Ballad 'The spring returns the pewet screams'

I expect lots of folk know it, but I only discovered this Mary Joyce poem recently - as is often the case with a poet as prolific as Clare.  Must admit that it would have been in our "In the Shadows" Signed/Numbered Handmade Limited Edition book if we had encountered it sooner.  The book tells the story, in Clare's own words, of his largely illusory relationship with Mary.  I still have a few copies of the book should anyone want to acquire one.

The spring returns the pewet screams 

Loud welcomes to the dawning 

Though harsh & ill as now it seems 

Twas music last may morning 

The grass so green—the daisy gay 

Wakes no joy in my bosom 

Although the garland last mayday 

Wore not a finer blossom 

For by this bridge my Mary sat 

& praised the screaming plover 

As first to hail the day—when I 

Confessed myself her lover 

& at that moment stooping down 

I pluckt a daisy blossom 

Which smilingly she called her own 

May garland for her bosom 

& in her breast she hid it there 

As true loves happy omen 

Gold had not claimed a safer care 

I thought loves name was woman 

I claimed a kiss she laughed away 

I sweetly sold the blossom 

I thought myself a king that day 

My throne was beautys bosom 

& little thought an evil hour 

Was bringing clouds around me 

& least of all that little flower 

Would turn a thorn to wound me— 

She showed me after many days 

Though withered—how she prized it 

& then she leaned to wealthy praise 

& my poor love despised it 

Aloud the whirring pewet screams 

The daisy blooms as gaily 

But where is Mary—absence seems 

To ask that question daily 

No where on earth where joy can be 

To glad me with her pleasure 

Another name she owns—to me 

She is as stolen treasure 

When lovers part—the longest mile 

Leaves hope of some returning 

Though mines close bye—no hope the while 

Within my heart is burning 

One hour would bring me to her door 

Yet sad & lonely hearted 

If seas between us both should roar 

We were not further parted 

Though I could reach her with my hand 

Ere suns the earth goes under 

Her heart from mine—the sea & land 

Are not more far asunder 

The wind & clouds now here now there 

Hold not such strange dominion 

As womans cold perverted will 

& soon estranged opinion 

MP IV 34

Ann hath a way

Clare's copy of Shakespeare's works (1825) contains lines pretended to be from the pen of the poet to his wife, Anne Hathaway.  The book is further inscribed in Clare's hand 'John Clare / His Book / Novr 15. 1827'

The lines are in Clare's handwriting could well be of his own composition, for we know that he had imitated several of the early poets.  There has been much speculation over the years, but no-one is any further forward as far as I know, to proving or disproving Clare's authorship.  Very interesting...

Would ye be taught, ye feathered throng,   
With love’s sweet notes to grace your song,
To perce the heart with thrilling lay,        
Listen to mine Ann Hathaway!               
She hath a way to sing so clear,               
Phoebus might wondering stop to hear.      
To melt the sad, make blythe the gay,       
& nature charm, Ann hath a way.          
        She hath a way,                             
        Ann Hathaway                          
To breathe delight Ann hath a way!          
When envy’s breath and rancorous tooth,   
Do soil & bite fair worth & truth,         
& merit to distress betray                    
To soothe the heart, Anne hath a way         
She hath a way to chace despair,               
To heal all grief, to cure all care               
Turn foulest night, to fairest day                
Thou know’st fond heart Ann hath a way            
        She hath a way                           
        Ann Hathaway                           
To make grief bliss Ann hath a way.       
Talk not of gems, the orient list,              
The diamond, topaze, amethist,                
The emerald mild, the ruby gay,             
Talk of my gem, Ann Hathaway          
She hath a way with her bright eye,         
Their various colours to defye—                
The jewel she & the foil they,             
So sweet to look, Ann hath a way,          
        She hath a way                              
        Ann Hathaway                             
To shame bright eyes Anne hath a way!

Published in 'Northamptonshire Natural History Society & Field Club' 
Vol XXV - No 199 - September 1929

MP II 345

Winter Walk

The holly bush a sober lump of green
Shines through the leafless shrubs all brown & grey
& smiles at winter, be it e'er so keen
With all the leafy luxury of may
& o it is delicious when the day
In winters loaded garment keenly blows
& turns her back on sudden falling snows
To go where gravel pathways creep between
Arches of ever green that scarce let through
A single feather of the driven snow
& in the bitterest day that ever blew
The walk will find some places still & warm
Where dead leaves rustle sweet & give alarm
To little birds that flirt & start away

Northborough Sonnets
Carcenet (1995)

Brilliant book incidentally !

"In a strange stillness"

Continuing to work on a book entitled "Trees - In a strange stillness' the cover of which will figure this wonderful photograph by Mike Hobson, and will be illustrated throughout with photographs from Shelly Rolinson.  Here is part of the introduction, and one of the selected poems:

Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss. 

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations.

Clare was concerned about maintaining the tree population of his environment, and in a sense the history of Helpston and of our poet is that partly told in trees.  Then came enclosure when, for the trees, a wholesale devastation took place.

Nothingness of Life
I never pass a venerable tree
Pining away to nothingness & dust
Ruins vain shades of power I never see
Once dedicated to times chea
ting trust
But warm reflection wakes her saddest thought
& views lifes vanity in cheerless light
& sees earths bubbles youth so eager sought
Burst into emptiness of lost delight
& all the pictures of lifes early day
Like evenings striding shadows haste away
Yet theres a glimmering of pleasure springs
From such reflections of earths vanity
That pines & sickens oer lifes mortal things
& leaves a relish for eternity

(MP IV 278)

The poor affrican...

The Vicar’s Sermon, from the Novel (1826)

After meeting the African beggar on his second visit to London, I do feel that Clare was moved to write this piece - in the mouth of the local vicar - to express his own thoughts.  In my opinion it says rather a lot about Clare.  Remember that slavery was not abolished until 1833, but even then it was partial, to say the least.  

Here is the telling paragraph from Wikipedia: "The Act had its third reading in the House of Commons on 26 July 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died.  It received the Royal Assent a month later, on 28 August, and came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834.  In practical terms, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies.  Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices", and their servitude was abolished in two stages: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840.  The Act specifically excluded "the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena." The exceptions were eliminated in 1843."

Talk not of distinction – look at the poor affrican     does the color of his skin forbid us to treat him with mercy     is his complextion the liscence for our inhumanity – is it a discontinuance of that link that enacts us to be humane to our fellow creatures in what ever grade or station we find them     is color & complextion any insult to our feelings     no     the blood of that poor emaciated black creature which I have in my minds eye   is as crimson as that which flowed down the temples of our divine master when like the affrican he was injured & scourged & crowned with thorns     & what for bretheren     why he suffered him self to be bound that that poor bleeding affrican might be free     he suffered his own blood to flow that that poor affricans blood might be spared     he suffered himself to die that the affrican might live & be happy in escaping the sufferings that he himself underwent for the very purpose that they might be free –

         & our only way to [b]e happy is to be kind to all for he who [se]es so much difference between the negro & himself   as to think a black man cannot be human like a white one   or that a black man [s]oul cannot be of so much consequence in the registery of heaven as his own   or that he stands [n]ot on the same footing in the favour of god as his self – that man (raising his hand with [his] voice & at the same [time] knocking his spectacles above his nose   which he had not time to adjust) – that man I say   be what he may in his own estimation   is no christian – for to think rightly of others is to feel that the same hand that made one made all – he that made the great behemoth   that monster of the deep which putteth the greatest ships in peril of being over set   made the little butterfly that the feeble child   as soon as it feeleth its feet   chaseth without fear  --

          & if the king upon his throne (god bless him)   yes if the king himself thought contrary to myself upon this subject   I would say   and say it out [loud]   that in the midst of earthly magnificance his majesty had not found that nessesary qualification of christian meekess which is a nessesary unto salvation   as the pen was were bye I write this sermon – do good unto thy neighbour as thyself & be charitable to all men –

This very important and eloquent passage was published in 2017 in Clare's aborted novel 'Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby' (Arbour Editions) the passage forms part of a longer passage Clare intended in setting the scene for his novel.  The novel is unfinished of course, but 'Memoirs' is my attempt at putting together in a logical order all the passages I could find, both in discussion with Professor Eric Robinson and seeking out further enlightenment from the archives.

"Thou scarest me with dreams" (Job)

The sleepy birds, scared from their mossy nest,
Beat through the evil air in vain for rest;
And many a one, the withering shades among,
Wakened to perish o'er its brooded young.
The cattle, startled with the sudden fright,
Sicken'd from food, and madden'd into flight;
And steed and beast in plunging speed pursued
The desperate struggle of the multitude,
The faithful dogs yet knew their owners' face.
And cringing follow'd with a fearful pace,
Joining the piteous yell with panting breath,
While blasting lightnings follow'd fast with death;
Then, as Destruction stopt the vain retreat,
They dropp'd, and dying lick'd their masters' feet.

The Dream, lines 69-82
MP I 325

A letter from Misthress Leythess...

Clare having fun with language...

& the blak sale   mathem    was fer the reform bill lost in the howse of Lords    & if they downt plase to down o there nappers & loke far it agin I wud niver to go to have prares in thet howse agin      as Humfrey seys    far as thoff it be ritten on a bit of  parchmen no biger then your fingor it will nat tak the lukin far as the needal in the battel of hay did & so thay hav no exchuse bot to find it

            yours ever to admirashun dare mat-hem   exchuse hast & botherashun far Im ap to my elbos in sads & the buk thub

Och the mobs    Misthress Leythess    the mabs thare ane man dun morthashuns of mischeef wid a fire shovel       he bite an officher of chalvery at the pint of his swurd most shamefuly    & Humfrey seys no mather for that    thow hees no rabel    bot hee will hev it thet the kings consitushuns ar no bisnes to be pat in jeporde at the rong end of a dradm swurd      to beshure Mathern    its all well enuff to be at the handel, thets safe enuf for sartin        bot yu no the kalverey ar gentemen & we musthent be afther kapin solders far doinin nathin   thets sartin    & so peceable fokes mast kape throm owt o the wey o the powther & uthe[r] dangerus mortashüns

           bot wat a strange thing thet the man wid the fire showel shud cum oif the ero Mathem     but lard bles yu   he wor prothekted by providence & as thof he was nat doin the rite thing

A single page from the Lettys Correspondence:
'Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby'
(Arbour Editions - 2017)

O woman sweet witchingly woman 

[Image: The cover of the Tern Press (handmade, limited edition (of 100) book) Artwork by Nicholas Parry]

O woman sweet witchingly woman
Amid the worlds bustle & strife
Thourt the only sweet blossom thats blooming
Perfuming the garden of life
Thourt the only pure fountain thats given
From whence all true pleasures doth flow
The angels are unknowns of heaven
But womans real angels below

Our lives woud be lives of vexation
Our days woud be days of despair
Wi out the sweet jems of creation
Soft women to sweeten our care
& powers that formd beauty protect us
If weaknesses cant be conseald
Shoud we view heavens joys as conjectures
& women as heaven reveald

& far be a souls savage natures
That cannot wi tenderness burn
That turns from a look of such creatures
As one from a statue woud turn
When beauty its charms are unsealing
From glances of eyes dewey blue
Devoid must they be of all feeling
That thrills wi no raptures to view

O women sweet witchin[g]ly women
Amid the worlds bustle & strife
Yere the only sweet blossom thats blooming
Perfuming the garden of life
Yere the only pure fountain that[s] given
From whence real happiness flow
While angels are unknowns of heaven
Sweet womens provd angels below

Pet MS A9 R26

Two Sonnets to Mary (II)

[Image: Lady Clementina Harwarden - 1861]

The flower thats gathered beauty soon forsakes
The bliss grows feeble as we gain the prize
Love dreams of joy & in possesion wakes
Scarce time enough to hail it ere it dies
Life intermingles with its cares & sighs
& raptures dreams are ended Heavenly flower
It is not so with thee—still fancys power
Throws rainbow halos round thee & thine eyes
That once did steal their sapphire blue from even
Are beaming on thy cheeks bewitching dye
Where partial roses all their blooms had given
Still in fond memory with the rose can vie
& thy sweet bosom which to view was heaven
No lily yet a fairer hue supplies

EP II 530

The Arbour Chapbook series - No. 5 ‘Accursed Wealth’

           On the 16th July, whilst many were still at the Society’s Festival, Jeremy Corbyn quoted John Clare at Tolpuddle festival:

     "Inclosure came and trampled on the grave  
     Of labour's rights and left the poor a slave …
     And birds and trees and flowers without a name /
     All sighed when lawless law's enclosure came."

            Even in 2017,  without doubt, Clare is as relevant as ever.  Here are the lines from his 1820 collection "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" that his publisher had expunged from the book in the Second and subsequent editions, MUCH to Clare's annoyance:

     "Accursed wealth oer bounding human laws 
     Of every evil thou remains the cause 
     Victims of want those wretches such as me 
     Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee 
     Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed 
     & thine our loss of labour & of bread 
     Thou art the cause that levels every tree 
     & woods bow down to clear a way for thee "

            ‘Accursed Wealth’ – those two words echo down the generations for any student of Clare, whether scholar or simply a reader of the great poet’s work.  Right from the early poems that have come down to us, we find in Clare an honesty that is often painful to observe.  We all know that here was a man born in grinding poverty but perhaps because of naivety, roundly cheated by his publishers of much of his earnings:

"& tho I know I am cheated   such is the cunning of avarice [that] like the tricks of a conjuror   it defies detection"

It is hardly surprising that Clare was personally affronted by the actions of those who should have been acting on his behalf.  As he appended to one ‘financial’ statement from Drury and Taylor:

"How can this be?  I never sold the poems for any price -- what money I had of Drury was given me on account of profits to be received     but here it seems I have got nothing and am brought in minus twenty pounds of which I never received a sixpence -- or it seems that by the sale of these four thousand copies I have lost that much -- and Drury told me that 5,000 copies had been printed tho' 4,000 only are accounted for." 

Clare had not befitted by these sales by a single penny.  All this simply cemented his long-held belief that, in the words of his essay ‘Apology for the Poor:

“Every restraint now adays is laid on poverty & every liberty is given to luxury (…) every nessesary article with the poor is taxed & every luxury with the rich goes riot free”

For Clare all this is cemented into to place in his mind by the evidence of the enclosure around Helpston.

            Clare’s poetic response to the dramatic transformations in society of the time provides a unique, eye-witness account of the impact these changes had on the people who were their victims.  The only voice, of a rural working man and victim of the enclosures, that we have.  Read Clare for yourself and will get a very good idea of what the ordinary labourer thought.

“They give me eight pence by the day
& make it up at night
With six pence worth of parish pay
& can ye call it right

Nay they have stopt me when Ive gone
To take that weight away
& backed deceptions wrong        
To take your gains away”

“Accursed Wealth” is the 5th Chapbook in the series, and is to be published on the 4th September.  It is available from me for £4 including P&P.  Email me at for more details, or leave a message below.

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