Signs of Winter

The cat runs races with her tail. The dog
Leaps oer the orchard hedge and knarls the grass.
The swine run round and grunt and play with straw,
Snatching out hasty mouthfuls from the stack.
Sudden upon the elmtree tops the crow
Unceremonious visit pays and croaks,
Then swops away. From mossy barn the owl
Bobs hasty out--wheels round and, scared as soon,
As hastily retires. The ducks grow wild
And from the muddy pond fly up and wheel
A circle round the village and soon, tired,
Plunge in the pond again. The maids in haste
Snatch from the orchard hedge the mizzled clothes
And laughing hurry in to keep them dry.

Review of 'The Lovers Meeting

From the moment that my copy of 'The Lovers Meeting' landed on the doormat, to reading its pages (several times), I am constantly taken aback by how insightful, knowledgeable, and masterfully illustrated this piece of work really is, by Roger Rowe and Anne Lee.  If one thought pervades my mind whilst absorbing each painstakingly, crafted page (for this book was certainly a labour of love in itself), it is of a quote from Aristotle: ‘Pleasure’ in poetry, Aristotle has said, ‘is the image of man and nature … there is no object standing between the Poet and the image of things.’ It is within this ‘image of man and nature’ that we truly begin to understand the ‘pleasure[s]’ John Clare, not only derives from non-human Nature, but also that of human nature; perfectly bound and brought to the public in this limited edition book.
Rowe provides an historical introduction to Clare’s work that underpins the poem’s creation and the struggles faced in its exposition (from Ovid to Richard Duke).  As Rowe so rightly suggests, work of such an erotic nature was often bound by circumstance and censored by the adolescent ideology that supported Victorian and Edwardian sensibilities of the middle and upper-classes and, as he continues, ‘[t]he cold hand of Evangelical piety.’ Nonetheless, Rowe has unearthed this significant text from its censorship, for readers whom he believes are mature enough to ‘cope with Clare’s explicit erotic imagery.’ I believe it is so important in fact, that it serves to educate Clare enthusiasts and academics alike.  ‘The Lovers Meeting’ provides anthropological linguistic insight behind what drives basic human instinct - what man aspires to be – to be unafraid of confronting the carnal nature inherent within all humanity.  Clare achieves this through the relationship of man, cognition and language.  For him, the feelings associated with sex are nothing to be ashamed of.  They are a natural portion of our being: ‘burning’ and ‘scorching’ says the speaker in stanza one and, it is in his beloved Nature which provides the blanket to lie down upon.
But Clare always remains the gentleman:
Here rest fond muse – For these thy powers excel
& if thou hadst not thou must cease to tell
Nor try nor venture secrets to reveal
Which she sweet girl could wish thee to consceal 

The speaker's notion is never to be vulgar and never to exploit his muse.  Rowe, a Clare enthusiast for many years, has expertly captured another chapter of Clare's art; as he would wish his work to be shown – unedited and truthfully profound in its simplicity.

The photographic images captured by Anne Lee, flawlessly mirror Clare’s poetry in ‘The Lovers Meeting’.  Stanza by stanza, the model of the near-naked man is framed by silver birch trees and staged at Holme Fen.  This is the perfect setting for an alternative art-form and expression of Clare’s natural poetry.  Like Clare, Lee is never fully revealing; always allowing for the partial concealment by Nature.  The juxtaposition of the photographs, along with the poem, enhances the truth behind the speaker’s carnal urges.  The images (as the poem does), invoke a ‘flush’ of expectancy:

Her lilly hand I prest which fondly burn’d
& soon the fondling taken was return’d
O with what softness heav’d each swelling breast
“Courting the hand & sueing to be prest” 

The example I use here appear to reveal the feelings of human passion, symbolised by the muse clinging onto the silver birch with an outstretched hand.  He is grasping at nature and appears as grounded in his resolution (I’m guessing human desire), just as the tree is grounded within its natural surroundings.  The picture is further embossed with inscriptions (as are all of the pictures), which textualises the image.  It is as if these embellishments amplify the spoken sounds that echo that of the poems speaker.  Lee’s images remain strong, sensual and caressing throughout the entire book; adding another sensory layer to the passion that surrounds ‘The Lovers Meeting’.
Romanticism goes beyond a deep expression of intense feeling and deep emotion.  Rather, it deals with staunch individualistic beliefs that are often concerned with the rights of individuals and the world in which they inhabit.  Romantic poets generate a truculent voice trying to improve the social and political conditions in which they live.  These poets became prophets of a new Romantic spirituality.  John Clare was an outcast amongst many of the elitist readerships and he brought a truculent voice to magnify the inhumanity of staunch beliefs.  

By promoting Clare’s voice, Roger Rowe and Ann Lee not only validate Aristotle’s concept of the ‘pleasure’ of ‘man and nature’, but together, they demonstrate (through John Clare’s work) that there is no ‘object standing between the Poet and the image of things.’ It is the image contained within Clare’s work that is the truth, whether literary or visually.  No-one can truly censor it.  It is a part of humanity.  ‘The Lovers Meeting’ marks a simple truth of the natural force of human desire.  It cannot be quashed.

(Jacqueline Cosby)

O Woman Sweet Witchingly Woman

January 2020 will be the 200th anniversary of the publication of 'Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery' Clare's first book.  There will be more about that from me in the next edition of the Clare SocietyNewsletter in February.  

Additionally, the 16th of March 2020 marks the 200th Anniversary of John Clare's hasty marriage to Martha (Patty) Turner, she was, of course, six months pregnant at the time.  Patty was 20 on the 3rd March and John 27 years of age.   I have been planning for some years to mark the anniversary of their marriage in an appropriate way and Chapbook Number 15 is the result.
In 1992 Eric Robinson met together with several other notable Clareans – foremost among them Pete Shaw and Noël Staples – to create what became entitled ‘Woman, Sweet Witchingly Woman - An Entertainment’.  At about the same time Professor Robinson had discussions with Nicholas Parry of Tern Press to produce one of their beautiful handmade books to mark Clare’s bicentenary.  Consequently, in 1993, Tern Press published ‘Woman, Sweet Witchingly Woman’ to much acclaim, and ‘An Entertainment’ was duly performed in Peterborough Cathedral to mark the 200th anniversary of Clare’s birth.

Here is an extract from the introduction to the musical entertainment in the Cathedral :

“The wonder of John Clare is that his work stands up to examination from so many different directions.  The keen naturalist will be fascinated by Clare’s powers of observation in his poems and prose on the birds and animals around Helpston.  The social historian will be delighted by Clare’s equally acute observations of the people of the village, their festivals, their courtships and their business dealings.  Clare is above all the poet of popular culture, and he rejoiced in the songs, the stories, the ceremonies and the customs of his native place. In this role he was also the first collector of song - words and dance tunes in Northamptonshire.

This short entertainment is based on some of his songs about women.  Some are romantic, others are realistic, some are sweet, others are sour – but all of them have their own special authenticity.”

In this Chapbook, I have collected together some of the items from the programme that day, plus poems from the Tern Press publication and several poems from our Handmade trilogy of books.  Included too, are some of those which have not seen the light of day largely because of their sensuous content.

In Clare’s early work, in particular, we find fine poems on subjects that he was ‘encouraged’ to repress to make acceptable to a largely urban book-buying public – the middle and upper classes.  There is little doubt in my mind that Clare’s poetic vision was somewhat more carnal than his publisher thought fitting, as Professor Robinson remarked: “To survey the whole range of his poetry about Woman is to encounter a many-faceted, exhilarating, and erotic sensibility.” 

The book is now ready and is priced at £4 plus £1 (P&P). Just drop me an email to OR drop me a message via facebook, and I will do the rest.

Roger R.

January Birthdays

On the 4th January 1833 Charles was born to Patty and John, two days later on the 7th Frederick was 9 years old - he was born in 1824.
So just some lines from 'The Holiday Walk' in celebration:

Come Eliza & Anna lay bye top & ball
& Freddy boy throw away cart & toys all
Look about for your hats & dispence with your play
We'll seek for the fields & be happy to day
Do but hark at the shouts of the boys by the school
As noisey & merry as geese in a pool
While the master himself is so sick of his thrall
That he laughs like the merriest child of them all
While they race with their shadows he joins in the fray
& leaps oer the “cat gallows” nimble as they
As glad to get out of his school in the sun
As a captive would be from his prison to run
The morning invites us to walk come along
Tis so sweet that the sparrow een tries at a song
The dews are all gone save amid the dark glooms
Neath the woods crowded leaves were the sun never comes
Nor need we regret that the dews linger there
For brambles defye us to come if we dare