Opening of the Morning














[Image: Mike Hobson]

A Sketch
Tis the time just as morning is breaking
& the Colour arching blue skye
Just as the black clouds of the night are forsaking
Brightning up like as Marys blue eye
Where the red morns streaks was sweetly emerging
In the easts enlarging light
Just like the red corral beads of the Virgin
When hung on her neck so white
When the fresh springs of delight is beaming
& larks waken the labourers toils
When the first smile of the summer is gleaming
As sweet as when Mary smiles
Sweet when the dappeled sky is shrouded
In its milky water hue
Like as Mary her bosom's Clouded
Skin so white & veins so blue

The Early Poems of John Clare 1804-1822
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and Margaret Grainger
(Oxford, 2 volumes, I-II, 1989)

This leaning tree with ivy overhung (excerpt)















That blackbirds music from the hazel bower
Turns into golden drops this summer shower
To think the rain that wets his sutty wing
Should wake the gushes of his soul to sing
Hark at the melody how rich and loud
Like daylight breaking through the morning cloud
How luscious through that sea of green it floats
Knowest thou of music breathed from sweeter notes
Than that wild minstrel of the summer shower
Breathes at this moment from that hazel bower
To me the anthem of a thousand tongues
Were poor and idle to the simple songs
To that high toned and edifying bird
That sings to nature by itself unheard.

John Clare’s Birds
ed. Eric Robinson & Richard Fitter
Oxford University Press 1982

Sonnet on the River Gash*
















[The bridge over the Gwash at Great Casterton]

Where winding gash* wirls round its wildest scene
On this romantic bend I sit me down
On that side view the meads their smoothing green
Edg'd with the peeping hamlets checkering brown
Here the steep hill as dripping headlong down
While glides the stream a silver streak between
As glides the shaded clouds along the sky
Brightning & deep'ning loosing as they're seen
In light & shade—so when old willows lean
Thus their broad shadow—runs the river bye
With tree & bush repleat a wilderd scene
& mossd & Ivyd sparkling on my eye—
O thus wild musing am I doubly blest
My woes unheeding—& my heart at rest

Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)

*Gwash, where Clare met his wife-to-be Patty, “a fair girl of eighteen, slender, with regular features, and pretty blue eyes".  They were married in March 1820 in the church of St Peter and St Paul, Great Casterton, close by where the Gwash crosses under the Great North Road.  Patty was born in Tickencote, the nearby hamlet, the river Gwash virtually joins the two villages together.  How pleasant is must have been, walking together on the riverside path on a summer’s day.  Alas now ‘enclosed’ and thus ‘private’ land. 

We are in Rutland...


[The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Great Casterton]

We are in Rutland, a county of huge significance for John Clare, for there in just a couple of years he would find a wife, celebrity and himself.  The Clare family fortunes were at rock bottom when he walked the nine miles from Helpston to what was then known as Bridge Casterton to find work as a lime-burner.  His parents were penniless and facing eviction and agriculture itself collapsing after the withdrawal of subsidies following Waterloo.  Clare and a friend named Stephen Gordon found work with a Mr Wilders who had two lime-kilns, one at Casterton, the other at Pickworth.  Clare slept three in a bed with fellow labourers and in a few weeks was able to send home fifty shillings.  Lime-burning would have made him white from head to toe.  He was twenty-two.

He was also creating his first, and only successful book, the wonderful Poems, Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery.  It would carry him straight from lime-burning into literary society.  His portrait would be painted and local peers would give him books and annuities.  But he was Sunday-drinking as usual at the Flower Pot Inn in Tickencote — "cote for kids" — when he saw Martha Turner pass by.  She was nineteen, the daughter of a small-farmer, and who lived in an isolated house in a beautiful valley - his Patty of the Vale.  He married her with some reluctance when she became pregnant, bringing her home to Helpston after the child was born.  He had been ‘caught’, as the boys said.

What enchanted Clare about the Rutland countryside was that it had not been enclosed.  The villages were like the Helpston of his boyhood, full of ancient paths, haphazard trees and brooks, and wild meadows, and without straight lines and destructive ploughing.  He walked nine miles to his wedding in Casterton Church, probably wearing the clothes we see in Milton's portrait.  Mrs Emmerson, his London patron, sent Patty’s wedding-dress and his publisher Mr Hessey sent the bridegroom a Cremona violin.  And thus it began, the troubled, brilliant life — in Rutland.

© Ronald Blythe
Especially written for the 2010 John Clare Festival

Justice is slow, but sure as Moses' rod















[Northampton General Asylum]

On September 22, 1893, ‘An Invite to Eternity’, along with ‘Song to Spring’, “hitherto unpublished and bearing the date ‘May 1848,’” was published in Literary World along with a short narrative by Mr. Jesse Hall of Wimbledon.  “In the month of May, 1848, having seen and admired some of John Clare’s poems, I felt a strong desire to have an interview with the poet”.  During their interview, Clare left Hall “... and went to the boundary wall with paper and pencil in hand, but very soon returned bringing a manuscript which he had written.”

Hall neglected to get copies of these apparently impromptu compositions, but Clare invited him to visit again and “intimated that he would in the meantime compose (Hall) two or three pieces.”  The next day, Clare called at Hall’s hotel and on leaving … gave (Hall) copies of what he had written – viz., ‘Invite to Eternity,’ ‘Song to Spring,’ and this short piece on ‘Justice,’ an acrostic on Hall’s name.

However, because he was “much engaged at the time,” Hall did not think to “forward what (Clare) had kindly given to” him until the 1890s.

Not exactly an amazing work, but here is the short acrostic poem on 'Justice' :

Justice is slow, but sure as Moses' rod,
Engraven as the autograph of God;
Sent from on high by Him who is all wise,
Searcher of hearts, judge of the last assize;
Engraven on the hearts of honest men;
Heart-searcher in the felon's gloomy den.
Are there opposers to the laws of truth?
Learn justice well, while manhood is in youth;
Live honest lives, and that will bring the truth.

The Later Poems of John Clare 1837-1864
ed. Eric Robinson and David Powell
(Oxford, 2 volumes, I-II, 1984)

Song : On a bonny April morning'

















On a bonny April morning
By the grey and green wood side
Where the blue-bells were adorning
There a pretty girl I spied
Her hair was brown and curling
Her eyes were bright and blue
Where the mossy brook was purling
O I loved the maiden true

I loved her fond and tender
Aye tenderly and true
So heavens love defend her
A rose half blown i' dew
A blue-bell in the white thorn green
A violet in the shade
The sweetest flower I'd ever seen
Was that all beauteous maid

Her face was young and pretty
And sweetly she could sing
And her bright eye drop't pity
At every cruel thing
The place was full of blue bells
Where that pretty girl I spied
A heaven in the green dells
Hid in this world so wide

The Later Poems of John Clare 1837-1864
ed. Eric Robinson and David Powell
(Oxford, 2 volumes, I-II, 1984)

(from 'The Village Funeral')
















Clare, as always, has a sonnet for the current news :

Who is but grievd to see the fatherless
Stroll with their rags unnotisc'd thro the street
What eye but moistens at their sad distress
& sheds compassions tear where ere they meet
Yon Workhouse stands as their asylum now
The place where poverty demands to live
Where parish bounty scouls his scornful brow
& grudges the scant fare he's forc'd to give —
O may I dye before I'm doom'd to seek
That last resource of hope but ill suply'd
To claim the humble pittance once a week
Which justice forces from disdainful pride
Where the lost orphan lowly bending weeps
Unnotisc'd by the heedless as they pass

Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)

Native Scenes

















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

Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)

A piece of Clare prose for April 2013















The wigs and tories may be better classified
perhaps by the terms of outs & ins for
be they wigs or tories in those situations the
outs are always convocations of “liberty”
“cruelty of taxation” & “good of the people”
while the ins are inflexible tyrants
& determined supporters of all that is
oppressing & annoying to the people &
benefitting to themselves & their connections

Pet MS A42 p.94
(Unpublished)

Wreck of the Emelie















As the saying goes... now for something completely different -- for Clare anyway!

The land it is a dangerous strand
So is the briny Sea
When man has lost his self command
How wretched he must be
Our Ship it was the ‘Emmelie’
To Cardiff she was bound
But foundered in a dangerous sea
With dangers all around

The sky was all a ink black rock
The wild fire seaming through
The Emelie recieved the shock
All in that boisterous Sea
Like seething pots the billows boiled
& frothed that briny Sea
The sailors on the masts were coiled
When wrecked the Emelie

The night came on in black & brown
& where that chauldron boiled red hot
The foundering Emelie went down
As sudden as a shot
Some clung to spars to hencoops some
Twas but a minutes space
Loud oer them boiling billows boom
& left no resting place

Above them gloomed the angry sky
& through the pitch black rock
Of clouds the splintered lightnings flye
None could resist the shock
Down & in a moment gone
Nine men plunged in the wave
& all the seamen lost but one
There met a watery grave

One still survived that fatal wreck
By billows washed ashore
Though all had hopes that stood on deck
That now can feel no more
He through the boiling waves did beat
All in that boiling sea
& on the beach upon his feet
Viewed the shipwrecked Emelie

The Later Poems of John Clare
ed. Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield
 (Manchester University Press, 1964)