
& earth itself where thou had rest would surely smile to see
Herself grow eden once again possest of love & thee

(from ‘Midsummer Cushion’)

Native Scenes






















O Native Scenes, for ever dear!
So blest, so happy as I here have been.
So charm'd with nature in each varied scene,
To leave you all is cutting and severe.
Ye hawthorn bushes that from winds would screen,
Where oft I've shelter'd from a threaten'd shower ;
In youth's past bliss, in childhood's happy hour,
Ye woods I've wandered, seeking out the nest;
Ye meadows gay that rear'd rae many a flower,
Where, pulling cowslips, I've been doubly blest.
Humming gay fancies as I pluck'd the prize :
Oh, fate unkind! beloved scenes, adieu!
Your vanish'd pleasures crowd my swimming eyes,
And make the wounded heart to bleed anew.

Oh, Wert Thou in the Storm















Oh, wert thou in the storm,
How I would shield thee!
To keep thee dry and warm
A camp I would build thee.

Though the clouds poured again,
Not a drop should harm thee;
The music of wind and rain
Rather should charm thee.

Oh, wert thou in the storm,
A shed I would build for thee,
To keep thee dry and warm.
How I would shield thee!

The rain should not wet thee
Nor thunderclap harm thee;
By thy side I would set me
To comfort and warm thee.

I would sit by thy side, love,
While the dread storm was over,
And the wings of an angel
My charmer would cover.

Sonnet: "Rural Scenes"

I never saw a man in all my days—
One whom the calm of quietness pervades—
Who gave not woods and fields his hearty praise,
And felt a happiness in summer shades.
There I meet common thoughts, that all may read
Who love the quiet fields:—I note them well,
Because they give me joy as I proceed,
And joy renewed, when I their beauties tell
In simple verse, and unambitious songs,
That in some mossy cottage haply may
Be read, and win the praise of humble tongues
In the green shadows of some after-day.
For rural fame may likeliest rapture yield
To hearts, whose songs are gathered from the field.

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.

August























[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (August) – Carry Akroyd]

Of old and young their daily tasks pursue
The barleys beard is grey and wheat is brown
And wakens toil betimes to leave the town
The reapers leave their beds before the sun
And gleaners follow in the toils begun
To pick the littered ear the reaper leaves
And glean in open fields among the sheaves
The ruddy child nursed in the lap of care
In toils rude strife to do his little share
Beside his mother poddles oer the land
Sun burnt and stooping with a weary hand
Picking his tiney glean of corn or wheat
While crackling stubbles wound his little feet
Full glad he often is to sit awhile
Upon a smooth green baulk to ease his toil
And feign would spend an idle hour to play
With insects strangers to the moiling day
Creeping about each rush and grassy stem
And often wishes he was one of them
In weariness of heart that he might lye
Hid in the grass from the days burning eye
That raises tender blisters on his skin
Thro holes or openings that have lost a pin
Free from the crackling stubs to toil and glean
And smiles to think how happy he had been
Whilst his expecting mother stops to tye
Her handful up and waiting his supply

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (August - excerpt)

The rhythm and hard labour of these harvest days have been a sweet relief to John. They have rendered him too tired to think. All morning the team of men, in smocks and wide-brimmed hats of rush or straw, worked together. They swung their curved blades in the easy accord that their health depends upon, for to be out of rhythm is to cut flesh to bone of the man alongside. From time to time they stopped to sharpen their blades, drawing the whet-stones along the curved blades, two strokes below and one above. The scythes rang out like cutlasses. Then they'd return to their harvest, Richard Royce leading, the others falling in behind, like fiddlers in a band with their bows rising and falling in perfect time.

The women followed, Ann Clare and Betsy Jackson amongst them. They gathered the fallen swathes of wheat in their arms and lifted them up, as though tending the fallen. They tied each sheaf with twisted straw. They leaned the sheaves together, six at a time, into stocks. Behind them row upon row of lifted stooks stood, each like a cluster of tousle-headed prisoners of war bound together back to back. Overhead a fierce sun beat down upon bent backs.

On the other side of Lolham Bridge Field, where Mr Bull's and Bob Turnill's stooks had stood three weeks in bright sunshine, two great carts had been drawn to the edge of their furlongs. One man stood in each and built the load, six more forked the sheaves up to them as they worked. The waiting horses stamped in the heat.

Beyond them, where the stooks had all been taken, Kitty Otter, Sophie Clare and a gaggle of other girls, old women and village paupers were gleaning the stubble for spilt grain.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 7 – Harvest)

The Return: Northborough, 1841 (excerpt)

Now melancholy autumn comes anew
With showery clouds and fields of wheat tanned brown;
Along the meadow banks I peace pursue
And see the wild flowers gleaming up and down,
Like sun and light; the ragwort's golden crown
Mirrors like sunshine when sunbeams retire,
And silver yarrow: there's the little town,
And o'er the meadows gleams that slender spire,
Reminding me of one, and 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 absence; fate, that would deter
My hate for all things, strengthens love for her.

Written in a Thunderstorm, 15 July 1841

THE heavens are wroth; the thunder's rattling peal
Rolls like a vast volcano in the sky;
Yet nothing starts the apathy I feel,
Nor chills with fear eternal destiny.
My soul is apathy, a ruin vast;
Time cannot clear the ruined mass away;
My life is hell, the hopeless die is cast,
And manhood's prime is premature decay.
Roll on, ye wrath of thunders, peal on peal,
Till worlds are ruins, and myself alone;
Melt heart and soul, cased in obdurate steel,
Till I can feel that nature is my throne.
I live in love, sun of undying light,
And fathom my own heart for ways of good;
In its pure atmosphere, day without night
Smiles on the plains, the forest, and the flood.
Smile on, ye elements of earth and sky,
Or frown in thunders as ye frown on me;
Bid earth and its delusions pass away,
But leave the mind, as its creator, free.

[Image: George Morland]

John Clare Tweets (Click here)

"Tweets have become a contemporay Haiku, at their best artfully worded moments of linguistic economy, abbreviation, and beauty." (Simon Pegg)  Clare, in all his vast output, was ahead of his time in his ability to capture a scene or mood in just a few lines, just like a Tweet.  So here we are, my experiment in Clare Tweet postings... suggestions will be used!

Ronald Blythe on the Festival

You might like to read Ronnie's 'report' of the 30th Festival... 

"Back once more from the John Clare Festival at Helpston. Our Society has outgrown the school named after him, and has to fill a marquee. Rows and rows of familiar faces. The village has wide Enclosure roads and handsome Barnack-stone houses, toppling hollyhocks, and bird-filled skies. As always, I see the poet running over the fields to Glinton, to be taught to read and write for a penny a week, and to do his arithmetic in the dust of the threshing barn, and to lie hidden with a book in a deserted quarry.

What a good education he got, one that was perfect for our greatest rural voice. Clare, too, had a violin. The gypsies showed him how to play it. We had lunch in the Blue Bell, where he would be found with his beer and his finds — wild flowers. They would straggle from his velvet pockets. Have you read John Clare? If not, do so at once. His life was bitter-sweet with a vengeance. Poor Clare. Great Clare."

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.

Sonnet: "I am"

I might have inserted several praises from friends in extracts from their letters mentioning my poems etc but I leave the books I have published and the poems that may yet be published to speak for them selves. If they cannot go without leading strings let them fall and be forgotten. They [ha]ve gaind me many pleasures and freinds that have smoothed the rugged road of my early life and made my present lot. And if they are deemd unworthy of the notice of posterity I have neither the power nor the wish to save them from the fate that awaits them I am proud of the notice they have gained me and I shall feel a prouder gratification still if my future publications be found worthy of further [notice]

[Autobiographical Fragments]

I feel I am — I only know I am,
And plod upon the earth, as dull and void:
Earth's prison chilled my body with its dram
Of dullness, and my soaring thoughts destroyed,
I fled to solitudes from passions dream,
But strife persued — I only know, I am.
I was a being created in the race
Of men disdaining bounds of place and time:
A spirit that could travel o'er the space
Of earth and heaven — like a thought sublime,
Tracing creation, like my maker, free —
A soul unshackled — like eternity,
Spurning earth's vain and soul debasing thrall
But now I only know I am — that's all.

I am

I am — yet what I am, none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost: —
I am the self-consumer of my woes; —
They rise and vanish in oblivion's host,
Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes: —
And yet I am, and live — like vapours tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, —
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems;
Even the dearest, that I love the best
Are strange — nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes, where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God;
And sleep as I in childhood, sweetly slept,
Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie,
The grass below — above the vaulted sky.

[Image: Chris Spracklen]