Pastime in Summer

Norman Goodman writes... "It's now 7 pm and I've suddenly noticed that it's that bit darker early ! Nearly half-way through August ! I've been reading John Clare's "Pastime in Summer" - dating is always hard, but he was probably late 20's. It's a lovely rhapsodic , slow poem about summer pleasures and in one section his subject is an angling-outing with a companion. He has the gear and the scene is beautifully described. Almost idyllic.  John also takes a book : James Thompson's "The Seasons". 

"Pastime....." is a longish poem but repays reading . (A glass of wine is going down a treat !) After the fishing palls a bit, he turns to his book and soon Thompson's story of Damon and Musidora gets him 'rapt'. It's quite an erotic tale, even in Thompson (and plenty of artists were drawn to the subject - Musidora's skinny dip whilst Damon looks on in secret."

Published only in Early Poems (Volume II) and the Tibble collection from the 1930s.  Dated exactly to the 21st August 1820.  I've split the poem into groups of 10 lines to aid reading, the original manuscript does not have verses.

Give me the leisure of a summers day.  
With one old friend to loiter it away

Were level meadows stretch their green domains
Alive with joys of laughing maids & swains
Some making hay beside our pleasant paths
& mowers sweeping with their even swaths
Neath sheltering haycocks some & willow bowers
Soaking the bottle in their booning hours
Discoursing onward with our lines & hooks
With some refreshments nor without some books

Cheerd by the rural objects as we pass
To were trees shadows keepeth green the grass
Checking intrusions of the summer suns
There drop us down close were the river runs
In sight of rural sounds & pleasing strife
That warms the laughing landscape into life
& while in cheerfull mirth as we prepare
Our sporting things & bait our angles there
With flye or fish of artificial forms
To shun the anguish of the wreathing worms

Feel warm hopes glow with earnest eagerness
To mark the signs that promise us success
As gleaming suns that twitter while they gleam
& dance their blazing shadows in the stream
Were small black moths dip light their fluttering wings
& heedless fishes leap in bouncing springs
Curving the flood tho winds withold their breath
In ceasless eddies with their playfull mirth
Then free from bother of entangling weeds
As we throw in were clear the stream proceeds

Watch for the trembling float that shows a bite
& followd jerks that dodge it out of sight
While taper angles as we eager rise
Bend as we pull & prophesy the prize
Thus sporting on till weary with the cheat
The fish get wise & sicken & retreat
Our quiet floats more shoyley sliding bye
To jump at distance for the dancing flye
Leaving us then our leisure to regale

To sip refreshment from our hoarded ale
& loll upon the grass neath willows grey
To view the scene or talk the hours away
Or with my Thompson added joys engage
Reading the season in his blooming page
Were budding springs eternally appear
& fragrant summers freshen all the year
There while the willow oer the water spreads
& bushes throw dark shadows oer our heads
Well fancy Damons rapt in daring dreams
& Musidora's shrinking to the streams

With flowing hair let loose upon the breeze
Oer maddening charms a Damon only sees
White breasts & burning cheeks that redder glow
To see the image in the flood below
Tho our real scenes perfections fail to give
Were Musidoras of less beauty live
Yet there are Damons that as warmly burns
& maidens lov'd that make as kind returns
& then as weary of our reading hours
Wed shut our books & look upon the flowers

Or any scene that might engage the eye
As bumming by us went the dragon flye
In wonders admiration often led
To mark confusions nature round us spread
Inscects on constant travel as they past
Shows each new comer different to the last
& butterflyes whose varied painted wings
Boasts every hue that summers glory brings
Like the gilt eyes in peacocks feathers some
Some hued like flowers to which their wanderings come

In namless colours others sport the plains
Hued as misterious as their birth remains
Then cropping flowers that round our sitting dwells
Nor marvel less to meet so many smells
Each different scent possest by different tribes
Sense easy feels but ignorance describes
For like the mistery wonder left before
We know we feel it & we know no more

Thus woud we muse oer natures varied book
Were fresh enchantments rose at every look

That with new wonders on our senses come
& still delight us till we ramble home
When suns sink downward with a reddening face
& blue clouds fringe as if with golden lace
Sunk 'hind the meadows bridges calm & chill
& thro the arches peep'd upon us still
While blue cool haziness approachd us round
& misty patches smoakd about the ground
When reeds & flags that rustld by our seat
As if their bloom was witherd by the heat

Now greend agen from gifts which night recieves
As forming dewdrops moisten on the leaves
When laughing labour left its toils & glee
& sought its dwellings with the housing bee
Whose mournfull hums bewails declining day
While waking crickets welcome it away
& fluttering larks betook themselves to rest
& with less caution passd us to their nest
Then woud we leave what leisure had pursued
& in our memorys feel the joy renewd

EP II 671

Clare later took the story and re-worked it in several different ways.  In 'Upon the Plain' for instance, here is the denouement :

Stretchd on the Green—her beauty seen
To all advantage there
To meet the breeze that fand the trees
Her snowy breast was bare
She meets his view Sweet Peace adieu
And Pleasures known before
He sighs—Approves—Admires & loves
—His heart's his own no more

EP I 138

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