Review of 'The Lovers Meeting

From the moment that my copy of 'The Lovers Meeting' landed on the doormat, to reading its pages (several times), I am constantly taken aback by how insightful, knowledgeable, and masterfully illustrated this piece of work really is, by Roger Rowe and Anne Lee.  If one thought pervades my mind whilst absorbing each painstakingly, crafted page (for this book was certainly a labour of love in itself), it is of a quote from Aristotle: ‘Pleasure’ in poetry, Aristotle has said, ‘is the image of man and nature … there is no object standing between the Poet and the image of things.’ It is within this ‘image of man and nature’ that we truly begin to understand the ‘pleasure[s]’ John Clare, not only derives from non-human Nature, but also that of human nature; perfectly bound and brought to the public in this limited edition book.
Rowe provides an historical introduction to Clare’s work that underpins the poem’s creation and the struggles faced in its exposition (from Ovid to Richard Duke).  As Rowe so rightly suggests, work of such an erotic nature was often bound by circumstance and censored by the adolescent ideology that supported Victorian and Edwardian sensibilities of the middle and upper-classes and, as he continues, ‘[t]he cold hand of Evangelical piety.’ Nonetheless, Rowe has unearthed this significant text from its censorship, for readers whom he believes are mature enough to ‘cope with Clare’s explicit erotic imagery.’ I believe it is so important in fact, that it serves to educate Clare enthusiasts and academics alike.  ‘The Lovers Meeting’ provides anthropological linguistic insight behind what drives basic human instinct - what man aspires to be – to be unafraid of confronting the carnal nature inherent within all humanity.  Clare achieves this through the relationship of man, cognition and language.  For him, the feelings associated with sex are nothing to be ashamed of.  They are a natural portion of our being: ‘burning’ and ‘scorching’ says the speaker in stanza one and, it is in his beloved Nature which provides the blanket to lie down upon.
But Clare always remains the gentleman:
Here rest fond muse – For these thy powers excel
& if thou hadst not thou must cease to tell
Nor try nor venture secrets to reveal
Which she sweet girl could wish thee to consceal 

The speaker's notion is never to be vulgar and never to exploit his muse.  Rowe, a Clare enthusiast for many years, has expertly captured another chapter of Clare's art; as he would wish his work to be shown – unedited and truthfully profound in its simplicity.

The photographic images captured by Anne Lee, flawlessly mirror Clare’s poetry in ‘The Lovers Meeting’.  Stanza by stanza, the model of the near-naked man is framed by silver birch trees and staged at Holme Fen.  This is the perfect setting for an alternative art-form and expression of Clare’s natural poetry.  Like Clare, Lee is never fully revealing; always allowing for the partial concealment by Nature.  The juxtaposition of the photographs, along with the poem, enhances the truth behind the speaker’s carnal urges.  The images (as the poem does), invoke a ‘flush’ of expectancy:

Her lilly hand I prest which fondly burn’d
& soon the fondling taken was return’d
O with what softness heav’d each swelling breast
“Courting the hand & sueing to be prest” 

The example I use here appear to reveal the feelings of human passion, symbolised by the muse clinging onto the silver birch with an outstretched hand.  He is grasping at nature and appears as grounded in his resolution (I’m guessing human desire), just as the tree is grounded within its natural surroundings.  The picture is further embossed with inscriptions (as are all of the pictures), which textualises the image.  It is as if these embellishments amplify the spoken sounds that echo that of the poems speaker.  Lee’s images remain strong, sensual and caressing throughout the entire book; adding another sensory layer to the passion that surrounds ‘The Lovers Meeting’.
Romanticism goes beyond a deep expression of intense feeling and deep emotion.  Rather, it deals with staunch individualistic beliefs that are often concerned with the rights of individuals and the world in which they inhabit.  Romantic poets generate a truculent voice trying to improve the social and political conditions in which they live.  These poets became prophets of a new Romantic spirituality.  John Clare was an outcast amongst many of the elitist readerships and he brought a truculent voice to magnify the inhumanity of staunch beliefs.  

By promoting Clare’s voice, Roger Rowe and Ann Lee not only validate Aristotle’s concept of the ‘pleasure’ of ‘man and nature’, but together, they demonstrate (through John Clare’s work) that there is no ‘object standing between the Poet and the image of things.’ It is the image contained within Clare’s work that is the truth, whether literary or visually.  No-one can truly censor it.  It is a part of humanity.  ‘The Lovers Meeting’ marks a simple truth of the natural force of human desire.  It cannot be quashed.

(Jacqueline Cosby)

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