Advice to 'Government'...

A lesson for our, and successive Governments from John Clare, written on the 1st February 1830 :

" (...) I cannot help thinking that a paper currency founded upon just principles would still be a very commodious way of traffic much better then gold — but I would have every bank issuing one pound notes (which is but a shadow of a promise for a substance which the promiser has pocketed) dependant as branch banks on the Bank of England (many of the other banks are not worth a capital letter) nay every bank issuing paper at all ought to have that check upon them as I think to prosper the general good of the community rather then to encourage the knavery of individuals (...)

PRESCIENT!  (And they call Clare a simple peasant - what an irony too).

As Stubborn as the Oak

I am starting to create a second volume, after ‘Hidden Treasures’, of Clare obscurities and fragments, no idea as yet what the title might be (I’m open to suggestions).  There are many such ‘fragments’ in the archives, some just a line or two, but many complete poems/prose too.  Here is just one of them.

As stubborn as the oak

As stubborn as the oak that cannot bend
He seeks no master & he has no friend
& round the ground & bawling often goes
& makes a merry feast of roasted sloes
Bawling together all the live long day
A loud & drawling song had all [astray]      

& all is joyous music save that noise
That comes in summered oaths from garden boys
Who run & shout yet cannot drive away
The restless sheep from trespass in the hay
Nor make the crops the shallow fold again
So there the stubborn trespassers remain

Altho the water is so shallow       

That larger pebbles          even lye
Half out of water & their surface dry

Pet MS A61 p54

Two complete verses and a few odd lines, yet this has been ignored as a ‘fragment’.  I think it’s rather beautiful.

A Cag of Small Swipes (Chapbook No.14)

From the Introduction:

I have had it in the back of my mind for some while to produce a book, in the Chapbook series, that concentrates on Clare’s sometimes odd-seeming, or unusual use of language. ‘A Cag of Small Swipes’ if you will.  After all, Clare has a wide acquaintance with specialised vocabularies of all kinds.

Clare’s passion for words was founded on his knowledge of Chapbook nursery-rhymes and fairy-stories, and the games of his childhood.  He was also intimate with the language of the hedger, the ditcher, the thatcher, the ploughman, the shepherd and the cowman - paralleled by the language of the ‘ranter-preacher’, the village school-master and the pretentious local lawyer.  Plus all those words used in the many traditional songs he knew so well.  His language was that of village streets, fairs and fields.  It is the language of proverb and of popular, often vulgar rhyme.  So it is clear that Clare is an important source, one of very few, for finding words that were commonly used in Eastern and Northern England, as well as in Scotland, during his lifetime.

Clare often used words that he employed in his own speech and that he heard every day in the village street, and having great fun writing this way.   He is not looking down at his fellow-villagers for their speech-habits but enjoying, as we should, its vigour and variety.  

So, this as a book full of strange words and phrases, sometimes hiding sexual imagery, yet full of laughter and an ebullient sense of humour. Most especially when describing the love lives of the young people living all around him in Helpston, and the advice they are proffered or choose to reject:

Peggy ye might bin my death wi yer scorning 

Im sure tis yer pleasure to do as ye may 

For ere sin I helpd ye to milk in the morning 

Yeve 'ployd all my thoughts for the rest of the day 

Yer sweet slender body so light & so jimping 

Yer arms so well shapd & yer brown curley hair 

Yer gait so belady like spoilt wi no limping 

Left ye the power to gi joy or despair 

(from Hodges Confession)

A Cag of Small Swipes will be available from me from 1st September 2019 at £5 plus £1 postage and packing.

Poetry and Politics (under development)

Obviously overtaken now by Covid-19 events, but I am still working on it, just in case 2021 makes it possible.

Sometime in the Spring of 2020 I was asked to take part in an evening at the South Bank  in London speaking to the title "Poetry and Politics" with particular emphasis on what Clare wrote 200 years ago.

John Clare’s fame as a poet of nature and the English countryside grows every day; without question, the greatest working-class poet ever born in England.  He speaks always about the essential bond between human-kind and nature, a vision that is ever green.

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 the victims, ordinary working people.

What was happening in the countryside during Clare’s lifetime that caught his critical attention, both poetically and politically?

What were the changes that were transforming the face of rural Britian, changes that Clare himself saw had such a decisive effect on both nature and the people living close to it?  Thinking about this, I feel that I should concentrate on the Enclosures and its effect on the poor, but how to illustrate this best so the 21st Century mind can grasp its enormity?    If for ‘Enclosure’ one substitutes ‘Brexit’, the true shocking nature of the enclosures are magnified to modern eyes, and the real nature of brexit is laid bare.   In the first, we see the 'privatisation' of commonly owned land, in the second a 'privatisation' of the very country itself, with the benefactors in both cases being the rich and powerful, the establishment.

I will be saying at the outset of my talk is that nothing has really changed.    I am reminded of Tony Benn's famous quote, "I don't think people realise how the establishment became established.  They simply stole land and property from the poor, surrounded themselves with weak minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and have been wielding power ever since."

What Clare called "The Norman Yoke":

The Norman Yoke

            Men make a boast of pedigree     as well might the descendants of Richard Turpin boast of theirs for both honours spring from robbery & spoilation – what was William the Conqueror but a robber by wholesale & what were his followers but high way men     by his authority receiving tithes by their expertness at plunder    for which Turpin (a more noble plunderer if absence from fear or dareing achievements make one) received a halter because he dared to rob & could show only his courage for the liscence – the ancestors of a Newton have some thing to boast of    but pedigree belongs to a race horse & confers nothing to the mind or the man

I don't know whether Tony knew Clare's work, but he certainly did not know this poem that I uncovered in the Clare Archives a few years ago:

Content thy home be mine

Content thy home be mine
Do not my suit disdain
They who prefer the worlds to thine
Shall find it false & vain
From broken hopes & storms I flye
To hide me in thy peaceful sky

The flatterers meet with smiles
The cunning find their friends
Without I made my pilgrimage         
& so met small amends
I looked on fame as merits plea
Twas spring but winter frowned on me

To cringe to menial slaves
To worship titled power
To bend the knee to knaves
The price of earthly dower
Is what I neer was taught to pay
So empty [that] Ive turned away

Where pleasing is to flatter
Where loving is to hate
To praise what we at heart abuse
In love & church & state
This is the worlds but not my game
So poor I am without the shame

Tho flattery findeth friends
In every grade & state
& telling truth offends
The lowly & the great
Truth when the worst is bye shall rise
When follys vapour stinks & flyes

Prides pomps are shadows all
& Titles honours toys
Great births in merits oft are small
& all their praise but noise
Rainbows upon the skyes of May
Fade soon but scarce so soon as they

Then sweet content be thine to call
My sorrows as thy due
For grief is natural to all
As is to night the dew
As disappointed hopes decay
My heart shall struggle & be gay

As hopes from earth shall disappear
With thee Ill not despair
For thou canst look at heaven & see
The vagrant waiting there
& while thou smilest I shall see
 Thy lives last gift the best shall be

Here is Clare writing in the late 1820s - prose this time:

The whigs & torys may be better classified
perhaps by the terms of outs & ins for
be they whigs or torys in those situations the
outsare always vociverators of “liberty”
“cruelty of taxation” & “good of the people”
while the insare inflexible tyrants
& determined supporters of all that is
oppressing & annoying to the people &
benefitting to themselves & their connections
(Pet MS A42, p94)

This is how another writer put it:

Several centuries of enclosure were crucial in creating a working class, initially rural but increasingly urban.   Families who previously would have been able to eke a living with the use of the Commons were forced off the land they had used for centuries.  So the common folk became unable to provide for themselves and so were forced to work for a pitiful wage from their ‘masters’.

The law itself now became the instrument by which the theft of the people’s land was achieved, although the great farmers continued to use their petty private methods in addition.  The parliamentary form of this robbery was to pass Acts for the enclosure of commons; in other words, decrees whereby the great landowners made a present to themselves of the people’s land, which thus became their own private property.  A systematic seizure of communal landed property helped to swell the size of those great farms which, in the eighteenth century, were called “capital farms” or “merchant farms” 
(Karl Marx – Das Kapital

Here is a 20thCentury English Historian on the subject... 

Enclosure was a plain enough case of class robbery, played according to rules of property and law laid down by a parliament of property-owners and lawyers.  But what might be “perfectly legal” involved a rupture of the traditional village rights and customs.  The social violence of enclosure consisted precisely in the drastic, total imposition upon the village of capitalist property-definitions.  A monumental piece of rural theft.

Those petty rights of the villagers, such as gleaning, access to fuel, and the tethering of stock in the lanes or on the stubble, which are irrelevant to the historian of economic growth, were of critical importance to the subsistence of the poor.
(E. P. Thompson- The Making of the English Working Class,) 

On the 16th July 2017,  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 200 years later,  without any 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, like other labourers of his time subjected to the Speenhamland system:

The authorities at Speenhamland in Berkshire approved a means-tested sliding-scale of wage supplements in order to mitigate the worst effects of rural poverty. Families were paid extra to top up wages to a set level.  The immediate impact of paying the poor rate fell on the landowners of the parish concerned. They then sought other (cheaper) means of dealing with the poor, the workhouse.

For us, who have observed the vast expansion of the so-called 'gig' economy of the past 10 years, all this is very familiar.  We don't yet have the Workhouse, but it has been suggested.  Here is Clare on the subject, again a poem I uncovered in the Archives:


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

Im going to justice just to see
What she will have to say
& faith I doubt I shall not see
Yer honour there today

No friend I am a faithful mate
To justice but ye mean
What may be named a magistrate
& there Im never seen

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

Apology for the Poor

            Every restraint now adays is laid on poverty & every liberty is given to luxury          burthens are constantly laid upon the weak & the strong are left without them – with the weak they are called useful & nessesary laws & with the rich they are considered as mean & incommod{i}ous matters never intended for them

            Thus every nessesary article with the poor is taxed & every luxury with the rich goes riot free as far as possible with the descency of parsiality to participate


but perhaps because of naivety, roundly cheated by those he regarded as 'his betters' -- his publishers -- out of most 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"

(...) The piece will 'grow' as I continue to compose it.  Hope readers will find it interesting and enlightening.

Roger R.

Did Clare write nonsense?

[Image: Nicholas Parry]

An amusing example of how dangerous it is to think that Clare ever wrote nonsense is the following quotation from P.M.S. Dawson’s edition of the prose:

“… you live in the midst of delicaseys have you got to add on corpulency”

We pondered this nonsense, in a very faint manuscript, for some time but could not see how to read it any differently.  

First, should there be a sentence after ‘delicaseys’?  

Second, we began to think about the words ‘on corpulency’ which suggested to us a medical title?

If the latter was so, then the problem is in the reading ‘to add’ which could be a mis-reading of an author’s name?  Much examination of the manuscript and thought ensued.  Instead of ‘to add’, was it possible to read ‘Wadd’ or ‘wadd’ ?  Was there an author of that name?

Don’t you know it there was!  William Wadd was surgeon to the Prince Regent and published a book in 1829 with the title, “On Corpulency”.  Considering how fat the Prince Regent was, corpulency might well have been of interest to his medical adviser!  

But could it also have been of great interest to Clare, since the most famous man in Stamford at the time was Daniel Lambert, who was also the fattest man in England. Wadd discusses Lambert’s case, thus what at first appears to be nonsense, turns out to be very meaningful indeed.

Clare also comments to Alan Cunningham living in Edinburgh at the time of the Burke and Hare murders, as his being “in the midst of delicaseys”.  These murders were fully reported in all British newspapers at the time that Clare was writing to AC.

(Eric R & Roger R)


Ah thou poor neglected hound
Now thourt done wi catching hares
Thou mayst lye upon the ground
Lost for what thy master cares
To see thee lye it makes me sigh
A proud hard hearted man
But men we know like dogs may go
When theyve done all they can

& thus from witnesing thy fate
Thoughtfull reflection wakes
Tho thourt a dog (with grief I sayt)
Poor men thy fare partakes
Like thee lost whelp the poor mans help
Ere while so much desird
Now harvests got is wanted not
Or little is requird

So now the over plus will be
As useles negros all
Turnd in the bitter blast like thee
Meer cumber grounds to fall
But this reward for toil so hard
Is sure to meet return
From him whose ear is always near
When the oppressed mourn

For dogs as men are equally
A link in natures chain
Formd by the hand that formed me
Which formeth naught in vain
All life contains as't were by chains
From him still perfect are
Nor does he think the meanest link
Unworthy of his Care

So let us both on him relye
& he'll for us provide
Find us a shelter warm and drye
With every thing beside
& while fools void of sense deride
My tenderness to thee
Ill take thee home from whence Ive come
So rise and gang wi me

Poor patient thing he seems to hear
& know what I have said
He wags his tale and ventures near
& bows his mournful head
Thourt welcome—come and tho thourt dumb
Thy silence tells thy pains
So wi me start to share a part
While I have aught remains

EP I 202

Ronnie Blythe on the Festival

With the John Clare Society Festival now only just over a week away, you might like to read Ronnie's 'report' of a previous Festival and be persuaded to attend?!

"Back once more from the John Clare Festival at Helpston. Our Society has outgrown the school named after him, and has to fill a marquee. Rows and rows of familiar faces. The village has wide Enclosure roads and handsome Barnack-stone houses, toppling hollyhocks, and bird-filled skies. As always, I see the poet running over the fields to Glinton, to be taught to read and write for a penny a week, and to do his arithmetic in the dust of the threshing barn, and to lie hidden with a book in a deserted quarry.

What a good education he got, one that was perfect for our greatest rural voice. Clare, too, had a violin. The gypsies showed him how to play it. We had lunch in the Blue Bell, where he would be found with his beer and his finds — wild flowers. They would straggle from his velvet pockets. Have you read John Clare? If not, do so at once. His life was bitter-sweet with a vengeance. Poor Clare. Great Clare."

Hail, humble Helpstone ! where thy vallies spread,
And thy mean village lifts its lowly head ;
Unknown to grandeur, and unknown to fame;
No minstrel boasting to advance thy name :

Unletter'd spot! unheard in poets' song;
Where bustling labour drives the hours along ;
Where dawning genius never met the day;
Where useless ignorance slumbers life away.

Ronald Blythe muses on the joy of each and every sound

I never quite get used to it, the static nature of today’s countryside. Villagers such as John Clare were elaborately seasonal. Every month, every day almost, brought its special tasks, and he could describe them, as the seasons followed each other in their traditional order. But now they’ll be sowing and reaping; certainly, one would have to be alert to catch them. Otherwise, there’s no sound other than that of birds or traffic. Wonderfully, there’s not ever this at Bottengoms Farm.
Today was a great event: the oil tanker found its way down the lane at seven in the morning, managing to turn on the mud equivalent of a ha’penny. The youthful driver was sanguine. I wasn’t to worry. He could turn the vehicle on anything. I could smell the winter fuel in the summer air, and crushed wild flowers, and the enormous hap­piness of a full supply.
Not all that long ago, various walking women would call to me through the hedges: “Was I well? Wasn’t it cold for June?” They ex­­pected I had heard of some drama. But, usually, I had not.
For hundreds of years, this out­lying farm has heard very little of what went on a couple of miles away. I had put the postman himself quite a trek from the front door; to save him the tramp, I put the letters in the box. I was working in the orchard when we exchanged joyful good-mornings the other day, and he would say, “You have to sign for something.” Long ago, there was a postman who, when holding on to a parcel would say, “Somebody loves you.”
Even the Stansted planes seem to have changed route. But my neighbour’s low-flying aircraft skims me, and the horses look up at me. All the roses are in flower, and they scent my small world.
A friend from Berlin is sprawled in a chair with the cats. I may look asleep, but I am wide awake inside my head; a chapter of a new book I should be writing is taking place. But, more importantly at this moment, I should be thinking of St Paul’s voyage, for matins. It was Paul who took Christ’s revolu­tion­ary teaching into the wide world, where they were soon suppressed. That world possessed a plethora of deities, but not one who was pro­claimed the only god. It was why Caesar struck out.
I am often puzzled why people don’t go to church. It is so beautiful — the music, the language. And, if I may say so, so caring. And, indeed, thinking of the bell-ringers, so skilful and so poetic. I’m thinking at this moment of a Suffolk bell which is inscribed “Box of sweet honey, I am Michael’s bell.” Who was Michael? The man who left his bell to “talk” when he himself was silent.
Lately, the marsh nightingales have raised their voices, not in chorus, but in a kind of wild solo. Nightingales prefer thickets to woods, and quite enjoy a push lawnmower.
I hope that Jesus and his friends were able to sit in gardens, even Gethsemane before that immense tragedy, to listen to birdsongs and the wind in the fields. One listens more as one grows older and the sound of nature fills one’s head.
My stream provides continuity. So everlasting is it that I have to remind myself to listen. It pursues the route through chalk and gravel, tree roots and London clay, until it finds the river and finally the sea. It is deep and solemn under our bridge where the Suffolk-Essex travellers splash through it and where we tied up our boats near the kingfishers.
Ronald Blythe

John (Jack) Clare

[Barmouth Bridge]

On the 16th June 1826 Patty was safely delivered of her son John - the family consisted then of 4 children, Anna (6), Eliza (4), Freddy (2) and little John, whom for most of his life was known as 'Jack'.

The 1851 Census shows that Jack was living at home in the Northborough cottage and that he was a carpenter, but in 1859 he married (in his case a 2nd marriage) Margaret Morris in Llanymynech, Mid-Wales, and they had a large family.  How did he get to Wales?  The railway.  Like many young people from this period whose families had worked on the land for generations, when the railways came he got a much better job (my own Great Grandfather did exactly this).  

He had by his death worked as a carpenter for the Cambrian Railway Company for many years,  as a bridge foreman.  His many Welsh descendants - a few members of the Clare Society - are very proud of the fact that he was foreman carpenter on the Barmouth Estuary Bridge.

But just who was his first wife?  Well,  it is known that he worked as a foreman carpenter as far south as Somerset/Dorset for the Great Western Railway.  His first son Charles having been born in Yetminister, Dorset in September 1855 when Jack was 29.  The baby's mother died during the delivery of Charles (sadly a common occurrence at the time).  She was Sarah Bartlett, and Jack and Sarah had been married in February 1855 in St. Leonards Church, Misterton, Somerset (near Crewkerne), just like Jack's mother Patty, Sarah was pregnant at the time of her marriage.   

Baby Charles was taken to live with his grandmother Patty and is mentioned in the Northborough Census of 1861!  Lots of folk over the years have been rather dismissive of Patty, but she grows monthly in my estimation.  A totally wonderful and caring lady.

Jack settled in Llandysilio in 1870, moving to Welshpool in 1895 after the death of his second wife Margaret.
  1. Young Jack* was a peasant from his birth
  2. His sire a hind born to the frail & plough
  3. To thump the corn out & to till the earth
  4. The coarsest chance which natures laws alow
  5. To earn his living by a sweating brow
  6. Thus Jack's* early days did rugged roll
  7. & mixt in timley toil—but een as now
  8. Ambitions prospects fird his little soul
  9. & fancy soard & sung bove povertys controul

    *(Clare, of course, has 'lubin')
      from 'The Village Minstrel

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 Louisa 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)

Anna Maria, born 2nd June 1820


My Anna, summer laughs in mirth, 

And we will of the party be, 

And leave the crickets in the hearth 

For green fields' merry minstrelsy. 

I see thee now with little hand 

Catch at each object passing by, 

The happiest thing in all the land 

Except the bee and butterfly. 

The weed-based arches' walls that stride 

O'er where the meadow water falls 

Will turn thee from thy path aside 

To gaze upon the mossy walls. 

And limpid brook that leaps along, 

Gilt with the summer's burnished gleam, 

Will stop thy little tale or song 

To gaze upon its crimping stream. 

Thou'lt leave my hand with eager speed 

The new-discovered things to see— 

The old pond with its water-weed 

And danger-daring willow-tree, 

Who leans, an ancient invalid, 

O'er spots where deepest waters be. 

In sudden shout and wild surprise 

I hear thy simple wonderment, 

As new things meet thy childish eyes 

And wake some innocent intent; 

As bird or bee or butterfly 

Bounds through the crowd of merry leaves 

And starts the rapture of thine eye 

To run for what it ne'er achieves; 

The simple reasoning arguments 

Shaped to thy fancy's little view, 

The joys and rapturous intents 

That everywhere pursue. 

So dreamed I over hope's young boon, 

When merry summer was returning, 

And little thought that time so soon 

Would change my early hope to mourning. 

I thought to have heard thee mid the bowers 

To mock the cuckoo's merry song, 

And see thee seek thy daisy flowers 

That's been thy anxious choice so long. 

But thou art on the bed of pain, 

So tells each poor forsaken toy. 

Ah, could I see that happy hour 

When these shall be thy heart's employ, 

And see thee toddle o'er the plain, 

And stoop for flowers, and shout for joy. 


Clare grew up during a period of massive changes in both town and countryside.  The Industrial Revolution blackened urban areas.  Many former agricultural workers, including children, went to work in factories because of the rural poverty caused by the Napoleonic wars, which kept wages down but forced prices up.  The Agricultural Revolution (the enclosures) saw pastures ploughed up, trees and hedges uprooted, the nearby fens drained and the common land enclosed.  This destruction of a centuries-old way of life distressed Clare deeply.

John Clare identified this loss of common land as a loss of wildness.  He describes common land as “wilderness”, in Clare’s eyes the “wild” and “wild pasture” were a “common right”.  For Clare, the loss of wild lands was a loss of freedom.  He speaks of England as the land of liberty but now, “Like emigrating bird thy freedom’s flown”, “Enclosure came, and all your glories fell”.

How to illustrate this?  Have you been blackberrying?  Blackberrying may appear to be a trivial subject, yes it does appear in Clare's poetry. So does lots of other ‘country activities’… collecting elderberries to make wine, or hazel nuts, or mushrooms, or water-cress, or gathering rotten wood for the cottage-fire.  All these were really important to the common people of the parish.

In Helpston, like all parts of England – indeed all of Europe –the inhabitants had always used the produce of the Commons, the wild land all around them. Even gathering rotten wood.

At dusk right across rural areas, you might be see silently-moving lines of shadowy figures, their backs bent under the weight of trunks and piled-up wood, as they headed for their cottages.

Here’s Clare on the subject… (he called them ‘stickers’)
Where ‘stickers’ stroll from day to day
And gather loads of rotten wood
And poachers left in safety stray
When midnight wears its deepest mood.
(from Walks in the Woods)

Clare's natural sympathies are with the "stickers".  Just as the fallen wood belonged by right to the local inhabitants in the forests in all parts of Europe, so, ‘everyone’ knew (didn’t they) that fallen wood belongs to the locals right across the country – in fact, is was crucial in keeping the common people warm in winter.

This conflict over rotten wood extended to other products of the wild lands -- the Commons -- rabbits, hares, birds, willow, reeds, cresses, sloes, dewberries, nuts, mushrooms, elderberries, wild strawberries and blackberries - and eggs, snakes, deer, eels, fish, and other edibles.

Clare writes about all these… sometimes in minute detail.

But when the Enclosure came, the villagers were being legally pauperised by squire, lord and government.  What grows on my fenced land… is mine!  You are a poacher, or a thief.

Here is Clare in 'The Village Minstrel' :

But who can tell the anguish of his mind 

When reformations formidable foes 

Wi civil wars on natures peace combind 

& desolation struck her deadly blows 

As curst improvment gan his fields inclose 

O greens & fields & trees farwell farwell 

His heart wrung pains his unavailing woes 

No words can utter & no tongue can tell 

When ploughs destroyd the green when groves of willows fell 

There once was springs when daises silver studs 

Like sheets of snow on every pasture spread 

There once was summers when the crow flower buds 

Like golden sunbeams brightest lustre shed 

& trees grew once that shelterd lubins head 

There once was brooks sweet wimpering down the vale 

The brooks no more—king cup & daiseys fled 

Their last falln tree the naked moors bewail 

& scarce a bush is left around to tell the mournful tale 

(lines 1048-1065)

Birds Nesting - Chapbook No.13

Here is part of my introduction to Chapbook number 13 - 'Birds Nesting' which was published in  July 2019. 

From my 'introduction':
"The John Clare Peterborough Manuscript MS A47 contained the original text of Clare’s long poem ‘Birds Nesting’.  We owe Eric Robinson a great debt, as if he had not struggled to copy this manuscript 50 years ago, it would only have survived in fragments and in unsatisfactory copies by earlier hands. Of course, it is possible that Eric made mistakes but comparisons can easily be made with readings made by the Tibbles in the 1930s, so readers can judge for themselves.  Perhaps one day the original manuscript will surface again, but in the meantime, it is a real privilege to bring Eric’s transcription to the public eye in this little volume: 'Birds Nesting'.

What happened to the manuscript?  We do not know, nor when exactly it disappeared.  What we do know, however, is that it was loaned to an unnamed scholar by a senior member of the Peterborough Museum Society, and left in a railway compartment between Peterborough and Cambridge.  Was it swept away as waste-paper or is it still being hoarded by some miserly soul?  If the latter, we plead for its restoration to the Peterborough Central Library Clare archive, where it can be properly conserved for future generations.

A spirit of young adventure permeates the texture of Clare’s verse as the reader is brought to join hands with the eager schoolboys scouring the fields around Helpston in the search for birds and their nests.  Clare came to denounce bird-nesting as a hobby, but the excitement of this early pursuit filled his mind and heart with the recollection of those heady days at the turn of the Nineteenth Century."

Birds Nesting (Arbour Chapbook No. 13) is available from me at £4.00 + £1.00 postage and packing (UK).  It is dedicated to Professor Eric and includes a photograph of the great man and one of his poems on the subject of Clare's words.

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