Shipwreckd Ghost

O open the door on thy william distrest
He longs just to lay his cold head on thy breast
The billows are beating contrary
They feign woud have rolld oer his rest in his grave
But he beetld the rock & he dasht the salt wave
To take a farwell of his mary

I list somthing surely was calling to me
Ive opend the window but nought can I see
Go sleep thou impertinent fairy
I neer did thee harm to disturb my repose
To kill me wi news of his sea faring woes
Poor williams far off from his mary

O the night it is dark & the fogs gather deep
Thy eyes are yet dimd wi the visions of sleep
Blame thou no impertinent fairy
All hamperd wi sea weeds all clotted wi blood
From the wounds of the rock i' the rude dashing flood
He fears to be loathd by his mary

Ah thou art no william thy voice is too broad
Tis more like the croak of the night walking toad
My williams was quite the contrary
He spoke like an angel his eyes they were bright
Twas as vainly to hide em as stars in the night
As sweet woud they shine on his mary

Ah closd are his eyes on the billows affloat
The salt waters ‘gug-gug—gug-gug’ down his throat
Well well may his speech seem contrary
Hoarse in the cold sea the waves mix in his wound
If thoult see thy william this instant come down
Hes short time to stay with his mary

Ah there is my william O god how he bleeds
O faint not Ill free thy poor head from its weeds
& flew to the door like a fairy
But ere she coud open the clock tolled one
The night was all silent—her william was gone
& never more wakend his mary

George Deacon in 'John Clare and the Folk Tradition' (Page 142-3) has a tune set for this lyric.  He goes on to say, "This is surely a song written by Clare.  The lover returning as a ghost is a common theme in folk balladry, and song like 'The Daemon Lover', 'The Grey Cock' and 'Sweet William's Ghost' may have been in his mind when he wrote this.  As a composition in the popular idiom this is as unsuccessful as 'The Great Sea Fight'.  It is, however, a good example of the influence of this idiom on Clare's own writing."

Manuscript reference: Pet MS A7 33aB2 123aC1 5a
EP II 36

Tis Midsummer Eve

I've been gleaning again.  Working through my old notebooks from several years of searching the Clare manuscripts in the Peterborough Archive for little known or unpublished (as far as I know) work.  I noticed, only when typing them up, the links between these three short poems transcribed on three seperate visits in 2017.  Not the most eloquent of Clare's output, but they do have a real charm.

Heres the old fairey rings by this dark thickets side
Where the owl rests in fear & the foxes abide
Where fairys dance round them more still than a sigh
Yet the shepherd when late hears the noise passing bye –
& oer his snug fire in his cottage at night
Hell talk till the candle turns blue with affright
Of the pranks that they play & the sports they pursue
& the mischief when vexed that they venture to do
How they steal into barns & fall thrashing the corn
Till the cock on the dunghill gins sounding his horn
Then all in an instant flye silent away
With an ear in their hands & so many are they
That the old startled farmer with anguish & awe
When he comes in the morning finds nothing but straw
& why shouldnt we of our troubles take leave
& with nature make merry at midsummers eve
(lines 84-99)

Pet MS A49 p32
(Unpublished save MP II 207)

Do but look what a beautiful midsummer night
The fairys are dancing [no] doubt by moon light
In the dark beaten rings by the old forrest side
Where the owl roosts with fear and the fairies abide
Grass & flowers seem oerjoyed in the merry moonlight
& dress to impress in gay partys at night
For the pasture is free from the rude heavy cow
& they walk with no fear to be trampled on now
The bee with his load of red dust on his thigh
No longer to teaze them for kisses comes nigh
Tho the Moth a coy lover for chances doth creep
His kisses to steal now he thinks them asleep

Pet MS A39 p11

The Moth a coy lover now ventures to creep
Out at night to steal kisses from flowers when asleep
But the Butterflye bold as the Bee for a plot
Kisses the flowers all the day whether willing or not
Now no longer able his sports to pursue
He lay neath a leaf to get out of the dew
Heres the Cockchaffer to with his old sullen drone
Sings as if he thought no song sweet as his own
The Bee too with grains of red dust on each thigh
Who had drained thro the day all the honey flowers dry
& in vain he attempted straight forward to drive
He reeled and mistook the way home to his hive
Till lost on this spot in a considerable fright
He makes on this thistle a bed for the night
Heres the rope dancing spider a trusting his threads
From his web on the branches high over their heads
Ah well may you laugh at the sports he doth make
While he dances away in no fears for his neck
The rest were all coupled & happy & they
Song the old merry songs which they sang at his day

Pet MS A31 p9
‘Hidden Treasures’ - Arbour Editions – 2016 (2nd edition 2019)


 John Clare’s 1819 poem ‘Solitude’ was published by Taylor & Hessey as part of the 1821 “The Village Minstrel” collection, but alas, with many alterations, omissions and ‘corrections’, as well as added punctuation.  

The altered text in ‘The Village Minstrel’ had been so butchered by its editors that it had become a very different poem indeed.  Why did Taylor & Hessey have this done?  Probably to make it more ‘acceptable’, in their opinion, to the book buying public of 1821.  Unfortunately, completely destroying Clare’s purpose in the poem, clearly seen by comparing their version with Clare’s manuscript.  I know which poem I would rather read, and it certainly is not the VM published version. 
Whilst researching Clare’s manuscripts with Annie Lee in 2014, we came across the ‘Solitude’ manuscript, immediately realising what had been done to Clare’s verse.  Since that moment our, and now my, aim has been to publish Clare’s verse and prose as he wrote it.  Little did we realise at that time, that by doing so we were inadvertently joining a heated argument that has raged for 50 (at least) years.  Certainly, since the first publications by Professor Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield of unchanged Clare texts in the 1960s.

Just to illustrate what the reader will miss reading the VM version, John Taylor removed the following lines from the published text in ‘The Village Minstrel’ (Vol 1, p 200 ff).  I have simply assembled them in the order in which they appear, dotted through the manuscript (Pet MS B2 p256a, C2 p36).

    O how sweet I cannot tell
    With thee at that hour to dwell
    Stretchd the mossy bank beside
    Lye to view the random tide
    Where no clowns has chopt from thence
    Bush nor stake to mend his fence
    Cornerd stones & pebbles round
    Breaking dasht wi mellow sound
    Wether this or that to see
    I am blest if Im wi thee
    & full dear has been the hour
    Spent wi in thy noon day bower
    Prest wi thee thy mossy seat
    O its unexpressive sweet

Why were these lines deleted?  No-one has any idea, but the whole 'Solitude' poem in its restored form was published – with its many variant readings - in the wonderful OUP Clarendon Editions (EP II 338).  I don’t think the poem has been published in its original state apart from that, until Annie Lee and I came along that is, Annie producing the stunning Handmade Limited Edition volume you see above - all long sold out of course.

Of sunset and dandelions

Tis May and yet the March flower Dandelion 
Is still in bloom among the Emerald grass 
Shining like guineas with the suns warm eye on 
We almost think they are gold as we pass 
Or fallen stars on a green sea of grass 
The[y] shine in fields on waste grounds near the town 
They closed like painters brush when even was 
At length they turn to nothing else but down 
While the rude winds blow of[f] each shadowy crown 

('A Raphsody' - lines 80-88)

Clare's use of thee and thou

(from a discussion on my 'John Clare Poet' facebook page)

Reading through Arbour Editions "O Woman Sweet Witchingly Woman."  Interested in "Mary leave thy lowly cot" (page 12), especially for its switching from thou to ye for the addressee. 
This is well-attested in Early Modern English, switching from thou to you and back for shades of intimacy or distance, and I wonder if my mentioning this brings to mind other lyrics where this occurs. Thoughts? Thank you all.  (John Wright)
  1. Mary leave thy lowly cot
  2. When thy thickest jobs are done
  3. When thy friends will miss the[e] not]
    Mary to the pasture run
    Where we met the other night
    Neath the bush upon the plain
    Be it dark or be it light
    Ye may guess we'll meet again
  1. Shoud ye go or shoud ye not
  2. Never shilly shally dear
  3. Leave yer work & leave yr cot
  4. Nothing need ye doubt or fear
  5. 1Chaps may tell ye lies in spite
  6. Calling me a roving swain
  7. Think what passd the other night
  8. Then Ill bound yell meet again
My answer: Not my field as I've said before, but the use of 'ye', 'yer', 'yr', 'yell' (ye'll) surely simply mimic the speech pattern, and are still 'possessives' (is that the right word)? I don't think you can say 'thour', 'thr', although I have heard (when I lived in Sheffield) 'thoull' (thou'll). Rebecca Hawley (Sheffield born and bred) might enlighten further...
Rebecca's answer: In Sheffield we still switch between thou and ye to address someone or variants of it. 'Tha'll freeze aht thee-er' - you will be cold outside. Or 'yul freeze'. Thou, thee, tha, thine, thou'll. All still used .You sometimes say thou'r meaning you were, past tense usually eg 'thou'r reyt daft yesterday when you....'. Sometimes you may say 'Tha a reyt un' meaning you're a bit of a character.