The hind that were chopping them up for his fire

[The Plaque at Langley Bush]

The hind that were chopping them up for his fire
Een stood like a poet awhile to admire
& when I last sat here to listen the thrush
I lookd on yon knowll at our favourite bush
Were gipseys campd round it in freedom did dwell
& a swain told its history that knew it so well
About a court yearly being kept neath its boughs
In its youth—when his forefathers herded the cows
While the bush oer our heads blooming feeble & old
Seemd listning in sorrow the story he told
& sighd as the winds summer breath flutterd bye
Its few scatterd leaves as one ready to dye
Tho the gipseys haunt still the lovd spot as before
& the swain calls it still by the name it once bore
Langley bush with its scard trunk & grey mossy bough
Is fled & the scene is left desolate now
A storm that made shepherds in dread for an hour
& boild oer the hills with its thunder & shower
Struck it down to the earth were it withering lay
Till the gipseys sought firing & hauld it away
When the shepherd returnd as the tempest was bye
From his hut of thatchd brakes that had sheltered him dry
He lookd with supprise & a fearful anoy
On the fall of his favourite known from a boy
& I thus to witness its sorrowful end
Feel a loss for its fate as I do for a friend

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

The site of the ancient thorn bush is thought to have once been a Bronze Age barrow and a Roman shrine, and was reportedly an open-air court in Anglo-Saxon times used by all the parishes in the area, known as the Langdyke Hundred.  Clare knew all this of course, and Langley Bush was as much revered by him as it seems to have been by his Anglo-Saxon predecessors.

In the eighteenth century the court moved to the Exeter Arms, in Helpston, and the place became known as a haunt of gypsies.

In 1996 a replacement tree was replanted on the mound and a memorial plaque, to mark the historic site, was added.  All very much in keeping with Clare’s original words in his 1821 poem ‘Langley Bush’:

O Langley Bush! The shepherds sacred shade
Thy hollow trunk oft gain'd a look from me
Full many a journey o'er the heath I've made
For such like curious things I love to see

How ironic therefore that as I subsequently discovered, that to visit the site and stand next to the hallowed tree, the visitor has to trespass on ‘private’ land, reported the ‘Village Tribune’ in December 2009:

 The Langley Bush is situated on private land.
 Permission to visit the mound should be sought from Fitzwilliam Farm (Milton Estates)’.

So to actually visit the site without ‘permission’, one must trespass on the land legally acquired from the commons during the enclosures.  Here is Clare bitterly railing on the subject:

I dreaded walking where there was no path
And pressed with cautious tread the meadow swath
And always turned to look with wary eye
And always feared the owner coming by;
Yet everything about where I had gone
Appeared so beautiful I ventured on
And when I gained the road where all are free
I fancied every stranger frowned on me
And every kinder look appeared to say
You’ve been on trespass in your walk today

From my essay “An Outing to Langley Bush” which can be read in its entirety here :

The Gipsy Camp

[Image: 'The Gipsy Camp' by Walter Tyndale]

The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half-roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare.
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
'Tis thus they live -- a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.

John Clare, Selected Poems,
ed. R.K.R. Thornton (Everyman's Poetry, 1997)

A Winter Wish

My wish now's to sit in a cottage made snug
By a fire burning roozy and bright
With a Friend to make shorter short days by a Jug
And some Books for amusement at night
And could I enjoy such a peaceable lot
I'd ne'er cast on Fortune a frown
Nor would I possesing my Friend, Books, and Cott
Exchange 'em away for a — Crown!

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

To an Infant Daughter

On the 13th June 1822 Patty and John had a second daughter, Eliza Louisa, but in that two years his world had been turned upside down, he was famous.  But there was sorrow too, as they lost a still-born baby son in June of 1821.

The photo shows a Christening Cup given to Eliza Louisa by her Godmother, Eliza Louise Emmerson for whom she of course was named.  John and Mrs Emmerson carried on a regular correspondence for many years and become firm friends.

After her sister Anna Maria's death in 1844, Eliza Louise was to marry the widowed husband, and her brother-in-law, John Sefton.  They had eight children, and a number of the 'Sefton-Clare' clan are active members of the John Clare Society to this day.

Sweet gem of infant fairy flowers
Thy smiles on lifes unclosing hours
Like sun beams lost in summer showers
     They wake my fears
When reason knows its sweets & sours
     Theyll change to tears

God help thee little sensless thing
Thou daisey like of early spring
Of ambushd winters hornet sting
     Hast yet to tell
Thou knowst not what tomorrows bring—
     I wish thee well

But thou art come & soon or late
Tis thine to meet the frowns of fate
The harpy grin of envys hate
     & mermaid smiles
Of worldly follys luring bait
     That youth beguiles

& much I wish what ere may be
The lot my child that falls to thee
Nature neer may let thee see
     Her glass betimes
But keep thee from my failings free
     No itch at ryhmes

L---d help thee in thy coming years
If thy mad fathers picture 'pears
Predominant—his feeling fears
     & gingling starts
Id freely now gi vent to tears
     To ease my heart

May thou unknown to ryhming bother
Be ignorant as is thy mother
& in thy manners such another
     Save sins nigh guest
& then wi scaping this & tother
     Thou mayst be blest

L---d knows my heart I wish thee much
& may my feeling ach[e]s & such
The pains I meet in follys clutch
     Be never thine—
Child its a tender string to touch
     That sounds ‘thourt mine’

The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems (2 volumes, 1821)

There is a feeling nought can calm

There is a feeling nought can calm
A passion nought can quell
The mention of a sweethearts name
That fond thoughts dare not tell
To know thee thus my dearest maid
& then to part in twain
The thunder making earth affraid
Will smile upon the main

The just may fall by thunder shocks
That never knew a crime
& earthquakes rend the lonely rocks
That upward used to climb
But love fond love that wedlock ties
Each other as their own
Then choked to tears & stifled sighs
& petrified to stone

For thee dear maid I touch the strings
& keep my heart awake
Tis simple truth the ballad sings
That love will not forsake
& stubborn are the hands that strike
The chords to melody
That loved the many all alike
With a double love for thee

Thy pedigree & titles high
As shadows pass away
& that fine face & brighter eye
Must also meet decay
But love that warmed us at the first
Can live & love alone
Nor ever die bye fate accursed
Though petrified to stone

The Later Poems of John Clare
ed. Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield
(Manchester University Press, 1964)

From "The Winters Come"

Sweet chesnuts brown, like soleing leather turn,
The larch trees, like the colour of the sun,
That paled sky in the Autumn seem'd to burn.
What a strange scene before us now does run,
Red, brown, and yellow, russet black, and dun,
White thorn, wild cherry, and the poplar bare,
The sycamore all withered in the sun,
No leaves are now upon the birch tree there,
All now is stript to the cold wintry air.
See! not one tree but what has lost its leaves,
And yet, the landscape wears a pleasing hue,
The winter chill on his cold bed receives,
Foliage which once hung oer the waters blue,
Naked, and bare, the leafless trees repose,
Blue headed titmouse now seeks maggots rare,
Sluggish, and dull, the leaf strewn river flows.

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

The Wind & Trees

Click here: Wind in the Trees THEN read Clare's poem...

I love the song of tree and wind
How beautiful they sing
The licken on the beach tree rind
E'en beats the flowers of spring

From the southwest sugh sugh it comes
Then whizes round in pleasant hums

It sings the spirit of the storm
The trees with dancing waxes warm
They dance and bow, and dance again
The very trunks, each branch and grain

Shake and dance and wave and bow
In every form no matter how

In every storm they dance on high
The semblance of a stormy sky
Then sob and roar and bend and swee
The semblance of a stormy sea

I love the song of wood and wind
The sobs before its roar behind

I love the stir of flood and tree
'Tis all of natures melody
I love the roaring of the wind
The calm that follows cheers the mind

'Tis like the good mans end of peace
When joys begin and troubles cease

The Later Poems of John Clare 1837-1864
ed. Eric Robinson and David Powell
(Oxford, 2 volumes, I-II, 1984)