from "To the Snipe"

Boys thread the woods
To their remotest shades;
But in these marshy flats, these stagnant floods,
Security pervades.

From year to year
Places untrodden lie,
Where man nor boy nor stock hath ventured near,
Naught gazed on but the sky.

And fowl that dread
The very breath of man,
Hiding in spots that never knew his tread,
A wild and timid clan.

Widgeon and teal
And wild duck—restless lot,
That from man's dreaded sight will ever steal
To the most dreary spot.

Here tempests howl
Around each flaggy plot,
Where they who dread man's sight, the water fowl,
Hide and are frightened not.

'Tis power divine
That heartens them to brave
The roughest tempest and at ease recline
On marshes or the wave.

Yet instinct knows
Not safety's bounds:—to shun
The firmer ground where skulking fowler goes
With searching dogs and gun.

The Poems of John Clare
ed. J. W. Tibble (1935)
[Image: Carry Akroyd - ]

Today the fox must die

A Hunting Song
The cock awakes the rosy dawn
  And tells approaching day
While Reynard sneaks along the lawn
  Belated with his prey
—O never think to find thy home
  But for thy safety fly
The sportman's long proclaim'd thy doom—
  “Today a Fox shall die”

The bugle blows the sporting train
  Swift mount the snorting steed
Each fence defiance bids in vain
  Their progress to impede—
The cover broke they drive along
  And Raise a jovial cry
Each dog barks chorus to my song
  “Today a fox shall die”

Like lightning o’er the hills they sweep
  All readiest roads they go
The Five-barr'd gate with ease they leap:
  Hark forward tally ho!
The mist hangs on, and scents him strong
  The moisture makes it lie
The woods re-echo to my song
  “This day the Fox must die”

Old Reynard finding shifts in vain
  While hounds and horns pursue
Now leaves the woods to try the plain
  —The bugle sounds a view
Old Threadbrake gaily leads the throng
  His bold unerring cry
Confirms the burthen of my song
  “This day the fox shall die”

His funeral knell the bugle blows
  His end approaches near
He reels & staggers as he goes
  And drops his brush with fear
More eager now they press along
  And louder still the cry—
All join in chorus to my song
  “Today the fox must die”

John Clare, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)
[Image: Carry Akroyd]

In Hilly Wood

How sweet to be thus nestling deep in boughs
Upon an ashen stoven pillowing me
Faintly are heard the ploughmen at their ploughs
But near an eye can find its way to see
The sun beams scarce molest me wi a smile
So thick the leafy armies gather round
& where they do the breeze blows cool the while
Their leafy shadows dancing on the ground
—Full many a flower too wishing to be seen
Perks up its head the hiding grass between—
In midwood silence thus how sweet to be
Where all the noises that on peace intrude
Comes from the chittering cricket bird & bee
Whose songs have charms to sweeten solitude

The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems (2 volumes, 1821)
[Image: Carry Akroyd]

A Scene

The landscapes 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, perking just above the trees
Whose dangling leaves keep rustling in the breeze;
And thoughtful shepherd bending o'er his hook;
And maidens stript, 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.

John Clare, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)
[Image: Carry Akroyd]

A Valentine

[Click on the title for the illustrations to the poem]

Here's a valentine nosegay for Mary,
Some of spring’s early flowers;
The ivy is green by the dairy,
And so are these laurels of ours.

Though the snow fell so deep, and the winter was dreary,
The laurels are green, and the sparrows are cheery.
The snowdrops in bunches grow under the rose;
And aconites under the lilac like fairies;

The best in the bunches for Mary I chose;
Their looks are as sweet, and as simple as Mary's;
The one will make spring, in my verses so bare,
The other will set off, and braid thy dark hair.

Red primroses too, at the old parlour end,
Have bloom'd all the winter, ‘mid’ snow's cold and dreary,
Where the lavender cotton kept off the cold wind
Now to shine in my Valentine nosegay for Mary.

And shine in my verses all summer and be,
A memento of fondness, and friendship for thee.
Here's the crocus half opened, that spreads into gold;
Like branches of sunbeams left there by a fairy,

I pluck them as such, in these verses so cold,
But they'll bloom twice as bright, in the presence of Mary.
These garden flowers cropt, I will go to the fields,
And see what the valleys and pasture land yields.

Here's the pale primrose, on the skirts of the wild wood,
And violet blue, 'neath the thorn on the green:
The wild flowers we pluck't, in the days of our childhood,
On the very same spot, as no changes had been!

In the very same place, where the sun kiss'd the leaves,
And the woodbine its branches, with thorns interweaves.
And here in the pasture all swarming with rushes,
Is a cowslip, as blooming and forward as spring,

And the pilewort like sunshine, glows under the bushes
While the chaffinch there sitting is trying to sing.
And the daisies are comeing, called ‘stars of the earth’;
To bring to the school-boy his spring time of mirth.

Here is the nosegay—how simple it shines,
It speaks without words, to the ear and the eye:
The flowers of the spring, are the best Valentines,
They are young, fair, and simple, and pleasingly shy.
That you may remain so, and ne'er act contrary,
I send you these flowers, as a Valentine Mary.

The Poems of John Clare, ed. J. W. Tibble
(2 volumes, Dent, 1935)

from "The Cellar Door - A Ballad"

[Image: Myles Birket Foster - The Country Inn]

& pulled at the quart till the snob he declared
When he went to drink next that the bottom was bared
No matter for that said the toper & grinned
I had but a soak & neer rested for wind
Thats law said the smith with a look rather vexed
But the quart was a forfeit so pay for the next
Then they talked of their skill & their labour till noon
When the sober mans toil was exactly half done

& there the plough lay—people hardly could pass
& the horses let loose pinsoned up the short grass
& browsed on the bottle of flags lying there
By the gipseys old budget for mending a chair
The millers horse tyed to the old smithy door
Stood stamping his feet by the flies bitten sore
Awaiting the smith as he wanted a shoe
& he stampt till another fell off & made two

Till the miller expecting that all would get loose
Went to seek him & cursed him outright for a goose
But he dipt his dry beak in the mug once or twice
& forgot all his passion & toils in a trice
& the fly bitten horse at the old smithy post
Might stamp till his shoes & his legs they were lost
He sung his old songs & forgot his old mill
Blow winds high or low she might rest at her will

(lines 105-128)
John Clare, The Midsummer Cushion, ed. Kelsey Thornton and Anne Tibble (Ashington and Manchester: Mid-NAG and Carcanet, 1979, revised second edition, 1990)

from "Martinmass Eve"

The old dame potters out to call the rest
& supper gins prepare & welcomes every guest
Their darkling joys each juggling couple leaves
& to the humble banquet hustle down
Telling as how while staning neath the eaves
They heard the rantings of some drunken clown
& fiddles somwere scraping in the town
& gis it out a dancing there must be
& each lass 'grees to slip on better gown
& after supper take a walk & see
Wi their admiring swains to keep em company
While one in dumps broods on the corner stool
Their elder daughter doomd to worst of fate
Who made one slip in love & playd the fool
&s since condemnd to live without a mate
No youth again courts once beguiled kate
Tho hopes of sweethearts still perplex her head
& charm to try by gipseys told of late
From table slives unseen an onion red
To dream at martinmass with whom she is to wed
& as the shadowd shifting joys of hope
Is all the comfort kit can call to mind
When for the dancing sports the rest elope
She wi the old folks patient stays behind
To bed retiring full of hopes to find
The charm succeed—till the returning day
Proves gipseys wisdom empty as the wind
& all her hopes & money thrown away
Leaving her blighted youth to wither & decay

(lines 170 - 198)
Poems of John Clare's Madness, ed. Geoffrey Grigson (1949)