The Stranger (click here)

In 'Hymns Ancient and Modern' there is a single song/poem by John Clare: 'The Stranger'. For some years we have felt it needed a modern setting, so here is our offering. The music was composed by David Rowe, and was first performed in St. Botolph's Church, Helpston at the John Clare Festival in July 2010. Helpston, is the village in which John Clare was born, and was his muse throughout his long life. Clare died in 1864 and is buried in St. Botolph's Churchyard.

A stranger once did bless the earth
who never caused a heart to mourn,
whose very voice gave sorrow mirth;
and how did earth his worth return?
it spurned him from its lowliest lot:
the meanest station owned him not.

An outcast thrown in sorrow's way,
a fugitive that knew no sin,
yet in lone places forced to stray;
men would not take the stranger in.
Yet peace, though much himself he mourned,
was all to others he returned.

His presence was a peace to all,
he bade the sorrowful rejoice.
Pain turned to pleasure at his call,
health lived and issued from his voice;
he healed the sick, and sent abroad
the dumb rejoicing in the Lord.

The blind met daylight in his eye,
the joys of everlasting day;
the sick found health in his reply,
the cripple threw his crutch away.
Yet he with troubles did remain,
and suffered poverty and pain.

It was for sin he suffered all
to set the world-imprisoned free,
to cheer the weary when they call;
and who could such a stranger be?
The God, who hears each human cry,
and came, a Saviour, from on high.

The Village Funeral (excerpt)

The Orphans' grief and sorrow, so severe,
To every heart in pity's language speak ;
E'en the rough sexton can't withhold the tear,
That steals unnotic'd down his furrow'd cheek.

Who but is griev'd to see the Fatherless
Stroll with their rags unnotic'd through the street?
What eye but moistens at their sad distress,
And sheds compassion's tear whene'er they meet?

Yon Workhouse stands as their asylum now.
The place where Poverty demands to live;
Where parish Bounty scowls his scornful brow,
And grudges the scant fare he's forc'd to give.

Oh, may I die before I'm doom'd to seek
That last resource of hope, but ill supplied ;
To claim the humble pittance once a week,
Which justice forces from disdainful pride! —

AVhere the lost Orphan, lowly bending, weeps,
Unnotic'd by the heedless as they pass.
There the grave closes where a Mother sleeps.
With brambles platted on the tufted grass.

Search to find Britain's favourite poem (Click here)

The National Trust has set itself the near impossible task of choosing Britain’s favourite poem about the countryside, and Clare's sonnet "On a lane in Spring" is on the shortlist. Seems to me after reading the list of selected poems, that I could have chosen rather better... as could many. That being said, click on the title above to read the Daily Telegraph's piece on the 'search', published today.

The Clare poem 'chosen' is "On a lane in Spring":

A Little Lane, the brook runs close beside
And spangles in the sunshine while the fish glide swiftly by
And hedges leafing with the green spring tide
From out their greenery the old birds fly
And chirp and whistle in the morning sun
The pilewort glitters 'neath the pale blue sky
The little robin has its nest begun
And grass green linnets round the bushes fly
How Mild the Spring Comes in; the daisy buds
Lift up their golden blossoms to the sky
How lovely are the pingles and the woods
Here a beetle runs; and there a fly
Rests on the Arum leaf in bottle green
And all the Spring in this Sweet lane is seen

Mist in the Meadows

The evening oer the meadow seems to stoop
More distant lessens the diminished spire
Mist in the hollows reaks and curdles up
Like fallen clouds that spread – and things retire
Less seen and less – the shepherd passes near
And little distant most grotesquely shades
As walking without legs – lost to his knees
As through the rawky creeping smoke he wades
Now half way up the arches disappear
And small the bits of sky that glimmer through
Then trees loose all but tops – I meet the fields
And now indistinctness passes bye
The shepherd all his length is seen again
And further on the village meets the eye.

(Thanks to Simona Cola for reminding me of this brilliant poem)

Nutting... by David Rowe

'Nutting' ~ Clare's poem set to music by David Rowe (just click on the title above).

In 'nutting' Clare recalls his early courtship with Mary Joyce, who was to become his life-long muse. They never married although in his later life Clare was convinced she had been his first wife.

Right rosy gleamed the autumn morn
Right golden shone the autumn sun
The mowers swept the bleach├ęd corn
While long their early shades did run

The leaves were burnt to many hues
The hazel nuts were ripe & brown
My Mary’s kindness could but choose
To pluck them when I bore them down

The shells her auburn hair did show
A semblance faint yet beautiful
She smiled to hear me tell her so
Till I forgot the nuts to pull

She started at each little sound
The branches made—yet would her eye
Regret the gloom encroaching round
That told her night was in the sky

I helped her through the hedge row gap
& thought the very thorns unkind
As not to part—while in her lap
She sought the ripest bunch to find

T’was Mary’s smiles & sweet replies
That gave the sky so sweet a stain
So bright I never saw him rise
Nor ever set so sweet again

Farewell to the Cornfield

Farewell to the cornfield and meadow so green
Farewell to the white thorn and willow and Jean
Farewell to the haunts O' her childhood and mine
Where green banks had peace and my Jean looked divine
We're parted and may be for ever we part
Still Jeanie shall be the choice girl of my heart

Farewell to the cornfield and meadow so green
Farewell to the white thorn and willow and Jean
The meadows will be just as green when I'm gone
To the eyes o' my Jean while my heart like a stone
Lies cold in my breast while the scene I survey
To think of to-morrow that bears me away

From all I once loved and am cherishing yet
The wild flowers O' summer wi' honey dews wet
The path o'er the meadows the style i' the lane
My Jeanie will see them and know them again
To the wide roaring ocean and fathomless brine
I wander my Jean where thou still may be mine

If thy heart it be true love mine still thou shalt be
Though I perish by shipwreck and drown i the Sea
So farewell green meadows and farewell my Jean
To the willow and thorn where together we've been
All lonely I go to the wide raving sea
But true love will bring me safe back unto thee

Solitude (lines 81-104)

Where the swain the branches lops,
And o'erhead with rushes tops;
Where, with woodbine's sweet perfume,
And the rose's blushing bloom,
Loveliest ceiling of the bower,
Arching in, peeps many a flower;
While a hill of thyme so sweet,
Or a moss'd stone, forms a seat.

There, as 'tween-light hangs the eve,
I will watch thy bosom heave;
Marking then the darksome flows
Night's gloom o'er thy mantle throws;
Fondly gazing on thine eye
As it rolls its ecstasy,
When thy solemn musings caught
Tell thy soul's absorb'd in thought.

When thy finely folded arm
O'er thy bosom beating warm
Wraps thee melancholy round;
And thy ringlets wild unbound
On thy lily shoulders lie,
Like dark streaks in morning's sky.
Peace and silence sit with thee,
And peace alone is heaven to me.

A Scene

[Image: ‘Out of Doors’ by Carry Akroyd]

The Landscape’s stretching view that opens wide,
With dribbling brooks, and river’s wider floods,
And hills, and vales, and darksome lowering woods
With grains of varied hues, and grasses pied;
The low brown cottage in the shelter'd nook;
The steeple, peeping just above the trees
Whose dangling leaves keep rustling in the breeze;
And thoughtful shepherd bending o’er his hook;
And maidens stripp’d, haymaking too, appear;
And Hodge a whistling at his fallow plough;
And herdsman hallooing to intruding cow;
All these, with hundreds more, far off and near
Approach my sight; and please to such excess,
That language fails the pleasure to express.

There's music in the songs of birds

There's music in the songs of birds
There's music in the bee
There's music in a woman’s voice
When sitting on your knee

While walking in the mossy vales
Beneath the spreading beech
Song lives in singing nightingales
And in a woman’s speech

To hear her whisper in the dark
'Tis heavens melody
Her calm reply her wise remark
Is more than song to me

The harp can touch no sweeter chord
In music's thrilling choice
Nor music breathe a sweeter word
Than comes from woman’s voice

There's music in the singing lark
That carols to the sky
To hear her whisper in the dark
'Tis heavens melody

There's music in a woman’s voice
While sitting on your knee
And Emma is my own heart's choice
When e'er she chooses me