There's something in the air...

180 years ago, a once famous poet decided to leave the asylum he lad lived in for three years, and walk the 80-odd miles up the Great North Road to his home in Northborough on the very fringe of the fens, just a few miles north of Peterborough.  The poet was of course, John Clare, and very troubled of mind he trekked the route virtually feeling his way, mile after mile.  In 2020/21 there must be something in the air, for there are four new books that explore his famous walk.  

The first, 'The Descending Spiral' (Roger Rowe : Arbour Editions Chapbook No.16), seeks to examine Clare's state of mind during that fateful year.  A year that saw him escape from one asylum in the Summer of 1841 only to be committed to another just after Christmas.  The evidence for this exploration of the confused mind of the poet was and is his vast output of verse and prose written during the year.

The second book, 'Love's Cold Returning' (Ellis Hall & Bridget Somekh' : Thirteen Eighty One Press), is an exploration in prose and poetry, with numerous colour photographs, seeking out the remains of Clare's world in the twenty-first century, of the route he took and the folk he met.  Moving from canals and aqueducts to gridlocked roads, from common land and open heath to land banks and intensive agriculture. Truly a detective story, a historical adventure and a meditation on love and loss.

The third book, 'Child Harold' (Roger Rowe : Arbour Editions Chapbook No.20), contains the actual text of Child Harold, it is believed for the first time in a dedicated volume.  The text is fairly well known, but it is ordered in the way outlined briefly by Clare scholar Salman Al Wasiti in an appendix to his PhD thesis in the 1970s.  The order of Clare's Child Harold poems has been debated for 50 years, but not published in this form until now.

The fourth book, to be published in June 2021, 'A Length of Road' (Robert Hamberger : John Murray Press), is a part memoir, part travel-writing, part literary criticism, it is a deeply profound and poetic exploration of class, gender, grief and sexuality through the author's own experiences and through the autobiographical writing of poet John Clare. Clare attempting to return to his idealized first love, Mary, unaware that she had died three years earlier.

No 2021 Festival at Helpston... BUT

Not the 2021 Festival

Some idea of what some of us be doing on the 9th and 10th July @ Helpston


There being no John Clare Society Festival this year, a few of us will still be meeting to honour the great man this year at Helpston.  Not ‘official’ of course, but I wanted to attract everyone’s attention!  Anyone who would like to join us will be very welcome indeed, for any of the days.


Friday 9th

Helpston 2021. Folk I guess will be travelling on the 9th or 10th so several of us thought it might be good to start to gather in the Bluebell, say between 4 and 5pm on the 9th for a convivial chat over a drink. It has already been announced that there will be the usual ‘Folk Evening’ at the Bluebell that evening, always a treat.


Saturday 10th

How about meeting at 10:00am – 10:15am at Butter Cross in the centre of Helpston?  From there we will walk across the road to St. Botolph’s Church and Clare’s grave.  New Rector Gary (a Clare fan of course) is conducting a ‘Clare BCP Service' at 11am.  


After which can go by car to St. Andrew’s Church, Northborough (via Maxey) and Patty’s grave (and other members of the family) – and finally to St. Benedict’s Church, Glinton and Mary’s grave.  Please bring anything of Clare’s poems/prose to read by each graveside. We do not intend to lay wreaths just honour each individual in our own way.


We will return to Helpston for lunch at the Bluebell.  The Cottage is only open for drinks according to their website.


From 3pm we can join in with the Helpston Street Party arranged by local residents, I hear on the grapevine that Penny and Les – ‘Pennyless’ will be playing at the party.


That evening no doubt we will return to the Bluebell for dinner as many of us have in earlier years.


Well... something like that anyway.  I’ll being a few books for those wishing to catch up with the Chapbook series and would be happy to give a talk if required!  Very open to suggestions.


Roger R.

Three Springs

[Image:  Glinton Church and graveyard]

For some while Clare found the reports of Mary Joyce's hard to believe, but then in late 1841 he wrote this... 


O Mary dear, three Springs have been

Three Summers too have blossomed here

Three blasting Winters crept between

Though absence is the most severe

Another Summer blooms in green

But Mary never once was seen

I've sought her in the fields & flowers

I've sought her in the forest groves

In avenues & shaded bowers

& every scene that Mary loves

E'en round her home I seek her here

But Mary’s absent every-where

‘Tis autumn & the rustling corn

Goes loaded on the creaking wain

I seek her in the early morn

But cannot meet her face again

Sweet Mary she is absent still

& much I fear she ever will

She died three years before, the day after Clare's birthday.

The Dream (excerpt)

Clare in a dark, dark mood...

Red lightning shot its flashes as they came

& passing clouds seemed kindling into flame 

& strong & stronger came the sulphury smell

With demons following in the breath of hell 

Laughing in mockery as the doomed complained 

Losing their pains in seeing others pained 

Fierce raged destruction sweeping oer the land 

& the last counted moment seemed at hand 

As scales near equal hang the earnest eyes 

In doubtful balance which shall fall or rise

So in the moment of that crashing blast 

Eyes hearts & hopes paused trembling for the last 

Loud burst the thunders clap & yawning rents 

Gashed the frail garments of the elements 

Then sudden whirlwinds winged with purple flame 

& lightnings flash in stronger terrors came 

Burning all life & nature where they fell 

& leaving earth as desolate as hell 

(lines 43-60)

The Ladybird

Ladybird ladybird where art thou gone
Ere the daisy was open or the rose it was spread 

On the cabbage flower early thy scarlet wings shone 

I saw thee creep off to the tulip bed


Ladybird ladybird where art thou flown 

Thou wert here in the morning before the sun shone 

Just now up the bowl o' the damson tree 

You passed the gold lichen & got to the grey 

Ladybird ladybird where can you be 

You climb up the tulips & then fly away 


You crept up the flowers while I plucked them just now 

& crept to the top & then flew from the flowers 

O sleep not so high as the damson tree bough 

But come from the dew i' the eldern tree bowers 


Here's lavender trees that would hide a lone mouse 

& lavender cotton wi' buttons o' gold 

& bushes o' lads love as dry as a house 

Here's red pinks & daisies so sweet to behold 


Ladybird ladybird come to thy nest 

The gold beds i' the rose o the sweet brier tree 

Wi rose coloured curtains to pleasure thee best 

Come Ladybird back to thy Garden & Me 

Pet MS C3 p189

The Moorhen and the Coot

Water Hen (Moorhen)

They are very common with us they make a nest of flags & bull rushes lines with grass & place it on a branch of thorn or willow that hangs over the stream & sometimes they make it on a clump of bull rushes in the middle of the stream they lay 9 eggs of a pale ash color spotted with lilac & jocculate colored spots the young ones are coveverd with brown down & take the water as soon as they get out of the shell They build in old pits in the meadows & in lone ponds about the closes if undisturbed…

The coot is like the more hen in its habits but larger it haunts lakes in meadows & solitary marshes but never builds its nest in branches that overhand the stream – it beats down a place in the midst of a reed bed or flag clump & rests its nest on them that touches the water it lays a great number of eggs as many as 12 or 14 larger then the more hens of a dirty white color spotted with dull spots the nest is made of flags bulrushes & grass like the more hens but it is wove together so stout as to resist the floods that happen to rise while she sits on her eggs & if the nest looses its hold of the rushes it floats on the top of the water like a boat & the old one is said to sit on it unconserned but I have not seen this tho I have found the nest landed on dry land as left by the floods with the eggs in it unmolested – the young ones take to the water as soon as they leave the shells & return to it at night like the more hen These birds are subject to lice which is so common to them that it has grown into a saying that any thing filthy is ‘as lousey as a coot’

Published in 'The Naked Fen' (Arbour Editions - 2021)

Content thy home be mine

Content thy home be mine
Do not my suit disdain
They who prefer the worlds to thine
Shall find it false & vain
From broken hopes & storms I flye
To hide me in thy peaceful sky

The flatterers meet with smiles
The cunning find their friends
Without I made my pilgrimage         
& so met small amends
I looked on fame as merits plea
Twas spring but winter frowned on me

To cringe to menial slaves
To worship titled power
To bend the knee to knaves
The price of earthly dower
Is what I neer was taught to pay
So empty [that] Ive turned away

Where pleasing is to flatter
Where loving is to hate
To praise what we at heart abuse
In love & church & state
This is the worlds but not my game
So poor I am without the shame

Tho flattery findeth friends
In every grade & state
& telling truth offends
The lowly & the great
Truth when the worst is bye shall rise
When follys vapour stinks & flyes

Prides pomps are shadows all
& Titles honours toys
Great births in merits oft are small
& all their praise but noise
Rainbows upon the skyes of May
Fade soon but scarce so soon as they

Then sweet content be thine to call
My sorrows as thy due
For grief is natural to all
As is to night the dew
As disappointed hopes decay
My heart shall struggle & be gay

As hopes from earth shall disappear
With thee Ill not despair
For thou canst look at heaven & see
The vagrant waiting there
& while thou smilest I shall see 
Thy lives last gift the best shall be

An amazing poem I transcribed in the Peterborough Archives. I could not find it published anywhere, so with Professor Eric's encouragement I published it myself in 'Hidden Treasures' (2016) - now in its 2nd edition (2019) - £6 (post free to the UK).