To Phoebe of the Scottish glen.

There never was a fairer thing
All Scotland's glens and mountains through.
The siller gowans of the Spring,
Besprent with pearls of mountain dew,
The maiden blush upon the brere,
Far distant from the haunts of men,
Are nothing half so sweet or dear
As Phoebe of the Scottish glen.

How handsome is her naked foot,
Moist with the pearls of Summer dew:
The siller daisy's nothing to 't,
Nor hawthorn flowers so white to view,
She's sweeter than the blooming brere,
That blossoms far away from men:
No flower in Scotland's half so dear
As Phoebe of the Scottish glen.

The Thrush's Nest

We watched a thrush yesterday skipping around the lawns, and around this time each year our 'house' thrush sits on the top-most branch at dusk and sings wonderfully to all who might listen.
Here is the results of Clare finding the thrush's nest:

Within a thick and spreading hawthorn bush,
That overhung a molehill large and round,
I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush
Sing hymns to sunrise, and I drank the sound
With joy; and, often an intruding guest,
I watched her secret toils from day to day--
How true she warped the moss, to form a nest,
And modelled it within with wood and clay;
And by and by, like heath-bells gilt with dew,
There lay her shining eggs, as bright as flowers,
Ink-spotted-over shells of greeny blue;
And there I witnessed in the sunny hours
A brood of nature's minstrels chirp and fly,
Glad as that sunshine and the laughing sky.

March (From Hone's Year Book)

The insect world, now sunbeams higher climb,
Oft dream of Spring, and wake before their time:
Bees stroke their little legs across their wings,
And venture short flights where the snow-drop hings
Its silver bell, and winter aconite
Its buttercup-like flowers that shut at night,
With green leaf furling round its cup of gold,
Like tender maiden muffled from the cold:
They sip and find their honey-dreams are vain,
Then feebly hasten to their hives again.
The butterflies, by eager hopes undone,
Glad as a child come out to greet the sun,
Beneath the shadows of a sunny shower
Are lost, nor see to-morrow's April flower.

March Nosegay

[A posy (poesy) from my garden for my Clare friends]

The bonny March morning is beaming
   In mingled crimson & grey
White clouds are streaking and creaming
   The sky till the noon of the day
The fir deal looks darker and greener
   And grass hills below look the same
The air all about is serener
   The birds less familliar and tame

Heres two or three flowers for my fair one,
   Wood primroses & celandine too
I oft look about for a rare one
   To put in a posy for you
The birds look so cleanly and neatly
   Though theres not a leaf on the grove
The sun shines about me so sweetly
   I cannot help thinking of love

So where the blue violets are peeping
   By the warm sunny side of the woods
& the primrose 'neath early morn weeping
   Amid a large cluster of buds
The morning it was such a rare one
   So dewy so sunny and fair
I sought the wild flowers for my fair one
   To wreathe in her glossy black hair.

The Later Poems of John Clare 1837-1864
ed. Eric Robinson and David Powell
(Oxford, 2 volumes, I-II, 1984)

Nature's Hymn to the Deity (excerpt)

All nature owns with one accord
The great and universal Lord:
The sun proclaims him through the day,
The moon when daylight drops away,
The very darkness smiles to wear
The stars that show us God is there,
On moonlight seas soft gleams the sky
And "God is with us" waves reply.

The Gipsy's Camp

How oft on Sundays, when I'd time to tramp,
My rambles led me to a gipsy's camp,
Where the real effigy of midnight hags,
With tawny smoked flesh and tattered rags,
Uncouth-brimmed hat, and weather-beaten cloak,
Neath the wild shelter of a knotty oak,
Along the greensward uniformly pricks
Her pliant bending hazel's arching sticks:
While round-topt bush, or briar-entangled hedge,
Where flag-leaves spring beneath, or ramping sedge,
Keeps off the bothering bustle of the wind,
And give the best retreat she hopes to find.
How oft I've bent me oer her fire and smoke,
To hear her gibberish tale so quaintly spoke,
While the old Sybil forged her boding clack,
Twin imps the meanwhile bawling at her back;
Oft on my hand her magic coin's been struck,
And hoping chink, she talked of morts of luck:
And still, as boyish hopes did first agree,
Mingled with fears to drop the fortune's fee,
I never failed to gain the honours sought,
And Squire and Lord were purchased with a groat.
But as man's unbelieving taste came round,
She furious stampt her shoeless foot aground,
Wiped bye her soot-black hair with clenching fist,
While through her yellow teeth the spittle hist,
Swearing by all her lucky powers of fate,
Which like as footboys on her actions wait,
That fortune's scale should to my sorrow turn,
And I one day the rash neglect should mourn;
That good to bad should change, and I should be
Lost to this world and all eternity;
That poor as Job I should remain unblest:--
(Alas, for fourpence how my die is cast!)
Of not a hoarded farthing be possesst,
And when all's done, be shoved to hell at last!

The Gipsy Lass

Just like the berry brown is my bonny lassie O!
And in the smoky camp lives my bonny lassie O!
Where the scented woodbine weaves
Round the white-thorn's glossy leaves:
The sweetest maid on earth is my gipsy lassie O!

The brook it runs so clear by my bonny lassie O!
And the blackbird singeth near my bonny lassie O!
And there the wild briar rose
Wrinkles the clear stream as it flows
By the smoky camp of my bonny lassie O!

The groundlark singeth high o'er my bonny lassie O!
The nightingale lives nigh my gipsy lassie O!
They're with her all the year,
By the brook that runs so clear,
And there's none in all the world like my gipsy lassie O!

With a bosom white as snow is my gipsy lassie O!
With a foot like to the roe is my bonny lassie O!
Like the sweet birds she will sing,
While echo it will ring:
Sure there's none in the world like my bonny lassie O!

Vagabondage in a Native Place

Sometimes I watch a film or read a book, come-to and tell myself, 'But I was there! I heard it, I saw it.' It is a not uncommon experience. It occurs when I read John Clare on the gypsies. He both hobnobbed with them and was fastidious where they were concerned, was prejudiced and unprejudiced at the same time. He wrote many poems about them which envied their lot, their freedom, their women, and one poem which envied them nothing.

The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half-roasted dog squats close and ribs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare.
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
'Tis thus they live- a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.

It is masterly in its realism. Though one observation would not be ours- 'a picture to the place'. Today's Travellers' encampment has swapped the vardo for the mobile home, horses for horse-power and horse-dealing for scrap metal, and is anathema in our twinked countryside. We, the council, intended the Traveller (is 'gypsy' P.C.?- or not? - it is all rather worrying) to just winter on the official site, then push on, not to purchase them and turn them into messy caravan additions to our village. We like the gypsies best at the horse-fairs, when they return to being their colourful selves, painted wagons, fortune tellers, dark-eyed beauties, lively yearlings and all. Appleby Fair is where they should be. No scrap-dealing there.

‘John Clare and the Gypsies’
An excerpt from 'A Writer's Day-Book', by Ronald Blythe,

published by Trent Editions, 2006

(As always, a treat)!

Idle Fame

Clare on 'celebrity'...

I would not wish the burning blaze
Of fame around a restless world,
The thunder and the storm of praise
In crowded tumults heard and hurled.
I would not be a flower to stand
The stare of every passer-bye;
But in some nook of fairyland,
Seen in the praise of beauty's eye.

The Shepherd's Calendar - March

[Detail from Carry Akroyd’s linocut illustrating March from “The Shepherd’s Calendar 2007” published by Carcanet Publications]

The stooping ditcher in the water stands
Letting the furrowd lakes from off the lands
Or splashing cleans the pasture brooks of mud
Where many a wild weed freshens into bud

The sneaking foxes from his thefts to fright
That often seizes the young lambs at night
These when they in their nightly watchings hear
The badgers shrieks can hardly stifle fear

They list the noise from woodlands dark recess
Like helpless shrieking woman in distress
And oft as such fears fancying mystery
Believes the dismal yelling sounds to be

For superstition hath its thousand tales
To people all his midnight woods and vales
And the dread spot from whence the dismal noise
Mars the night musings of their dark employs

Owns its sad tale to realize their fear
At which their hearts in boyhood achd to hear