Though bondsmen enslave thee...

With these stark final lines, written in December 1841, the composition of Child Harold comes to an end:
But now loves hopes are all bereft
A lonely man I roam
& abscent Mary long hath left
My heart without a home
Just a few days later Clare is removed from the Northborough cottage to the Northampton General Asylum.  Nevertheless, his Scriptural paraphrases continued right up to his removal, finishing with these prophetic (for Clare) lines from Isaiah 47v15:
Thy merchants from thy youth
They shall wander one & all
To his quarters & the truth
Shall leave thee more in thrall
Though slave dealers take thee
        though bondsmen enslave thee
There's none shall be able to shield thee or save thee
Although rather changed from the text of the Authorised Version of the Bible that Clare knew, had memorised and loved, these words are dredged up from the depth of his subconscious and desolate state of mind; arguably a true reflection of his inner life at the end of this, the most difficult year of his life.

Obsessed as he is with the veracity of his memory of Mary, Clare finds himself dwelling on a biblical passage of doom and loss.  Composing a long paraphrase of the prophecy, with that final denouement — ‘though bondsmen enslave thee’ — laying in wait.  He finds himself writing a prophecy of his own judgment and removal.

I must admit that these poetic paraphrases, coupled with the final four lines of ‘I think of thee…’ to me do read like a prophetic utterance, a premonition of his of own fate.
While life breaths on this earthly ball
What e'er my lot may be
Wether in freedom or in thrall
Mary I think of thee
(Child Harold)
Shall leave thee more in thrall
Though slave dealers take thee
(Isaiah 47v15b)
In due course the ‘slave dealers’, in the form of Parson Glossop, Fenwick Skrimshire and William Page, arrive at the cottage and there are none able to shield him or save him, estranged as he was… ‘a stranger to his own family’.

Clare arrived at the asylum committed ‘After years addicted to poetical prossing’ (sic), and became in his own words, ‘a thrall’ — one who is enslaved, or in bondage.

Roger Rowe

My latest 'gleanings'...

Another Monday and Tuesday this week in the Peterborough Archive, and as always it seems, came up with quite a few Clare poems I did not recognise.  Here is just one, written in pencil, an alternative version of "Pleasures of Spring" (lines 283-292).  I must admit I do think the alternatives in these lines are somewhat more 'Clarean'!?

Forth walks the man of taste among the woods
& fields & where small channels run their floods
Loud laughing on their errands watering flowers
& down the narrow lanes he walks for hours
All carpeted anew with young swathes [of] grass
So soft that birds hear not the feet that pass
Close by their nests he peeps the leaves among
& marks with rapture how they brood their young
He drops beneath the bush [beside] the running brook
To read some pages of a favourite book

Pet MS A31 p23 if you are interested in exactly where I found it.

Compare the final two lines with the PoS (published) version, which do you prefer?

  1. Then drops beneath the bushes to peruse
  2. A pocket poet of some favoured muse 

Left Alone

Left in the world alone,
Where nothing seems my own,
And everything is weariness to me,
'T is a life without an end,
'T is a world without a friend,
And everything is sorrowful I see.

There's the crow upon the stack,
And other birds all black,
While bleak November's frowning wearily;
And the black cloud's dropping rain,
Till the floods hide half the plain,
And everything is dreariness to me.

The sun shines wan and pale,
Chill blows the northern gale,
And odd leaves shake and quiver on the tree,
While I am left alone,
Chilled as a mossy stone,
And all the world is frowning over me.

Tibbles II 522

Jockey & Jinney or First Love

A Tale

“Thoughtless of beauty she was beautys self” 
  Thomson [The Seasons, Autumn l.207] 

Wereover many a stile neeth willows grey
The winding footpath leaves the public way
Free from the dusty din & ceasless chime
Of bustling waggons in the summer time
Crossing a brook—were braving storms in vain
Two willows fell & still for brigs remain
Corn field & clover closes leading down
In peacful windings to the neighbouring town

Were on bridge wall or rail or trees smooth bark
The passing eye is often stopt to mark
The artless vanity of village swains
Who spend a leisure hour with patient pains
& put to sculptors purposes the knife
To spin a cobweb for an after life
Nicking the letters of their little names
In rudest forms that untaught science frames

Pleasd with the feeblest shadow of renown
That warms alike the noble and the clown
Nigh to that path a sheltering hedge beside
A Cottage stands in solitary pride
Whose thatch with housleek flowers is yellowd oer
Where flock the bees from hives agen the door
Lonly & sweet as ever welcome spring
Neer fails its pleasant visitors to bring

Trees sheltering round it hide returning rooks
& twittering swallows seek its chimney nooks
In peace the sparrow chirps its joyous calls
& takes the feather to the crevisd walls
Nor fails the harmless robin & the wren
To seek such sweet secluded haunts agen
Beneath the eaves the martins still repair
& yearly build their mortard dwelling there

Here Jinney livd to grace the lovly scenes
Fair as the spring sweet blushing in her teens

Cottage Tales (Carcanet) 1993 (p 38

Clare reminding us of the power of simple words in the hands of a genius.  A 640 line poem that both publisher Taylor and supporter Mrs Emmerson loved but remained unpublished as it was 'too long'.

The Stone

The traveller journeying on the road alone
Sees by the highway side an ancient stone
& finds it pleasant in the weary day
To sit him down & wear an hour away
The strongest hand of mischief meddld more,
& failed to move or break or turn it o'er.
The man of feeling knew it when a boy
The only thing that nothing could destroy
& just the same as then it now appears
The fragment maybe of some hundred years
Beside the stone the wild flower gathers high
No grazing horse can bite or trample nigh
& smaller birds contented & alone
Can sit & shelter by the ancient stone

Pet MS A61 p60
(On a sheet addressed to Clare at Northborough)
Northborough Sonnets, p75

The Tramp

He eats a moments stoppage to his song 
The stolen turnip as he goes along
& hops along & heeds with careless eye 
The passing crowded stage coach reeling bye 
He talks to none but wends his silent way 
& finds a hovel at the close of day
Or under any hedge his house is made
He has no calling & he owns no trade
An old smoaked blanket arches oer his head
A whisp of straw or stubble makes his bed
He knows a lawless clan that claims no kin 
But meet & plunder on & feel no sin
No matter where they go or where they dwell 
They dally with the winds and laugh at hell

Pet MS A61 p49
Tibbles II 344


Very rarely do I post anything to this weblog apart from Poems and Prose of John Clare, but I recently came across 'Wintersmoon' and thought Clareans worldwide would like to be introduced to the book.  Here is the excerpt that jumped out of the book for me...

"But his great discovery was the accidental finding in the library at Wintersmoon a volume of John Clare.  At that time in 1919 Clare was a forgotten poet.  In the following years, thanks to the generous enthusiasm of Edmund Blunden, he was rediscovered and beautifully reissued, but to Wildherne that chance finding of a third edition of the Poems descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery seemed a miracle.  He devoured the book, discovered then that no one had ever heard of Clare, and further that no one found the poems anything but trivial and commonplace.  Even his father failed him here.

No matter.  He would keep that to himself, as it seemed to him he must keep almost everything that was of importance.  Hunting discovered for him the two volumes of The Village Minstrel, and this was of especial value to him because the first volume contained a steel engraving of Hilton's painting of Clare.  That strange, beautiful, pathetic face became now part of Wildherne's life.  It seemed to him that he had somewhere known him and been his friend.  He knew nothing as yet about his history, but he saw the tragedy in those eager gazing eyes and that gentle mouth.  To that man at least he could have bared his soul.

His love of England, of his father, of his home, of such poetry as Clare's, of the long naked shoulder of the Plain, of the weedy rubble under foot in country lanes, of sudden streams, of riding, of early mornings seen from the windows of Wintersmoon - all these (save possibly his love for his father) had been affections, not passions."

Hugh Walpole
Wintersmoon (1928)

From 'Remembrances'

Summer pleasures they are gone like to visions every one
& the cloudy days of autumn & of winter cometh on
I tried to call them back but unbidden they are gone
Far away from heart & eye & for ever far away
Dear heart & can it be that such raptures meet decay
I thought them all eternal when by Langley bush I lay
I thought them joys eternal when I used to shout & play
On its bank at “clink & bandy” “chock” & “taw” & ducking stone
Where silence sitteth now on the wild heath as her own
Like a ruin of the past all alone

MP IV 130

The dark days of Autumn

The dark days of Autumn grows cloudy and rainy
The sun pales like sulphur the shadows grow long
To me the dull season the sweetest of any
I love to see yellow leaves fall in my song
The rush covered green and thistle capped mountain
The dead leaves a falling and winds singing round
The willow and ash leaves they choak up the fountain
There's health i' the strife o't and joy i' the sound
I love there to loiter wi' winds blowing round me
Till the strong eddies past and the rain gust is over
Wild pigeons fly over the instance looks downy
With [stunt] willow rows [and] pieces of clover
Brown pieces o' stubbles ground o' turnips bright green
The crows flying over the lakes silver light
Scarce a wild blossom left to enliven the scene
Rauk and mist are for ever in sight

LP II 811

How many times spring blossoms meek

How many times Spring blossoms meek
Have faded on the land
Since last I kissed that pretty cheek,
Caressed that happy hand.
Eight time the green's been painted white
With daisies in the grass
Since I looked on thy eyes so bright,
And pressed my bonny lass.

The ground lark sung about the farms,
The blackbird in the wood,
When fast locked in each other's arms
By hedgerow thorn we stood.
It was a pleasant Sabbath day,
The sun shone bright and round,
His light through dark oaks passed, and lay
Like gold upon the ground.

How beautiful the blackbird sung,
And answered soft the thrush;
And sweet the pearl-like dew-drops hung
Upon the white thorn bush.
O happy day, eight years ago!
We parted without pain:
The blackbird sings, primroses blow;
When shall we meet again?
 Posted by Picasa


Working with Professor Eric for a few days, I am very struck by an essay of Clare's on 'Nothing'.  Too long to be laboriously typed here (via my iPad), I thought an excerpt would very much interest readers of this weblog.

"... the poor man would feel the greatest happiness upon earth if he had only experience to prove that he alone is in the possesion of liberty   & consequently of happiness     for the only way to endanger liberty is to become fortunate   & the surest way to loose it   the possesion of power

          thus   nothing   becomes valuable & he who considers & feels thus may be said to posses the philosophers stone & make a fortune of nothing -- A philosopher consoled him self for the loss of his money in the following reflection

          In loosing my money I have nothing to care for     When I was rich I was afraid of every poor man    but now I am poor   every rich man is afraid of me

Pet MS A43 p13-15


To mark autumn, a poem from Clare's wonderful collection "Poems descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" (1820)

Now Autumn's come—adieu the pleasing greens
The charming Lanscape & the flowrey plain
All are deserted from these motley scenes
With blighted yellow ting'd & russet stain
Tho desolation seems to triumph here
Yet these are spring to what we still shall find
The trees must all in nakedness appear
'Reft of their foliage by the blustry wind
Just so 'twill fare with me in Autumns life
Just so I'd wish—but may the trunk & all
Die with the leaves—nor taste that wintry strife
Where Sorrows urge—& fear Impedes the fall!

Ronnie, musing in bed.

[Image: Peter de Wint (1784-1849)]

It is July 1827; so what would be happening?  The bedroom is centuries older than this.  It is about six o’clock, and, outside, the white cat lifts up her face piteously.  She thinks she is passing away due to starvation.  Three horses take turns to gulp water at the tank, and the oaks promise heat. All this could have been happening.

I check in John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar, and am relieved to find that the shepherd is flat on his back reading a book, for our view of the past is one of incessant labour.  But what work there is, is a romp, for the meadows “are mad with noise / Of laughing maids and shouting boys / Making up the withering hay”.  I stare down on the farmyard, now a sea of tall nettles, in whose depths lie the footings of pigsties, barns, and the stackyard itself.  Not a murmur.  Not a bird.  Just a cat praying for a last bite.

(From Ronnie Blythe’s ‘Word from Wormingford’, sometime in 2009)

The poem?
July, from the Shepherds Calendar :

July the month of summers prime
Again resumes her busy time
Scythes tinkle in each grassy dell
Where solitude was wont to dwell
& meadows they are mad with noise
Of laughing maids & shouting boys
Making up the withering hay
With merry hearts as light as play
The very insects on the ground
So nimbly bustle all around
Among the grass or dusty soil
They seem partakers in the toil
The very landscap reels with life
While mid the busy stir & strife
Of industry the shepherd still
Enjoys his summer dreams at will
Bent oer his hook or listless laid
Beneath the pastures willow shade
Whose foliage shines so cool & grey
Amid the sultry hues of day
As if the mornings misty veil
Yet lingered in their shadows pale
Or lolling in a musing mood
On mounds where saxon castles stood

(lines 1-24)

"Along the road were coupld maid & swain"

Along the road were coupld maid & swain
& dick from dolly now for gifts did sue
Hed gen her ribbons & he deemd again
Some kind return as nothing but his due
& he told things as ploughmen rarely knew
Bout breaking hearts & pains—a mighty spell
Her sunday clo'hs might damage wi the dew
She quite forgot them while he talkd so well
She gave the contest up at last to what no words dare tell

(Village Minstrel LXIX, but with Clare's original ending)

The poem is the subject of a letter from Clare to Taylor dated Sunday, 17th February 1821, in which he says this, "I have got the verse from Stamford & alterd it    I think just such as you can wish     no better to be done -- at least indelicacy is lost or the delicate will be damd puzzld to attribut that to it"

It is clear that the text in VM was a compromise after 'negotiation' between Taylor and Clare.  Clare went on to say in his letter, "I am pleasd with it by throwing such disguise over it to think how it will wrack the prudes to find fault     there is somthing in it but theyll know not were to get at it -- tis quite delicate now" (!)

Rather like "To an early cowslip" -- also in Volume I of VM -- which Clare managed to slip past Taylor unaltered, who entirely missed the erotic nature of the subject.

Song - "Sweet comes the morning"

[Image: One of Lady Clementina Hawarden's lovely daughters, photographed around 1860]

Sweet comes the morning,
In natures adorning,
And bright shines the dew, on the buds o' the thorn,
Where Mary Ann rambles,
Through sloe trees, and brambles,
She's sweeter than wild flowers that open at morn;
She's a rose i' the dew love,
Nothing's sweeter than true love,
She's as gay as the poppy, that grows in the corn.

Her eyes they are bright love,
Her bosom's snow white love,
And her voice is like songs o' the birds in the grove:
She's handsome, and bonny,
And fairer than onny,
And her person and actions, are natures, and love,
She has the bloom o' a' roses,
She is the breath o' sweet posies,
She's a' pure as the brood i' the nest o' the dove.

O' earths fairest daughters,
Voiced like falling waters,
She walks down the meadows, than blossoms more fair,
Oh her bosom, right fair is,
And her rose cheek, so rare is,
And parted, and lovely, her glossy black hair:
Her bosom's soft whiteness,
 The sun in its brightness,
 Has never been seen, so bewitchingly fair.

The dewy grass glitters,
The house swallow twitters,
And through the sky floats, in its visions o' bliss,
The lark soars on high,
On cowslips the dews lie,
And the best day's o' summer, are nothing like this:
When Mary Ann rambles,
Th[r]oug[h] hedge rows, and brambles,
The soft gales o' Spring are the seasons o' bliss.

LP II 916 (Knight transcript)

John Clare and footpath walking

John Clare is the genius of the footpath. So poignant is his statement on the road that it tends to overlay his many and various statements on the footpaths. That wretched road journey, in July 1841, just after his forty-sixth birthday, when he was alone, weakening and penniless, and when he had to, as he said, “lay down with my head towards the north to show myself the steering point in the morning”, was a walk entirely isolated from every other walk he had made, or would ever make. 

Clare was more than acquainted with the way, that simplest, purest, most eloquent of ways, the footpath. And life only went wrong when he was diverted from it. He knew where he stood. He knew where he should walk. He knew when he should drop down. He knew what no other English writer knew or knows, which is what the English countryman's eyes saw, or sees, in its purity … we know that countless people, whilst on the way to work, or at work itself, are unwittingly visionary, and that they do not pass through these scenes on earth without taking them in, and wondering at them sometimes. What they -- or few of us do, is to drop down in our tracks to write because the need to write is overwhelming, as it is with writers. 

There were days when Clare could not follow the footpaths. On Thursday 23 September 1824 he writes: “A wet day did nothing but nurse my illness Coud not have walkd out had it been fine very disturbd in conscience about the troubles of being forcd to endure life & dye by inches & the anguish of leaving my childern & the dark porch of eternity whence none returns to tell the tale of their reception” (Natural History, p. 181) 

 But a few weeks later - what a change? Sunday 31 October 1824 “Took a walk got some branches of fee spindle tree with its pink colord berys that shine beautifully in the pale sun - found for fee first time 'fee herb true love' or 'one berry' [Paris quatrifollia} in Oxey Wood brought a root home to set in my garden” (Natural History, p. 197) 

 Did we but comprehend it, a great amount of our best poetry, novels and essays smell, not of the lamp, but of dust, mud, grit, pollen, and, I expect, sweat. 

Ronald Blythe ~ John Clare Society Journal, 14, 1995