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

There is a path a little path

There is a path a little path
Goes winding thru the meadow hay 

That leadeth on oer many a swath 
A sweet and pleasant way
& heres a stile to rest upon
& see the arches all anew
That carrys the traveller safely on 

When wild floods roar below 

"Hidden Treasures" (2016)