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.

--- oOo ---

A cag of swipes?

[Image: A product of the thackers art in West Deeping]
I've been working on a Chapbook to be published in the early autumn of 2019.  'A cag of swipes' will be a collection of Clare's poems that contain, well shall we say, unusual words.  Here is a flavour from my draft 'introduction':

"Quite apart from that, Clare is 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 Clare does often use a word in its dialect or obsolete form.  Not only does this alter the ‘smell’ of the poem but it also intensifies its meaning.  Clare often used words that he employs in his own speech and that he heard every day in the village street. For instance, the man who repairs a roof-covering made from straw or reeds is a ‘thacker’, not a ‘thatcher’.  Such a man uses a variety of ‘thacking’ tools, known today only to a specialist in such work, but common knowledge to every agricultural labourer of Clare’s time."

The photo was given to me by Peter Moyse, who sought out Clare 'locations' for his camera.