The Dinner in the Fields

How pleasant when athirst in burning days

To kneel adown where clear the fountain strays

Over its bed of pebbles—oer the brink

& just where bubbles blubber up to drink

How cooling by the parched lips it runs

While some thick willow shadows out the sun

& how delicious is the taste—een wine

 Can[t] relish better where the wealthy dine

Then sweet spring water to the thirsty swain

Who sits & eats his dinner on the plain

& visits with a relish dear to toil

The shaded spring where clear the waters boil

An ancient luxury where the humble dwell

Which Jacob craved from Rachel at the well

Pet MS A54 p376

A reflection in Autumn

Now Autumn's come, adieu the pleasing greens, 

The charming landscape, and the flow'ry plain ! 

All have deserted from these motley scenes, 

With blighted yellow ting'd, and russet stain. 

Though desolation seems to triumph here. 
Yet this is Spring to what we still shall find : 
The trees must all in nakedness appear, 
'Reft of their foliage by the blustiy wind. 

Just so 'twill fare with me in Autumn's Life ; 
Just so I'd wish : but may the trunk and all 
Die with the leaves ; nor taste that wintry strife, 
When sorrows urge, and fear impedes the fall. 

from "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" (1920)


The thistledown's flying, though the winds are all still, 
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill, 
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot; 
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot. 

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread, 
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.  
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed, 
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed. 

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun, 
And the rivers we're eying burn to gold as they run; 
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air; 
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there. 

(Later Poems, 1984)

The Quintessential Romantic poet

John Clare is “the quintessential Romantic poet,” according to William Howard writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.  With an admiration of nature and an understanding of the oral tradition, but with little formal education, Clare penned numerous poems and prose pieces, the majority of which were only published posthumously.  His works gorgeously illuminate the natural world and rural life and depict his love for his wife Patty, and for his childhood sweetheart Mary Joyce.  Though his first book, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820), was popular with readers and critics alike, Clare struggled professionally for much of his life.  His work only became widely read some one hundred years after his death.


Clare was born into a peasant family in the small then north Northamptonshire village of Helpstone in 1793.  Despite his disadvantaged background—both of his parents were virtually illiterate—Clare did receive some formal schooling as a youth.  He attended a day school for a few months every year until he was about twelve years old, and then he went to an evening school, studied informally with others in the area, and read avidly in his spare time.  Clare’s favourite books included Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler.  During his school days Clare met fellow student Mary Joyce and embarked upon a romantic relationship with her.  Although the two were eventually separated and Clare married Patty Turner, Clare would devote much of his later poetry to Mary.

Although Clare had received some education, the work he did out of financial necessity consisted largely of manual labour such as gardening, ploughing, threshing, or lime-burning.  Meanwhile, he began to write poetry.  Clare was inspired to write his first poem, “The Morning Walk,” after reading James Thompson’s Seasons.  As Clare began to write more, his parents unwittingly became his first critics.  In order to ensure an honest, objective assessment, Clare would read his poetry to his parents as if it had been written by another author, keeping what they liked and scrapping what they didn’t.  He soon accumulated a substantial poetry collection, which was published in 1820 by John Taylor (who also published the work of John Keats) as Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery.

Rural Life ranges over a variety of topics and themes, including nature, folk literature, social injustice, and the world of the mind, and it includes a number of  poetic forms, such as descriptive verse, elegies, sonnets, and comic poems. In his introduction to the volume, Taylor defended Clare’s imitations of other poets (including Robert Burns), his heavy use of dialect, and his occasionally incorrect grammar.  Attributing these aspects of Clare’s work to his youth and disadvantaged background, Taylor asserted, “Clare… does not regard language in the same way that a logician does.  He considers it collectively rather than in detail, and paints up to his mind’s original by mingling words, as a painter mixes his colours.”

Rural Life was a huge success, selling three thousand copies and going through four editions within a year.  It was generally well reviewed.  A Quarterly Review critic, for instance, found Clare to have “an animation, a vivacity, and a delicacy in describing rural scenery.”  An example of Clare’s descriptive powers appears in the poem “Noon”:  “All how silent and how still / Nothing heard but yonder mill; / While the dazzled eye surveys / All around a liquid blaze; / And amid the scorching gleams, / If we earnest look, it seems / As if crooked bits of glass / Seem’d repeatedly to pass.”

Clare’s attempts at comedy, however, were considered by contemporary critics to be vulgar or objectionable.  An example is Clare’s “My Mary,” a parody of William Cowper’s poem “Mary”: “Who, save in Sunday’s bib and tuck, / Goes daily waddling like a duck, / O’er head and ears in grease and muck? / My Mary.”  The poem was eliminated from later editions of Rural Life—an incident that was representative of a problem that would continue to occur throughout Clare’s career.  According to Howard, “the audience that could afford to support him through the purchase of his books was not the audience that could understand the blend of country experience and literary allusion that he was providing.”

The success of Rural Life  brought Clare recognition and the assistance of several benefactors.  He visited London that year, attending plays and dinner parties and hobnobbing with literary luminaries.  Clare also married Patty Turner, who was already several months pregnant with their first child.  Although the pressures of fame and family slowed his production somewhat, Taylor soon published another collection, The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems (1821).  Though The Village Minstrel includes a variety of poetic styles similar to those in Rural Life, the themes of the volume are more limited.  Clare focuses on “the value of country sports and customs,” according to Howard, although other topics include the consequences of enclosing lands that were once commonly owned and the plight of the gypsies.  In “The Gipsy’s Camp” Clare wrote: “My rambles led me to a gipsy’s camp, / Where the real effigy of midnight hags, / With tawny smoked flesh and tatter’d rags, / Uncouth-brimm’d hat, and weather-beaten cloak, / ‘Neath the wild shelter of a knotty oak, / Along the greensward uniformly pricks / Her pliant bending hazel’s arching sticks.”

With The Village Minstrel  Clare was on his way to creating a more distinctive style.  Howard noted that the sonnet “Summer Tints” “includes a good example of Clare’s maturing descriptive powers”: “How sweet I’ve wandered bosom-deep in grain, / When Summer’s mellowing pencil sweeps his / shade / Of ripening tinges o’er the chequer’d plain: / Light tawny oat-lands with a yellow blade; / And bearded corn, like armies on parade.” Although The Village Minstrel  did not enjoy the wide success of Rural Life, the book sold respectably and the critical reception was generally favourable, with many reviewers praising Clare’s development as a poet.  Clare garnered acclaim for his depictions of rural life and, according to Howard, a Literary Gazette reviewer believed that  “several of the poems… will raise the reputation of the rustic bard above his former fame.”

Clare’s next major effort to be published was The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827). Though the poet derived the idea for the book from the work of Edmund Spencer, Howard noted that “his eventual treatment of Spenser’s idea goes beyond imitation to the creation of a new, contemporary version of pastoral, rooted in the soil of English… country life.”  In the first section of The Shepherd’s Calendar  Clare devises a poem for each month of the year, offering a celebration of rural life with a shepherd figuring throughout.  Other pieces include “Poesy” and “The Dream,” a darkly written description of a nightmare. The Shepherd’s Calendar did not garner the critical attention or public interest that Clare’s earlier work did: critics were divided regarding the merits of the collection.  According to Howard, a London Weekly Review critic referred to The Dream as an “absurd piece of doggerel and bombast,” whereas a Literary Chronicle reviewer found the same poem to “possess… an almost Byronic strength and originality.”  The collection was praised by Eclectic Review editor Josiah Conder, however, who asserted that the book “exhibits very unequivocal signs of intellectual growth, an improved taste, and an enriched mind.”

Although Clare had to contend with physical and mental illness in the years following the publication of The Shepherd’s Calendar, he was able to recover sufficiently to produce The Rural Muse, which was published in 1835. The Rural Muse includes songs, sonnets, and autobiographical poems. Though Howard considered some of the pieces “disappointing,” he noted that others “demonstrate just how far Clare had progressed in his craft.”  Howard praised the originality of Autumn,”  in which Clare describes the changing of the seasons: “Thy pencil dashing its excess of shades, / Improvident of waste, till every bough / Burns with thy mellow touch / Disorderly divine.”  With The Rural Muse critical and public interest in Clare’s work continued to dwindle.  The attention that the book did bring, however, was generally quite positive.  A New Monthly Magazine reviewer stated that Clare had demonstrated “a far superior finish, and a much greater command over the resources of language and metre” than he had in his earlier work.  In Howard’s opinion, Clare’s editors excluded many of the poet’s best pieces from The Rural Muse.“ Clare’s reputation might, in fact, have been more enhanced by this volume had it included more of those sonnets which Clare had originally proposed for it.”

The Rural Muse was the last major collection published in Clare’s lifetime.  He continued to write, but his mental and physical health weakened during the late 1830s and his doctor recommended that he recuperate in an asylum.  In 1836 Clare was admitted to High Beech asylum, where he was allowed considerable freedom to write poetry and stroll the grounds. The poet missed his family, however, and soon became dissatisfied with this situation. In 1841 Clare walked away from the asylum and continued to walk until he reached his home four days later.  His stay was relatively brief, though, since he was becoming increasingly difficult for Patty to manage.  Clare was admitted to Northampton Lunatic Asylum—where he was to spend the rest of his life—five months after he left High Beech.

During this period, Clare “had begun to live in the mind and seemed to have a confused idea of himself, a confusion which mixes strangely and revealingly with a scrupulously unself-pitying clarity of description,” according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor R. K. R. Thornton. Clare’s asylum poetry includes “Don Juan” and “Child Harold,” which were derived from the work of Lord Byron. “Don Juan,” written in what Howard termed “earthy” language, is a “rambling discourse on sexuality, morality, and politics.” “Child Harold” concerns the character of poets and love, and much of the work addresses Mary Joyce, with Patty relegated to the status of “other” wife.  Howard considered “Child Harold” to be “unmistakably Clare’s most original work.”

Many of Clare’s other poems of this period are traditional love verses and songs written to various women, especially Mary Joyce. The poet still created original work, however. Howard cites “A Favourite Place” as one of Clare’s “impressive array of original lyrics”: “Beautiful gravel walks overgrown / with moss & grass little places where / the poet sat to write.” Some of Clare’s later work, according to Howard, offers “ momentary glimpses into Clare’s mind that reveal his continuing delusions but also something of the anguish that resulted from his partial sanity.”  One of Clare’s letters, written in 1860, reads: “Dear Sir, I am in a Madhouse & quite forget your Name or who you are you must excuse me for I have nothing to communicate or tell of & why I am shut up I dont know I have nothing to say so I conclude yours respectfully John Clare.”

After more than twenty years at Northampton, Clare died in 1864.  New editions and previously unpublished collections of his work continued to be released after his death.  The more recent editions of Clare’s work, including Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield’s editions of Clare’s whole corpus -- The nine volume OUP editions --  and have reinstated Clare’s idiosyncrasies in language, spelling, and punctuation, which were “corrected” by his editors in early versions. Clare’s opinion of the rules of grammar was quoted by Thornton: “do I write intelligable I am generally understood tho I do not use that awkward squad of pointings called commas colons semicolons &c & for the very reason that altho they are drilled hourly daily weekly by every boarding school Miss who pretends to gossip in correspondence they do not know their proper exercise for they even set grammarians at loggerheads and no one can asign them their proper places.”

Clare’s work continues to attract readers, poets, and scholars.  In the 20th century, poets especially rediscovered Clare, other scholars now recognize Clare as an important poet and prose writer. “As an observer of what it was like in England in the early nineteenth century, not only for the peasant but also from a peasant point of view, he is irreplaceable,” declared Thornton.  In Clare’s prose, Thornton concluded, “we… see reflected there in sharp clarity the very essence of a period, a place, a language, a culture, and a time.”


(Poetry Foundation)

A gift for someone you love at Christmas?

The time has come to make some space in my book stores.  I still have a box half-full of Arbour Editions first three books – our handmade, signed, limited edition trilogy.


Their particular focus is that of overt sensuality in Clare's poetry, revealed through both his knowledge and understanding of other poets, such as the Roman poet Ovid, and through his own undoubted experience of love and sexuality with the women in his life.  These books are:

The Lovers Meeting (2013) 
The Poet in Love (2014) & 
In the Shadows (2015).

In all aspects of production a handmade book is conceived and planned as a work of art, as well as a conveyor of Clare’s wonderful poems.  The content, the images, the text, the papers, the cover materials, the style of binding are all intended primarily to enhance and add to the experience of discovering more about a great poet’s wo

Book One - The Lovers Meeting - (from 1818) is a reworking by Clare of Ovid's first century erotic poem.   It seems to us very much with Patty in mind. 

   Book Two     - The Poet in Love - is the very real story of Clare's meeting, courtship of Patty Turner, and then her subsequent pregnancy and their marriage in 1820.

   Book Three   - In the Shadows - is the story of Clare's largely illusory relationship with Mary Joyce ranging over his whole life.


To clear, these are now priced at £12.50 each, or £30 for all three (P&P included).  Nowhere will you find more collectable Clare books as such a crazy price.  When published they were priced at £40 each.


Email me at arborfield (at) pm (dot) me


Rog Rowe.

from 'Child Harold'

Written in the autumn of 1841
Clare still haunted by thoughts of Mary Joyce.

Sweet solitude thou partner of my life
Thou balm of hope & every pressing care
Thou soothing silence o’er the noise of strife
These meadow flats & trees—the Autumn air
Mellows my heart to harmony—I bear
Life’s burthen happily—these fenny dells
Seem Eden in this sabbath rest from care
My heart with loves first early memory swells
To hear the music of those village bells

For in that hamlet lives my rising sun
Whose beams hath cheered me all my lorn life long
My heart to nature there was early won
For she was natures self—& still my song
Is her through sun & shade through right & wrong
On her my memory forever dwells
The flower of Eden—evergreen of song
Truth in my heart the same love story tells
—I love the music of those village bells

Hopes sun shines sweet...

Here is one of Lady Clementina Hawarden's delicious daughters (whoops, sorry... but they are all so beautiful) - the photo taken in around 1860 - coupled with a Clare sonnet published in our third handmade limited edition volume "In the Shadows".

Hopes sun shines sweet but who of hopes are proud

To see how soon it meeteth with a cloud

How many hopes & memorys went with thee

That forwerd looked to better destiny

Song seems not worth the muses care

Unless to grace it womans love be there

& fame is but a shadow crowned with {     }

Without the cheering sun of womans grace

When thy young bosom at the tales it heard

Heavd up & panted like a timid bird

Thy splendid beauty blushed upon the sight

Like sudden frenzy of unlooked for flight

Thou haven of my trouble when I see

That lovely face the show is past with me

A discovery from the Clare Archive in Peterborough 

by Professor Eric Robinson and Roger Rowe

Any thoughts on the missing word?

Pleasures Past

Springs sweets they are not fled tho summers blossom

Has met its blight of sadness drooping low
Still flowers gone bye find beds in memrys bosom
Lifes nursling buds among the weeds of woe
Each pleasing token of springs early morning
Warms wi the pleasures which we once did know
Each little stem the leafy wood bank 'dorning
Reminds of joys from infancy that flow
Springs early herralds on the winter smileing
That often on their errands meet their doom
Primrose & daisey dreary hours beguiling
Smile oer my pleasures past when ere they come
& the speckt throstle never wakes his song
But lifes past spring seems melting from his tongue

Love & Memory

Thou art gone the dark journey

That leaves no returning
Tis fruitless to mourn thee
But who can help mourning
To think of the life
That did laugh on thy brow
In the beautiful past
Left so desolate now

When youth seemed immortal
So sweet did it weave
Heavens haloo around thee
Earths hopes to decieve
Thou fairest & dearest
Where many were fair
To my heart thou art nearest

Though this name is but there
The nearer the fountain
More pure the stream flows
& sweeter to fancy
The bud of the rose
& now thourt in heaven
More pure is the birth
Of thoughts that wake of thee
Than ought upon earth

As a bud green in spring
As a rose blown in June
Thy beauty looked out
& departed as soon
Heaven saw thee too fair
For earths tennants of clay
& ere age did thee wrong
Thou wert summoned away

I know thou art happy
Why in grief need I be
Yet I am & the more so
To feel its for thee
For thy presence possest
As thy abscence destroyed

The most that I loved
& the all I enjoyed

So I try to seek pleasure
But vainly I try
Now joys cup is drained
& hopes fountain is dry
I mix with the living
Yet what do I see
Only more cause for sorrow
In loosing of thee

The year has its winter
As well as its May
So the sweetest must leave us
& the fairest decay
Suns leave us to night
& their light none may borrow
So joy retreats from us
Overtaken by sorrow

The sun greets the spring
& the blossom the bee
The grass the blea hill
& the leaf the bare tree
But suns nor yet seasons
As sweet as they be
Shall ever more greet me
With tidings of thee

The voice of the cuckoo
Is merry at noon
& the song of the nightingale
Gladdens the moon
But the gayest to day
May be saddest to morrow
& the loudest in joy
Sink the deepest in sorrow

For the lovely in death
& the fairest must die
Fall once & for ever
Like stars from the sky
So in vain do I mourn thee

I know its in vain
Who would wish thee from joy
To earths troubles again

Yet thy love shed upon me
Life more then mine own
& now thou art from me
My being is gone
Words know not my grief
Thus without thee to dwell
Yet in one I felt all
When life bade thee farewell


(Clare wrote in 1828 “Written a good while ago.” – ‘Letters, p436)


Due to the hot weather in July, the humble ragwort seems rather early this year.  Here in Devon it appears in profusion, even in places where it has been persecuted for years.

Ragwort, thou humble flower with tattered leaves
I love to see thee come & litter gold,
What time the summer binds her russet sheaves;
Decking rude spots in beauties manifold,
That without thee were dreary to behold,
Sunburnt and bare-- the meadow bank, the baulk
That leads a wagon-way through mellow fields,
Rich with the tints that harvest's plenty yields,
Browns of all hues; and everywhere I walk
Thy waste of shining blossoms richly shields
The sun tanned sward in splendid hues that burn
So bright & glaring that the very light
Of the rich sunshine doth to paleness turn
& seems but very shadows in thy sight.

John Clare Society Festival

Helpston : 15th-16th July, 2022


Our Annual Pilgrimage for the Festival is now just days away, when quite a lot of us will be meeting to honour the great man, on the anniversary of his birth, this year his 229th birthday!  All sorts of good things are planned.  As usual we will be travelling up from East Devon and will be staying in Northborough for two nights.  


On Friday 15th -- the first day of the Festival - many will wander up Woodgate together to St. Botolph’s church for the Midsummer Cushions ceremony with the children of the John Clare Primary School.  If you have never been, this is a mini-treat in itself, with the children laying their ‘cushions’ around Clare’s grave, and then we follow the children into the church to hear poems, specially written by the children, judged by members of the Society.  


Later in the day my wife Mary and I will be at the Blue Bell for dinner with a few friends and then we will be attending the Folk Evening.  Always fun.  I might even sing one of Clare’s songs again!


The Festival proper gets underway on the Saturday morning, the 16th with the usual mix of events including the AGM of the Society, an address by the President, Carry Akroyd, bookstalls, and much, much more.  Most of the day, Mary and I will be manning our bookstall in Botolphs Barn (next to the old Exeter pub that was), all my books will be at a discount especially for the Festival.


At around 3pm during the afternoon (meet at the Butter Cross) I will be leading a walk around Helpston, seeking out the old pubs that Clare knew and probably we will read a poem here and there.


We will again be at the Blue Bell in the evening for dinner, and a glass or two I’m sure.


It is always a treat to meet with folk that we have met at previous Festivals, but a special joy to meet new friends, especially those that hitherto we have only known via my ‘John Clare Poet’ facebook page.



--- oOo ---

SONG: 'Now the Aprils Gentle Showers'

Now the aprils gentle showers
Notts the thorn for blosom

& the spring the sunny hours
Pricks daiseys on her bosom

Fear nothing love thy shoe to stain
As save the dewey morning
The pasture pads are dryd again
As soons the sun is dawning
Not till then I woud be fain
    To meet thee on the green

Then Ill get thee posies love
Then Ill get thee posies
Rob the woodbines from the grove
& hedgrow of its roses
Cull the cowslips from the lea
Wet wi the dewey morning
Bind it up & keept for thee
Gen the sun is dawning
Thens the time Id wish to see
    Thy beauties cheer the green

EP II 310

The Workhouse

Rural Evening (excerpt)

While at the parish cottage walld wi dirt
Were all the cumbergrounds of life resort
From the low door that bows two props between
Some feeble tottering dame surveys the scene
By them reminded of the long lost day
When she her self was young & went to play
& turning to the painfull scenes agen
The mournfull changes she has met since then
Her aching heart the contrast moves so keen
Een sighs a wish that life had never been

& vainly sinning while she strives to pray
Half smotherd discontent pursues its way

In wispering providence how blest shed been
If lifes last troubles shed escapd unseen
If ere want sneakd for grudgd support from pride
Shed only shard of childhoods joys & dyd
& as to talk some passing neighbours stand
& shoves their box within her tottering hand
She turns from echos of her younger years
& nips the portion of her snuff wi tears

(lines 137-156)

Chapbook No.23 was published on the 2nd April 2022, 

price £5 inclusive of P&P.

Drop me a line : arborfield (at) pm (dot) me

There’s a little odd house by the side of the Lane

Theres a little odd house by the side of the Lane

Where the daisy smiles sweet in the spring

Where the morning sun glitters like gold on the pane

& the hedge Sparrow trembles his wing

Where chaffinch green linnet & Sparrows have tones

That make the green Lane & the cottage their own

The sparrows they chirp & make nests i' the eaves

The chaffinch sings ‘pink’ in the hedge o' white thorn

That fences the garden & there the bird weaves

A nest of grey lichen soon as light i' the morn

& there bonny Susan will sit at the door

& see the green linnet at work at its nest

Where the robin flyes in for a crumb on the floor

& seems as if longing to sit on her breast

Opening of the Pasture


Within a closes nook beneath a shed

Nigh to the stack where stock in winter fed

Where black thorn thickets crowded close behind

& shielded cows & maidens from the wind

Two maidens sat free from the pasture sloughs

& told each other as they milked their cows

Their evening thoughts of love—while over head

The little Wren from its new dwelling fled

Who neath the hovels thatch with spring-hopes blest

Began to hang & build its curious nest

Of hair & feathers & root mosses green

It watched about & pickt its feathers clean

& cocked its tail & sung its evening strain

Then fluttering ventured to its nest again

While bluecaps blest the swelling buds to see

Repeated their two notes from tree to tree

The ass untethered rambling at his ease

 Knapt the black budding twigs of ashen trees

& sheep the green grass champt with greedy bite

A certain sign of sudden showers at night

(Lines 1-20)

Poems by John Clare

Oh!  Look what I’ve come across.  The much fabled ‘Poems of John Clare’ a collection by Arthur Symons published in 1908.  With no doubt the first, and crucial, glimmerings of the revival in the reading and celebration of the great poet’s work that continues to this day.  Yet I think it’s true to say that even 114 years later we still haven’t seen all there is to be discovered, for 158  years after Clare’s death, there are still reams yet to be properly examined and published.  And, no… the book is sadly not mine.

The Old Year

The Old Year's gone away
To nothingness and night
We cannot find him all the day
Nor hear him in the night
He left no footstep mark or place
In either shade or sun
Tho' last year he'd a neighbours face
In this he's known by none
All nothing every where
Mists we on mornings see
They have more substance when they're here
And more of form than he
He was a friend by every fire
In every cot and hall
A guest to every hearts desire
And now he's nought at all
Old papers thrown away
Or garments cast aside
E'en the talk of yesterday
Are things identified
But time once torn away
No voices can recall
The eve of new years day
Left the old one lost to all

Jany 1st/45