The weeders...

[Image: Peter de Wint]

The weeders go to weed the wheat
The weather fine & fair
& find a pleasant dinner seat
To eat their dinner there

The ploughman gets a pleasant boon
& whistles all the way
& leaves his team in after noon
For weeding half the day

The maiden plagued for being fair
Laps thistles in her gown
& gets behind him unawares
To prick the noisey clown

He only turns again & smiles
Nor tries to get away
& runs & stops her at the stile
& so they end the day

John Clare, Poems of the Middle Period
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and P.M.S. Dawson

John & Patty - Great Casterton, March 1820

Ronald Blythe deep in conversation with David and Roger Rowe in the garden of the Crown Inn, Great Casterton just opposite the church in which Clare and Patty were married in March 1820. David sang two of Clare's poems -'Maid of Walkherd' and 'The Courtship' as part of the presentation of poems, songs and readings in the Church. 

A womans is the dearest love
Theres nought on earth sincerer
The leisure upon beautys breast
Can any thing be dearer

I saw her love in beauty’s face
I saw her in the rose
I saw her in the fairest flowers
In every weed that grows

(from 'The Courtship')

Oh!  And here is a photocopy of the Clare / Turner Marriage Certificate from that memorable day in March 1820.  Notice "with the consent of" has been scored out, her father refused to attend as Patty was 6 months pregnant.    With the publication of "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" in January of the same year, Clare was the new sensation.  With grateful thanks to Clare descendant Pat Jones.

The 'John Clare Poet' facebook group

In December 2012, poet Angela Topping and I decided it was time to start a proper John Clare Facebook page. In the 20 months since then, my how we have grown, with today no fewer than 423 members. Last year in August we held our inaugural 'group' weekend in the Helpston area, and over 19/20th May this year a gathering remembering our great poet by his graveside, and the gravesides of his wife Patty and muse Mary Joyce.
We have writers, musicians, painters, photographers & illustrators, film-makers, poets, sculptors, several descendants of Clare, academics, and plain old fans of his work. We have a rolling virtual exhibition of work "John Clare 150" dedicated to Clare (more contributions would be welcomed), and several books have been published from members of the group who met via these pages, as well as other collaborations.
We plan a second (or is that third) gathering over the weekend of the 12th/14th September (mark your diaries now), again in the Helpston area, but with the possibility of visits a bit further afield to Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen, weather depending of course.
And to add to all that, the weekend of the 11th to 13th July was the Festival in the village organised by our friends from the John Clare Society (many of us are of course, members of that organisation - one of the largest literary societies in the country).
Our cup runneth over...
Click here to go to the facebook page.

Market Day

With arms and legs at work and gentle stroke
That urges switching tail nor mends his pace,
On an old ribbed and weather beaten horse,
The farmer goes jogtrotting to the fair.
Both keep their pace that nothing can provoke
Followed by brindled dog that snuffs the ground
With urging bark and hurries at his heels.
His hat slouched down, and great coat buttoned close
Bellied like hooped keg, and chuffy face
Red as the morning sun, he takes his round
And talks of stock: and when his jobs are done
And Dobbin's hay is eaten from the rack,
He drinks success to corn in language hoarse,
And claps old Dobbin's hide, and potters back.

Northborough Sonnets (1995)

Clare's Grave...

It may be timely to remind pilgrims to Clare's grave that the designer of Clare's very distinctive gravestone, memorably described by Charles Causley* as 'an upturned stone boat', was one Michael Drury, a Lincoln architect, who happens to have been a son of Edward Drury, the Stamford bookseller, originally from Lincoln, who alerted his publisher cousin John Taylor to Clare's talents. There is a nice symmetry in the fact that Drury senior first 'discovered' the poet and Drury junior commemorated his last resting place.

I owe this information to a clipping from the Stamford Mercury, 13 August 1864, preserved in a notebook in the Godfrey Collection at Peterborough Museum (PMS G2, p.21).

Edward Drury also had a brother named Michael, a Philadelphia bookseller, mentioned on p.156 of Jonathan Bate's biography. There was also a George Drury, of Barholm, near Market Deeping, on the committee that raised funds for the gravestone by public subscription, and it seems likely that he too belonged to this family. A quick search of the UK Telephone Directory shows that Drury is still quite a common name in Lincolnshire, and chances are the family line continues to this day. Perhaps at some future Festival we may even see Clare descendants and Drury descendants converge at the graveside, which would be a very fitting communion indeed.

Greg Crossan
John Clare Society Newsletter No 92 (June 2006)


Hills sank like green fleets on the land's long rim
About the village of toast-coloured stone.
Leaving the car beside the Blue Bell, we
Walked with a clutch of flowers the clear lane
Towards the grave.

It was well combed, and quiet as before.
An upturned stone boat
Beached at God's thick door.
Only the water in the spiked grave-pot
Smelt sourly of death.
Yet no wind seemed to blow
From off the fen or sea
The flowers flickered in the painted pot
Like green antennae,
As though John Clare from a sounding skull
Brim with a hundred years of dirt and stone
Signalled to us;
And light suddenly breathed
Over the plain.

Later, drinking whisky in The Bull at Peterborough,
The face of the poet
Lying out on the rigid plain
Stared at me
As clearly as it once stared through
The glass coffin-lid
In the church-side pub on his burial day:
Head visible, to prove
The bulging brain was not taken away
By surgeons, digging through the bone and hair
As if to find poems still
Beating there;
Then, like an anchor, to be lowered fast
Out of creation's pain, the stropping wind,
Deep out of sight, into the world's mind.

Charles Causley

[Cornishman Charles Causley, who on being asked if he would be the first President of the John Clare Society in 1981 thought he lived too far away to do justice to the position.  It was he who suggests one of his oldest friends, Ronnie Blythe.  Charles died on November 4, 2003, at the age of 86.]