A Song

In Fashionable Style

O throw aside those carless ways
My conscous heart to move
Affected anger but betrays
Suspicous doubts of love
That face were frowns at will can dwell
Were cold deciet beguiles
May just as easy & as well
Dissemble while it smiles
Tis cruel when false smiles betrays
The heart into a snare
But crueler when slighting ways
Turns pleasures to despair
Thy face is fair let that suffice
& scorn a meaner power
Truth adds to beautys fading price
As fragrance to the flower
Yet tho you frown or smile in jest
My folly must declare
A weakness burning in my breast
Feels all in earnest there

The Letters of John Clare
ed. Mark Storey (1985)

The Shy Lover

I often longed, when wandering up and down,
To hear the rustle of thy Sunday gown;
And when we met, I passed, and let thee go,
And felt I loved, but dare not tell thee so:
Snares are so thickly spread on woman's way,
The common ballad teaches, men betray.
I thought and felt it rudeness if I tried,
And well-meant kindness might be misapplied.
I longed to walk with thee, where waters play
And lined with water-cresses all the way;
And read the poets as I went along
And thought they knew thy name in every song.
The mind on thee and beauty's music dwells,
And listens to the sound of Glinton bells.

John Clare, Northborough Sonnets,
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and P.M.S. Dawson
(Ashington/Manchester: Mid-NAG/Carcanet, 1995)

Clare's attitude to 'work'

"After I had done with going to school it was proposed that I should be bound apprentice to a shoemaker, but I rather disliked this bondage.   I whimpered and turned a sullen eye on every persuasion, till they gave me my will.  A neighbour then offered to learn me his trade -- to be a stone mason, but I disliked this too... I was then sent for to drive the plough at Woodcroft Castle of Oliver Cromwell memory; though Mrs. Bellairs the mistress was a kind-hearted woman, and though the place was a very good one for living, my mind was set against it from the first; ... one of the disagreeable things was getting up so early in the morning... and another was getting wetshod ... every morning and night -- for in wet weather the moat used to overflow the cause-way that led to the porch, and as there was but one way to the house we were obliged to wade up to the knees to get in and out... I staid here one month, and then on coming home to my parents they could not persuade me to return.  They now gave up all hopes of doing any good with me and fancied that I should make nothing but a soldier; but luckily in this dilemma a next-door neighbour at the Blue Bell, Francis Gregory, wanted me to drive plough, and as I suited him, he made proposals to hire me for a year -- which as it had my consent my parents readily agreed to."

from Clare's unfinished autobiography

The Green Wood Side

I wandered down a green wood side
On Sunday noon in spring
Where little birds their dwellings hide
And Thrushes sweetly sing
The moss so green round Hazel roots
The Primrose by its side
That in its brimstone livery shoots
In bunches far and wide

Oh there I met a pretty maid
The fairest of her kind
She stood beneath the Hazels shade
Where lightly blew the wind
I gave her cheek a hearty smack
As leaning on her neck
Her soft hair trailed adown her back
Without a mark or Speck

Within the dyke the bullrush grew
Although the place was dry
And Thrushes nest wi’ Eggs o' blue
Did on the hedge ribs lye
The Woodbines in green leaves look'd wan
The Blue bell stooped i' pride
And there I claspt my bonny Ann
Along the greenwood side

Oh bonny Ann Oh bonny Ann
What makes you look so fair
Is it the love for some fond man
Or is't for none you care
My love to thee my bonny Ann
Where primrose blooms wi’ pride
I’ll talk and please thee all I can
Down by the greenwood side

Robinson, et. al
Poems of the Middle Period

Eternity of time

Amazing, grand eternity of time!
Where things of greatest standing grow sublime,
Less from long fames, and universal praise,
Than wearing as the ‘ancient of old days’
‘Old days,’ once spoken, seems but half the way
To reach that night-leap of eternal day.
Miltonic centuries, each a mighty boast,
Shakespearian eras — worlds, without their host,
Engraved upon the adamant of fame
By pens of steel, in characters of flame —
To which the forest oaks' eternal stay
Are but as points and commas in their way —
These less than nothings are to ruin's doom,
When suns grow dark, and earth a vast and lonely tomb.

The Poems of John Clare
ed. J. W. Tibble (2 volumes, Dent, 1935)

To a Primrose

At the age of sixteen, if we may trust the account given by his early friend Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, in the "London Magazine" for January, 1820, Clare composed the following sonnet "To a Primrose":

Welcome, pale primrose, starting up between
Dead matted leaves of oak and ash, that strew
The every lawn, the wood, and spinney through,
'Mid creeping moss and ivy's darker green!
How much thy presence beautifies the ground!
How sweet thy modest, unaffected pride
Glows on the sunny bank and wood's warm side!
And where thy fairy flowers in groups are found
The schoolboy roams enchantedly along,
Plucking the fairest with a rude delight,
While the meek shepherd stops his simple song,
To gaze a moment on the pleasing sight,
O'erjoyed to see the flowers that truly bring
The welcome news of sweet returning Spring.