A Thrall in Northampton

[Clare in the porch of All Saint's Church, Northampton - Unknown artist]

Although rather changed from the text of the Authorised Version of the Bible that Clare knew, had memorised and loved, the words (below) are dredged up from the depth of his subconscious and desolate state of mind; arguably a true reflection of his inner life at the end of this (1841), the most difficult year of his life.

Obsessed as he is with the veracity of his memory of Mary, Clare finds himself dwelling on a biblical passage of doom and loss. Composing a long paraphrase of the prophecy, with that final denouement — ‘though bondsmen enslave thee’ — laying in wait. He finds himself writing a prophecy of his own judgment and removal.

Roger R.
John Clare Society newsletter
No. 111 - March 2011

All powerless thou to shun the doom
Or to avert the blow
To sudden desolation shalt thou go
& to the ruin which thou shalt not know

(Isaiah 47 paraphrase, lines 57-60)

Thy merchants from thy youth
They shall wander one & all
To his quarters & the truth
Shall leave thee more in thrall
Though slave dealers take thee
though bondsmen enslave thee
There's none shall be able to shield thee or save thee

(Isaiah paraphrase, lines 85-90)

In due course the ‘slave dealers’, in the form of Parson Glossop, Fenwick Skrimshire and William Page, arrive at the cottage and there are none able to shield him or save him, estranged as he was… ‘a stranger to his own family’.

One day keepers came, and a vain struggle, and the Northborough cottage saw John Clare no more. He was now in the asylum at Northampton, and the minds of Northamptonshire noblemen need no longer be troubled that a poet was wandering in miserable happiness under their park walls.

So far, the madness of Clare had been rather an exaltation of mind than a collapse. Forsaken mainly by his friends… unrecognized by the new generation of writers and of readers, hated by his neighbours, wasted with hopeless love, he had encouraged a life of imagination and ideals. Imagination overpowered him, until his perception of realities failed him. He could see Mary Joyce or talk with her, he had a family of dream-children by her: but if this was madness, there was method in it. But now the blow fell, imprisonment for life: down went John Clare into idiocy, "the ludicrous with the terrible." And even from this desperate abyss he rose.

Earl Fitzwilliam paid for Clare's maintenance in the Northampton Asylum, but at the ordinary rate for poor people. The asylum authorities at least seemed to have recognized Clare as a man out of the common, treating him as a "gentleman patient," and allowing him -- for the first twelve years -- to go when he wished into Northampton, where he would sit under the portico of All Saints' Church in meditation.

(from ‘Poems Chiefly From Manuscript’
Edited by Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter.

New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1921

1 comment:

Angela Patmore said...

Northampton Ariel

he took the hedgerows burden on himself
a tree unmanned and one more nerve was gone
perhaps the last undisappearing thing
was mary lifting up her skirts to flee

does she in all this change imagine me

the grass in a sense was his for he had sensed it
the stones that kept him in he had sensed too
and if they touched the ladys smock he knew
he knew the depredation that it was
to see the self in fields stretching away
to watch them cornered then and quartered up
and yet no help for ever

if I but lift my hand to touch this pain
they see and then they lock me up again

his family chosen out of many words
at once were his and his familiars
to make strange shapes perhaps inside the mouth
green exhalations whizzing in the air
green memories green pruning hooks green share

the grass in a sense was his for he was beaten
the stones that kept him in were beaten too
and if they touched the shepherds purse he knew
he knew the clownish sorrow that it was
to be imprisoned in a cloven pine
to feel the sap run down into the shoes
yet be alive for ever

if I but look significant and sad
they may requite me with a memo pad