[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (January) – Carry Akroyd]

While labour still pursues his way
And braves the tempest as he may
The thresher first thro darkness deep
Awakes the mornings winter sleep
Scaring the owlet from her prey
Long before she dreams of day
That blinks above head on the snow
Watching the mice that squeaks below
And foddering boys sojourn again
By ryhme hung hedge and frozen plain
Shuffling thro the sinking snows
Blowing his fingers as he goes
To where the stock in bellowings hoarse
Call for their meals in dreary close
And print full many a hungry track
Round circling hedge that guards the stack

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (January - excerpt)

Twelfth Night is over and Plough Monday is past. Now it is Tuesday and work resumes and hard labour wastes no time in wiping the slate clean of the sweets of holiday and all the misrule of the day before, leaving only the aching limbs, the numbed fingers and the harsh coughs of winter.

Yesterday, Plough Monday, is the day that custom dictates that all men return to work and the season of ploughing begin. But custom is long-since beggared by usage, for the ploughs have been working the fields since October. And there are few men under thirty who, on Plough Monday, have their eyes on anything but the pint pot and the pie?

All is white with snow, and has been since Christmas night when the sky opened and the snow settled like feathers on the frozen ground, so that every battered, tattered, familiar place is become strange and beautiful, softened by the white fall that has folded its cold bright coverlet over match, stack, stable, street and field.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 13 - Plough Monday)

The Ballad of John Clare

As readers of this weblog will know, in the years since its genesis in 2005 I have very rarely used texts that were not written by Clare, but with the publication of The Ballad of John Clare in late 2010 I feel I must make an exception.

Over the past couple of years there has been a number of novels about the life and work of Clare, all very much worth reading. But in this, Hugh Lupton's first novel, I feel we have something exceptional. Mark my words, this book will win prizes.

Hugh is planning to be present at our 30th Festival in Helpston (8th - 10th July 2011), speaking about and signing copies of this book. However in the months before then, and with Hugh's permission, I hope to post short extracts here... together with pertinent Clare poems.

Before this is commenced you will find below two reviews of the book, the first written by fellow John Clare Society Committee member Simon Kovesi. Published in the Independent Newspaper; the second by Kathy Stevenson in the Daily Mail. I must admit to agreeing with virtually every word:

"This novelisation of a year in the young life of the poet John Clare is a testament to a lifetime's groundbreaking commitment to folk culture. A renowned folk performer, but a first-time novelist, Hugh Lupton is neither a prose stylist, nor a formal innovator of fiction. But he is a master in two areas: storytelling and English rural folk culture. Lupton knows Clare and his village of Helpston, Northamptonshire, as well as anyone, and reconstructs Clare's times with a rare conviction. The context, landscape, language and texture of Clare's life and landscape are re-imagined in enchanting and accurate detail.

Clare has spoken to many creative people across the years: poets Arthur Symons and Edmund Blunden at the start of the twentieth century; Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and Paul Farley more recently. Playwrights have taken different routes through Clare's life: Edward Bond's play The Fool, revived brilliantly this year in Kilburn after a 35-year hiatus, sets the poet in a world of violent class war, while Simon Rae's play Grass, places an eco-warrior Clare in the 2001 foot-and-mouth pandemic.

Prose writers have also had varying takes on Clare: Alan Moore gives us a magical, anarchic version of Clare in Voice of the Fire; Iain Sinclair psycho-maps Clare's naturally contoured mind in Edge of the Orison; Richard Mabey takes Clare as his companion on a recovery from depression in the brilliant memoir Nature Cure. Serious thinkers like E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams, Adam Phillips, Roy Porter and Ronald Blythe have also been thrilled by the access Clare provides to a long-forgotten, largely unwritten, world of labouring-class rural life and working intimacy with nature. Even Christopher Hitchens starts his polemic God is Not Great with an account of Clare.

But Clare's reach doesn't stop there. A wide variety of musicians continue to perform and record Clare's folksongs, fiddle music and ballads. The thriving John Clare Society will be thirty years old in 2011. Clare's poetry is now included in primary and secondary school curriculums. There are plans for TV documentaries and Hollywood interest too. His cottage in Helpston is now redeveloped into a glistening multi-million-pound Clare museum. This is truly Clare's moment - he's everywhere. But why is this previously obscure peasant poet of the natural world, born in poverty in 1793, who died in an asylum in 1864, suddenly of any relevance to us now?

The Ballad of John Clare provides the answer. Clare was born into a time of agricultural and social change. We live in a time of impending environmental catastrophe. The focus of this novel is enclosure - that massive reorganisation of the use of agricultural land that took place, parish by parish, inch by mapped inch, across the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The rotating open field system of Clare's farming youth, peppered by common land, heaths, woods, scrub and wetlands, was reformed by Acts of Parliament. Rigid lines determined new ownership. Land was drained and reclaimed, hedged and fenced. Ditches were dug, rivers straightened, woodlands erased, and commons ploughed. Clare's horror at the abuses of the land around him - and the sheer ignorance of natural wonder that allowed it - led to a loss of a personal Eden from which he never recovered. There is therefore a direct relevance of Clare's poetic vision, and personal experience, to current anxieties about the ongoing impact of our industrialised, alienated distance from the earth and skies we continue to poison. Clare is now beginning to occupy the same place in relation to green environmentalism that Mary Wollstonecraft does in relation to feminism. Embedded within his proto-green politics is a celebration of common customs and common land, and an acute eye for an extraordinary rural life now all but gone."

Simon Kovesi --The Independent, 3rd December 2010

"Three novels about poet John Clare have now been published within a short space of each other - and why not? His story is, after all, the stuff of which fiction is made.

In this beautifully crafted book, Lupton has focused on one pivotal year of Clare's life; one that foretells the misery and mental problems that would beset him in later years.

But, this is not a book about just one man; it is about a society undergoing colossal upheavals from which the English countryside and its people have never recovered, when the Enclosures Act brings with it riches for some but abject poverty for many.

Lupton has brought to bear his vast understanding of English folklore and culture, and produced an exceptional evocation of an England lost."

Kathy Stevenson --The Daily Mail, November 26, 2010

Stanzas to Adelaide

Adelaide beautiful Adelaide see
The spring is returning to beauty and thee
The snowdrops are breaking the soil and appear
As white as thy neck at the spring of the year

Adelaide beautiful Adelaide here
The primroses come and tis spring of the year
The primroses come and the birds mate in pairs
O when will my life be as happy as theirs
O when shall I woo thee and sit in the shade
Mong violets and primroses my sweet Adelaide
When in those bright eyes will those baby's appear
That I saw when I kissed thee last spring of the year

O Adelaide beautiful Adelaide hear
The snow drops have brought thee the spring of the year
The aconites open like rays of the sun
And tell thee the pleasures of spring is begun

Then Adelaide beautiful Adelaide hear
Let us take lovers walks at the spring of the year

from Child Harold

Tis winter & the fields are bare & waste
The air one mass of ‘vapour clouds & storms’
The suns broad beams are buried & oercast
& chilly glooms the midday light deforms
Yet comfort now the social bosom warms
Friendship of nature which I hourly prove
Even in this winter scene of frost & storms
Bare fields the frozen lake & leafless grove
Are natures grand religion & true love
(lines 901 - 909)

SONG: The winter stays till e'en & the spring it canna cum

The winter stays till e'en & the spring it canna cum
& every cannie bud is nipt up before the bloom
The winter winna gae & it stays a day oer lang
Sae the flowers they canna blossom & the birdies get nae Sang
The young & cannie maiden canna gang by her ain gate
But brazen ruffian winter mun teaze her suin & late
Her gown to shun the dirt oft leaves her ancle bare
For her gown it is the best & her ony sabbath ware

Then brazen ruffian winter begins his bawdry sang
& calls her foul & filthy names & does her mickle wrang
But I loo to see her ancle & I loo to see her gown
Held up by her lily hand when rains are dripping doon
& if I see her bonny cauf it sets me in a bleeze
The pillars o' king Salomon are nat sae sweet as these
But winter blites wi' chilblains where love would leave a kiss
& woman lovely woman is ever used amiss

The winter stays till e'en & the spring it canna get
There's near a way for maids to gaing & neer a blossom yet
There's ne'er a wa' for womans gate luik which a wa we will
Yet still I loo a' woman kind & winna do her ill
I winna wrang a woman for the best bluid in my veins
I winna wrang a woman till the last of life remains
Though the spring it canna cum & the winter winna gang
I maun luv' aye worship woman in every tale & sang

To Hope

O Muse bestow—nor think it vain
(While praise rebounds in just excess)
To a weak clown one single strain,
Fit and becoming hopes address,
For O in every grief we find
Her ready aid to cheer the mind.
Hail soothing hope recruiting power
In penitence and haples fate;
Assistant proof in latest hour
E'en thro the prisons gloomy grate
Where Culprits almost hopless grieve
Thy form will glimmer to reprieve.
Thro life thus far—(so cloth'd in stains
Of Motley troubles as it is)
Me thou hast chear'd and still remains
To point to shores of endless bliss,
Tho doom'd perhaps another way
Sweet hope endears the wisht essay.
Thou balmy bland enlivner hail
Or false or true to the distrest
Thy form will dart in sorrows vale
A thwarting joy on troubles breast.

Mary Green

Was there ever such a hue
O Loves bonny Mary Green
On the rosey pearled in dew
As on thy cheek is seen
On choice carnation leaves
Was there e'er so rich a streak
When thy white bosom heaves
As thy lips that music speak

Shall I twine the weeping willow
Round the bloom of Mary Green
Oer her bosoms snowy pillows
& her face so like a queen
Shall the cypress glooms be wreathing
Like a lump o' coffined clay
Round that form o' beauty breathing
All the witcherys o' May

O my lovely Mary Green
The richest flower o' May
On thy bonny face is seen
Which love winna take away
Thy dress sae neat thy face sae sweet
As bonny as a queen
Thou'rt loves own sweetheart a' compleat
My bonny Mary Green


[Image: Carry Akroyd - The Shepherd's Calendar]


Withering and keen the winter comes
While confort flyes to close shut rooms
And sees the snow in feathers pass
Winnowing by the window glass

And unfelt tempests howl and beat
Above his head in corner seat
And musing oer the changing scene
Farmers behind the tavern screne

Sit—or wi elbow idly prest
On hob reclines the corners guest
Reading the news to mark again
The bankrupt lists or price of grain

Or Old Moores annual prophecys
That many a theme for talk supplys
Whose almanacks thumbd pages swarm
Wi frost and snow and many a storm

And wisdom gossipd from the stars
Of politics and bloody wars
He shakes his head and still proceeds
Ne'er doubting once of what he reads

(lines 1-20)