'The Descending Spiral' - Chapbook No.16

What was the catalyst during the autumn and early winter of 1841 that made Patty Clare realise that she could not cope with her returned husband living, as they were, in Northborough?

I have always been intrigued with this year of two Asylums.  The year when Clare quit High Beech and walked the 90 miles to Werrington, where Patty picked him up off the road.  Then after a few months at home found himself being forcibly taken to Northampton General Asylum.

By Christmas his position in Northborough was impossible to maintain, “a stranger to his own family”, and he was removed to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum on 29thDecember 1841.

     & what is joy or bliss or happiness
     Mere trifling parents of a laugh or smile
     That are but cares decked in a different dress
     To cheat our hearts & sooth our hopes awhile
     Mere sabbaths in lifes agonizing toil
     To catch our breath while in its strife we dwell
     Prolonging life by shadows that beguile
     For joys beginnings have one tale to tell
     & bring their end a heart ache & farewell  

Poetically, the year was a very productive period with a vast output of all sorts, from Biblical paraphrases to the devastating denunciation of women, marriage and sexual excesses of Don Juan.  

Sandwiched between these polar opposites we encounter some of Clare’s most beautiful and haunting work, the beauty and longing of a confused mind.  But I see something else too.  I see a descending spiral.  A descent from mental confusion and day-dreaming, through depression into despair, which continued throughout much of his Northampton incarceration. In this, the sixteenth volume of my Chapbook series, I seek to show Clare’s spiral into despair, and the possible causes.

Incidentally, if you unsure exactly what a chapbook is, an introduction: http://arboureditions1.blogspot.com/2020/03/introduction-to-chapbook.html

Published in April 2020, The Descending Spiral is priced at £3.50 + £1 P&P.  To order by email drop me a message on arborfield@pm.me OR send me a message via facebook.

Kate O'Killarney

[Image: Killarney Castle]

The flower of Ould Ireland is Kate o' Killarney
So now ye half daft men ge's no more o' your blarney
Than the thistle and rose the shamrocks more green
Sweet Kate o' Killarney's the Irishmans queen
So tight Irish boys o' the smoke and the still
Drink the Irishmans Queen in another bright gill
What man o' the Shamrock what man o' the blarney
Drinks whiskey and knows not the Maid o' Killarney?

Oh Island o' green & sweet land o the praters
Wi your Catholic Priests & Eves sweet pretty craturs
I love you together like bees may you hive
And wish ye like bees in your Island may thrive
Your daughters are fair as their grandmother Eve
As lovely—as tempting—as fain to deceive
If you set me like Adam to fall by your sin
By the priest o' St Patrick I'm sure I should win

I'm not up to beading my prayers upon pearl
But I long for a kiss fro' my sweet Irish girl
Such a kiss that the parson himself could not blame
Nor find for the sin if it is so? a name
So heres to the shamrock and also the thistle
And the rose for an advocate never shall whistle
Put all three together & the pride o' Killarney
Is the Irishmans queen and her name is Kate Kearney

LP page 945
Knight Transcript KT ii 287

Ronnie at the Clare Society Festival

[Image:  Ronnie at Helpston]

I make no apology for featuring Ronald Blythe once again on this Blog. Ronnie, past President of the Clare Society, for many years wrote weekly for the Church Times.

Towards the end of the 19th century the British countryside would fall into a depression that would last until the opening of the Second World War, when food needs, and today's non-traditional farming methods, would rescue it from decline.
I looked up Clare's activities in July from his wonderfully useful The Shepherd's Calendar. So far as I can tell, virtually nothing happens in Wormingford in July. You might have to squeeze past a hay lorry whose dizzy oblong load totters ahead, and whose driver waves his sunburnt hand. No women semi-dressed in the hay-making fields which so tantalised the young poet. What work does he list for July? Well, mostly anything which meant using a scythe.
I keep my scythe in cutting order with a whet-stone. I bought it in Stowmarket a long time ago, and I am enchanted this moment to see Adrian wielding it in the orchard. Softly, it lays the summer growth down in rhythmic folds. Greengages will tumble down on to them without bruising. You have to beat the birds where there are greengages. A week late, and they will be the debris of a feast.
Clare's July village is noisy with "singing, shouting herding boys", and bagpipes, as young Scots tramp down the Great North Road to seek their fortunes in London. Our car makes its journey through ancient lanes and motorways to the church at Helpston, where I sit on the chancel step to talk on England's most eloquent village voice, and a prolific one, so that the John Clare Society need never run out of subjects.
We come home to matins and evensong in two different churches, and to the lasting heatwave. Now, with the house empty, and the white cat thanking her god for summer's torpor as she sleeps in the window ledge above what was the copper, I get back to routine, breaking into it now and then to pull up some giant weed. By far my most wondrous July achievement this year is the sweet-pea wigwam: a score of bamboo rods that carry the flowers to heaven. A vase of them locked into a room overnight is the best welcome to a July breakfast.
Clare sees "the gardener sprinkling showers from watering cans on drooping flowers" as he tended both wild and cultivated plants behind his cottage. It could have been a statement on his own genius. His natural history was marvellously inclusive. It began when he was a boy, lying low in the summer grass, watching climbing insects; and it ended as the beautiful sane region to which he could escape from the "madhouse".

(Ronald Blythe)