The Nightingales Nest

Of the many notable examples of Clare’s ability to grasp the unique particularity of the wild world, his poem ‘The Nightingale’s Nest’ is arguably the greatest.  Here the rural epiphany figured in Clare’s poem is so persuasively delivered that we cannot evade the implications of our dual potential: as ‘rude’ desecrators or privileged caretakers.  Clare’s use of the inclusive ‘we’ positions us within a drama of whispered complicity, even culpability, as we ‘trample’ nearer to witness the fugitive showing forth of the nightingale’s nest.

The exactitude of his gaze, Clare’s attentive regard of and for all natural objects is now, more than ever, essential to our humanity.  If poetry lives in the ear, before taking root in mind and heart, there can be no better way to connect with the lyrical specificity of John Clare’s world than this.

 (Kaye Kossick – 2012)

Aye as I live her secret nest is here
upon this white thorn stump––I’ve  searched about
for hours in vain––there! put that bramble bye
Nay trample on its branches and get near
How subtle is the bird! she started out
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh
Ere we were past the brambles and now near
Her nest she sudden stops––as choking fear
That might betray her home so even now
We’ll leave it as we found it… our presence doth retard

Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on sweet bird may no worse hap befall
Thy visions than the fear that now deceives
We will not plunder music of its dower
Nor turn this spot of happiness to thrall

(lines  53-70)

John Clare - Major Works (OUP) 1984

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