Song (from Child Harold)

When Clare wrote this poem - in 1841 - Mary Joyce had been dead for 3 years.  She, of course, was never his wife.

Did I know where to meet thee
Thou dearest in life
How soon would I greet thee
My true love & wife
How soon would I meet thee
At close of the day

Though cares would still cheat me
If Mary would meet me
I'd kiss her sweet beauty & love them away

And when evening discovers
The sun in the West
I long like true lovers
To lean on thy breast
To meet thee my dearest —
Thy eyes beaming blue

Absence pains the severest
Feel Mary's the dearest
And if Mary's absence — how can I be true

How dull the glooms cover
This meadow & fen
Where I as a lover
Seek Mary again
But silence is teasing
Wherever I stray

There's nothing seems pleasing
Or aching thoughts easing
Though Mary lives near me — she seems far away

O would these gales murmur
My love in her ear
Or a bird’s note inform her
While I linger here
But nature contrary
Turns night into day

No bird — gale — or fairy
Can whisper to Mary
To tell her who seeks her—while Mary's away

(Lines 567 - 602)

The Oxford Authors: John Clare
ed. Eric Robinson and David Powell (Oxford, 1984)


Ere yet the year is one month old,
In spite of frost and wind and snow,
Bare-bosomed to the quaking cold,
Spring's little selfsown flowers will blow;
And ever kin to early hours
Peep aconites in cups of gold,
With frilled leaves muffled round their flowers
Like tender maidens shunning cold.

And then as winter's parting pledge,
Like true love in his crabbed reign,
The violets 'neath the naked hedge
Peep thro' the rustling leaves again,
Soon as from off the thicket's moss
The sunshine clears the doubting snow,
And the o'erjoyed and neighing horse
Can find a patch of green to blow.

Like jewels brought by early hours,
These little littered blossoms come;
Like wanderers from fairy bowers,
They smile and gladly find a home;
And on the threshold of the spring,
Like timid children out of doors,
They lie and wait the birds to sing,
And laugh upon the splashy moors.

In April's smiling-frowning weather,
Like younkers to a holiday,
The young flowers bud in troops together
To wait the feast of merry May;
In sunny nooks and shelter nurst,
Buds all their early blooms display,
Where sunbeams show their faces first
And make when there the longest stay.

James Reeves
Selected Poems of John Clare
(London: Heinemann, 1954)

from "Holywell"

Nature, thou accept the song,
To thee the simple lines belong,
Inspir'd as brushing hill and dell
I stroll'd the way to Holywell.
Though 'neath young April's watery sky,
The sun gleam'd warm, and roads were dry;
And though the valleys, bush, and tree
Still naked stood, yet on the lea
A flush of green, and fresh'ning glow,
In melting patches 'gan to show
That swelling buds would soon again
In summer's livery bless the plain.
The thrushes too 'gan clear their throats,
And got by heart some two'r three notes
Of their intended summer-song,
To cheer me as I stroll'd along.
The wild heath triumph'd in its scenes
Of goss and ling's perpetual greens;
And just to say that spring was come,
The violet left its woodland home,
And, hermit-like, from storms and wind
Sought the best shelter it could find,
'Neath long grass banks, with feeble powers
Peeping faintly purple flowers:
While oft unhous'd from beds of ling
The fluskering pheasant took to wing,
And bobbing rabbits, wild and shy,
Their white tails glancing on the eye,
Just prick'd their long ears list'ning round,
And sought their coverts underground.

(lines 1 – 30)

Poems of the Middle Period,
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and P.M.S. Dawson,
Volumes I-II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996);
Volumes III-IV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)

from "A Sunday with Shepherds and Herdboys"

The shepherds and the herding swains
Keep their sabbaths on the plains;
For them the church bells vainly call;
Fields are their church and house and all;
They'll lie and catch the passing sound
That comes from steeples shining round,
Enjoying in the service time
The happy bells' delightful chime,
And, if they sit on rising ground,
To view the landscape spreading round,
Swimming from the following eye
In greens and stems of every dye
O'er wood and vale and fen's smooth lap
Like a richly coloured map;
Square plots of clover red and white
Scented with summer's warm delight,
And cinquefoil of a fresher stain,
And different greens of warm├Ęd grain;
Wheat spindles bursting into ear
And browning gently; grasses sere
In swathy seed-pods dried by heat,
Rustling when brushed by passing feet;
And beans and peas of deadening green,
And cornland's ribbon strips between,
And stretching villages that lie
Like light spots in a deeper sky.
And from the fields they'll often steal
The green peas for a Sunday meal,
And in snug nooks, their huts beside,
The gipsy blazes they provide,
Shaking the rotten from the trees,
While some sit round to shell the peas,
Or pick from hedges pilfered wood
To boil on props their stolen food;
Sitting on stones or heaps of brakes,
Each of the wild repast partakes,
Telling to pass the hours along
Tales that to fitter days belong,
While one within his scrip contains
A shattered Bible's thumbed remains,
O'er whose blank leaf with pious care
A host of names is scribbled there.

(lines 1 - 42)
The Poems of John Clare,
ed. J. W. Tibble (2 volumes, Dent, 1935)

Listened to a programme -- "Costing the Earth" on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday where they opined that it was not possible to know much about what 'weeds' grew in England much before the 1900s.  The programme makers had obviously never heard of John Clare -- a wealth of such information and all 'just in passing'.  As well as all sorts of other minute details of ordinary life from an agricultural labourer who was there.  This post is dedicated to them (!)

Opening of the Morning

A Sketch
Tis the time just as morning is breaking
& the Colour arching blue skye
Just as the black clouds of the night are forsaking
Brightning up like as Marys blue eye

Where the red morns streaks was sweetly emerging
In the easts enlarging light
Just like the red corral beads of the Virgin
When hung on her neck so white

When the fresh springs of delight is beaming
& larks waken the labourers toils
When the first smile of the summer is gleaming
As sweet as when Mary smiles

Sweet when the dappeled sky is shrouded
In its milky water hue
Like as Mary her bosom's Clouded
Skin so white & veins so blue

The Early Poems of John Clare 1804-1822
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and Margaret Grainger
(Oxford, 2 volumes, I-II, 1989)

[Image : Mike Hobson]

The Wealthy Dolt

The wealthy dolt for wit and sense
Though college’d and begrammared
Just as a nail that never stirs
No further than it’s hammered
And when he’s made complete to act
Of wisdom’s [face] a farce on
In making nothing else the fact
Is that he’ll make a parson

Pet MS A42 p104
Unpublished fragment

[For Julian and the 'Clare' students from City College, Plymouth]

Lassie I love thee

Lassie I love thee
The heavens above thee
Look downwards to move thee
And prove my love true
My arms round thy waist love
My head on thy breast love
By a true man caressed love
Ne'er bid me adieu

Thy cheeks full o' blushes
Like the rose in the bushes
In a love stream it gushes
With over delight
Though clouds may come o'er thee
Sweet maid I'll adore thee
As I do now before thee
I’ll Love thee tonight

It stings me to madness
To see thee all gladness
While I'm full o sadness
Thy meaning to guess
Thy gown is deep blue love
In honour of true love
Ever thinking of you love
My love I'll confess

My love ever shewing
Thy hearts worth the knowing
It is like the sun glowing
And hid in thy breast
Thy lover behold me
To my bosom I'll fold thee
For thou love thou'st just told me
So here thou may rest

J.L. Cherry, Life and Remains of John Clare
(London and Northampton: Frederick Warne and J. Taylor and Son, 1873)

Incidentally, Cherry's book is readily available free as an e-book.


The morning wakens with the lumping frails
Chilly & cold — the early rising clown
Hurkles along & blows his finger nails
Iceicles from the cottage eves hang down
Which passing childern wish for in their play
— The fields once clad in autumns russet brown
Spreads like the eye its circle far away
In one hugh sheet of snow — from the white wood
The crows all silent seek the dreary fens
& starnels blacken through the air in crowds
The sheep stand bleating in their turnip pens
& loath their frozen food—while labouring men
Button their coats more close from angry clouds
& wish for night & its snug fire agen

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

[Image: Carry Akroyd]