O she was more than fair - divinely fair

O she was more then fair — divinely fair
Can language paint the soul in those blue eyes
Can fancy read the feelings painted there
— Those hills of snow that on her bosom lies
Or beauty speak for all those sweet replies
That through loves visions like the sun is breaking
Wakeing new hopes & fears & stifled sighs
From first love's dreame's my love is scarcely waking
The wounds might heal but still the heart is aching

Her looks was like the spring her very voice
Was springs own music more then song to me
Choice of my boyhood nay my souls first choice
From her sweet thralldom I am never free
Yet here my prison is a spring to me
Past memories bloom like flowers where e'er I rove
My very bondage though in snares — is free
I love to stretch me in this shadey Grove
& muse upon the memories of love

Child Harold (lines 1256 - 1273)

from "Solitude"

Wishing to despise as then
Brunts of fate, and scorn of men;
When fate's demons thus intrude,
Then I seek thee, Solitude,
Where the abbey's height appears
Hoary 'neath a weight of years;
Where the mouldering walls are seen
Hung with pellitory green;
Where the steeple's taper stretch
Tires the eye its length to reach,
Dizzy, nauntling high and proud,
Top-stone losing in a cloud;
Where the cross, to time resign'd,
Creaking harshly in the wind,
Crowning high the rifted dome,
Points the pilgrim's wish'd-for home;
While the look fear turns away,
Shuddering at its dread decay.
There let me my peace pursue
'Neath the shades of gloomy yew,
Doleful hung with mourning green,
Suiting well the solemn scene;
There, that I may learn to scan
Mites illustrious, called man,
Turn with thee the nettles by
Where the grave-stone meets the eye,
Soon, full soon to read and see
That all below is vanity.

(lines 183-210)

Clare's Grave

With another Clare Festival approaching it may be timely to remind pilgrims to Clare's grave that the designer of Clare's very distinctive gravestone, memorably described by Charles Causley* as 'an upturned stone boat', was one Michael Drury, a Lincoln architect, who happens to have been a son of Edward Bell Drury, the Stamford bookseller, originally from Lincoln, who alerted his publisher cousin John Taylor to Clare's talents. There is a nice symmetry in the fact that Drury senior first 'discovered' the poet and Drury junior commemorated his last resting place.

I owe this information to a clipping from the Stamford Mercury, 13 August 1864, preserved in a notebook in the Godfrey Collection at Peterborough Museum (PMS G2, p.21).

Edward Drury also had a brother named Michael, a Philadelphia bookseller, mentioned on p.156 of Jonathan Bate's biography. There was also a George Drury, of Barholm, near Market Deeping, on the committee that raised funds for the gravestone by public subscription, and it seems likely that he too belonged to this family. A quick search of the UK Telephone Directory shows that Drury is still quite a common name in Lincolnshire, and chances are the family line continues to this day. Perhaps at some future Festival we may even see Clare descendants and Drury descendants converge at the graveside, which would be a very fitting communion indeed.

Greg Crossan
John Clare Society Newsletter No 92 (June 2006)

* “Helpston”

Hills sank like green fleets on the land's long rim
About the village of toast-coloured stone.
Leaving the car beside the Blue Bell, we
Walked with a clutch of flowers the clear lane
Towards the grave.

It was well combed, and quiet as before.
An upturned stone boat
Beached at God's thick door.
Only the water in the spiked grave-pot
Smelt sourly of death.
Yet no wind seemed to blow
From off the fen or sea
The flowers flickered in the painted pot
Like green antennae,
As though John Clare from a sounding skull
Brim with a hundred years of dirt and stone
Signalled to us;
And light suddenly breathed
Over the plain.

Later, drinking whisky in The Bull at Peterborough,
The face of the poet
Lying out on the rigid plain
Stared at me
As clearly as it once stared through
The glass coffin-lid
In the church-side pub on his burial day:
Head visible, to prove
The bulging brain was not taken away
By surgeons, digging through the bone and hair
As if to find poems still
Beating there;
Then, like an anchor, to be lowered fast
Out of creation's pain, the stropping wind,
Deep out of sight, into the world's mind.

Charles Causley

[Cornishman Charles Causley died on November 4, 2003, at the age of 86.]

The red bagged bee...

The red bagged bee on never weary wing
Pipe's his small trumpet round the early flowers
& the white nettles by the hedge in spring
Hears his low music all the sunny hours
Till clouds come on & leaves the falling showers
Herald of spring & music of wild blooms
It seems the minstrel of springs early flowers
On banks where the red nettle flowers it comes
& there all the long sunny morning hums

On a Journey: Fragment

The coy hedge-sparrow flaps her wing
And hops about the hedges,
And soon to brood the early spring
Will have some downy pledges;
They'll lift their heads and cree and crow
Hid by the dyke's bulrushes,
Almost before the winter haw
Has left the leafing bushes.

The blackbird's wing was drabbling wet
With the shower so sudden coming
As on the whitethorn bush he sat
Where the wild white rose was blooming;
The young ones in a nest of love,
Where the hedge the bramble hopples,
Cree'd, cawed and stretched their necks above
With their down all hung with dropples.

The jay set up his copple crown
And screamed to see a stranger
And swopt and hurried up and down
To warn the birds of danger;
And magpies where the spinney was
Noised five and six together,
While patiently the woodman's ass
Stood stretching round his tether.

The World's End

To hunt birds' nests on summer morns,
So far my leisure seemed to run,
I've paused to wonder where I'd got
And thought I'd got beyond the sun;
It seemed to rise another way,
The very world's end seemed as near;
Some strange bush pointed where it lay,
So back I turned for very fear
With eager haste and wonder-struck,
Pursued as by a dreaded spell,
Till home—Oh, could I write a book,
I thought, what wonders I could tell!
And when again I left the town
To the world's end I thought I'd go
And o'er the brink just peep adown
To see the mighty depths below.

John Clare and the folk tradition

George Deacon's thesis is that John Clare, the Northamptonshire poet, was a product of the folk tradition. His evidence for this is largely taken from the Clare manuscripts at Northampton and Peterborough Libraries. From these sources he has reproduced Clare's collections of song texts, his two tune-books for the fiddle, and relevant references in his poetry, autobiographical notes, and correspondence, including mention of customs. These records are prefaced by an important essay that successfully relates Clare's poetry to the oral tradition in which he grew up, in which he participated, and of which he was an observer. Deacon asserts, “His poetry has a musicaliiy redolent of the tunes he played and assiduously collected, while its rhythm and metre are as much a product of ballad and song as they are of a conscious attempt to innovate” (p. 10). The book is a tour de force, meticulously edited and annotated, and the remarks that follow should be seen in this context.

Without doubt John Clare was a remarkable man and his legacy provides us with a unique insight into the village culture of Helpston in the early nineteenth century. There is justification to Deacon's claim that Clare was almost certainly the first song collector in southern England, preceding John Broadwood by twenty or more years. Following the Scottish tradition of publishing ballad collections exemplified by Allan Cunningham, Tannahill, and Burns, Clare set about preparing his own. His primary source was his parents, but he also included songs from a shoemaker and a shepherd. Most of the fifty-two songs are unsourced, and many of these show the signs of Clare's own hand to a greater or lesser extent. While it is to be regretted that Clare's documentation is so sparse and that he has failed to distinguish between accurate oral record and his own input, we cannot overlook the fact that Clare was working from within the tradition. After all, if Clare had not been the poet, he would certainty never have bothered recording any songs, and we would have missed out on such classic items as ‘The Maid of Ocram Or Lord Gregory,' his version of' ‘Robin Hood Rescuing Three Squires,' or 'The False Knight's Tradegy'.

A review of George Deacon’s seminal book
“John Clare and the folk tradition”
Sinclair Browne (1983)
(Unknown Source)

The book is still available - click on the link on the left.

The Maple Tree

The maple with its tassel flowers of green,
That turns to red a staghorn-shaped seed,
Just spreading out its scolloped leaves is seen,
Of yellowish hue, yet beautifully green;
Bark ribbed like corderoy in seamy screed,
That farther up the stem is smoother seen,
Where the white hemlock with white umbel flowers
Up each spread stoven to the branches towers;
And moss around the stoven spreads, dark green,
And blotched leaved orchis, and the blue bell flowers;
Thickly they grow and neath the leaves are seen;
I love to see them gemmed with morning hours,
I love the lone green places where they be,
And the sweet clothing of the maple tree.