John Taylor, speaking of Clare

Adam Foulds’ fictional account of Clare in High Beech asylum.

“But at the height of his powers, his inspiration - it was something to behold. He lacked rhetoric. He lacked shape and used many unfamiliar words of his own dialect. But the living earth, the world he knew… if you will permit me an extravagant formulation, it sang itself through him. England sang through him, its eternal, living nature. Thousands of lines, and all of it fresh, seen, melodic, real. It was genius, absolutely. No can that power be destroyed…”

The Quickening Maze (page 175)
Jonathan Cape 2009

Child Harold (lines 864-872)

[Image : Solitude (c) Rosiehardy]

Abscence in love is worse than any fate
Summer is winter’s desert & the spring
Is like a ruined city, desolate.
Joy dies & hope retires on feeble wing;
Nature sinks heedless — birds unheeded sing.
‘Tis solitude in cities — crowds all move
Like living death — though all to life still cling —
The strongest bitterest thing that life can prove
Is woman’s undisguise of hate & love.

Child Harold (lines 732-749)

Written in the autumn of 1841.
Clare still haunted by thoughts of Mary Joyce.

Sweet solitude thou partner of my life
Thou balm of hope & every pressing care
Thou soothing silence o’er the noise of strife
These meadow flats & trees—the Autumn air
Mellows my heart to harmony—I bear
Life’s burthen happily—these fenny dells
Seem Eden in this sabbath rest from care
My heart with loves first early memory swells
To hear the music of those village bells

For in that hamlet lives my rising sun
Whose beams hath cheered me all my lorn life long
My heart to nature there was early won
For she was natures self—& still my song
Is her through sun & shade through right & wrong
On her my memory forever dwells
The flower of Eden—evergreen of song
Truth in my heart the same love story tells
—I love the music of those village bells

Enclosure (part)

Far spread the moory ground, a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green,
That never felt the rage of blundering plough,
Though centuries wreathed spring blossoms on its brow.
Autumn met plains that stretched them far away
In unchecked shadows of green, brown, and grey.
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene;
No fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect from the gazing eye;
Its only bondage was the circling sky.
A mighty flat, undwarfed by bush and tree,
Spread its faint shadow of immensity,
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds,
In the blue mist the horizon's edge surrounds.

Song: "Swamps of wild rush..."

There are few places in England today that are remotely like the 'pre-enclosure' heaths that just 200 years ago would have been common. I am fortunate to live within a mile or so of one such surviving heath ~ Woodbury Commons ~ and yesterday spent a happy morning wandering through its "wild rush beds and sloughs squashy traces". Clare's poem describes almost exactly what I walked through. A stunning landscape, never cultivated, that Clare would instantly recognise as akin to his own 'Helpston' Commons.

~~ Double Click on my photo for the full effect ~~

Swamps of wild rush beds & sloughs squashy traces
Grounds of rough fallows wi thistle & weed
Flats & low vallies of king cups & daiseys
Sweetest of subjects are ye for my reed

Ye commons left free in the rude rags of nature
Ye brown heaths be cloathed in furze as ye be
My wild eye in rapture adores e'ery feature
Yere as dear as this heart in my bosom to me

O native endearments I woud not forsake ye
I woud not forsake ye for sweetest of scenes
For sweetest of gardens that nature coud make me
I woud not forsake ye dear vallies & greens

Tho nature neer dropt thee a cloud resting mountain
Nor water falls tumble their music to thee
Had nature denyd thee a bush tree or fountain
Thou still woud bin lovd as an eden by me

& long my dear vallies long long may ye flourish
Tho rush beds & thistles make most of your pride
May showers never fail the greens daiseys to nourish
Nor suns dry the fountain that rills by its side

Yer skies may be gloomy & misty yer mornings
Yer flat swampy vallies unholsome may be
Still refuse of nature wi out her adorning[s]
Yere as dear as this heart in my bosom to me

The Fall of the Year

[Maxey Mill]

Maxey Mill is still in use -- milling animal feeds. The Mill pond sluice passes under the mill. A couple of ancient mill stones are propped up against the rear wall, perhaps as a reminder of how grain was ground into flour in the past.

The Autumn's come again,
And the clouds descend in rain,
And the leaves are fast falling in the wood;
The Summer's voice is still,
Save the clacking of the mill
And the lowly-muttered thunder of the flood.

There's nothing in the mead
But the river's muddy speed,
And the willow leaves all littered by its side.
Sweet voices are all still
In the vale and on the hill,
And the Summer's blooms are withered in their pride.

Fled is the cuckoo's note
To countries far remote,
And the nightingale is vanished from the woods;
If you search the lordship round
There is not a blossom found,
And where the hay-cock scented is the flood.

My true love's fled away
Since we walked 'mid cocks of hay,
On the Sabbath in the Summer of the year;
And she's nowhere to be seen
On the meadow or the green,
But she's coming when the happy Spring is near.

When the birds begin to sing,
And the flowers begin to spring,
And the cowslips in the meadows reappear,
When the woodland oaks are seen
In their monarchy of green,
Then Mary and love's pleasures will be here.

The Shepherd's Calendar ~ October

[Image: 'October' by Carry Akroyd]

The inly pleased tho solitary boy
Journeying and muttering o’er his dreams of joy
Haunting the hedges for the wilding fruit
Of sloe or blackberry just as fancys suit
The sticking groups in many a ragged set
Brushing the woods their harmless loads to get
And gipseys camps in some snug sheltered nook
Where old lane hedges like the pasture brook
Run crooking as they will by wood and dell
In such lone spots these wild wood roamers dwell
On commons where no farmers claims appear
Nor tyrant justice rides to interfere
Such the abodes neath hedge or spreading oak
And but discovered by its curling smoke
Puffing and peeping up as wills the breeze
Between the branches of the coloured trees
Such are the pictures that October yields
To please the poet as he walks the fields