Plowman Singing

Here morning in the ploughmans songs is met
Ere yet one footstep shows in all the sky
& twilight in the east a doubt as yet
Shows not her sleeve of grey to know her bye
Woke early I arose & thought that first
In winter time of all the world was I
The old owls might have halooed if they durst
But joy just then was up & whistled bye
A merry tune which I had known full long
But could not to my memory wake it back
Untill the ploughman changed it to the song
O happiness how simple is thy track
-- Tinged like the willow shoots the easts young brow
Glows red & finds thee singing at the plough


MP V 224

Harvest, Clare and Ronnie Blythe


Turning my John Clare lectures into a book, I don't have to wonder what happened in his day; for there it is, every exhausting moment of it, every custom, every ritual joy and pain. And I can just see a Helpston farmer apologising for the inconvenience. Those who brought the harvest home would have swayed across their own thresholds at a moonlit midnight, scratched to bits, a little drunk, as they deserved to be.

Upon the waggon now, with eager bound, 
The lusty picker whirls the rustling sheaves; 
Or, resting ponderous creaking fork aground, 
Boastful at once whole shocks of barley heaves: 
The loading boy revengeful inly grieves 
To find his unmatched strength and power decay; 
The barley horn his garments interweaves; 
Smarting and sweating 'neath the sultry day, 
With muttering curses stung, he mauls the heaps away.

Ronald Blythe - Word from Wormingford - 19th August 2005
(excerpt - lines 29 to 37 of 'The Harvest Morning')

Pastime in Summer

Norman Goodman writes... "It's now 7 pm and I've suddenly noticed that it's that bit darker early ! Nearly half-way through August ! I've been reading John Clare's "Pastime in Summer" - dating is always hard, but he was probably late 20's. It's a lovely rhapsodic , slow poem about summer pleasures and in one section his subject is an angling-outing with a companion. He has the gear and the scene is beautifully described. Almost idyllic.  John also takes a book : James Thompson's "The Seasons". 

"Pastime....." is a longish poem but repays reading . (A glass of wine is going down a treat !) After the fishing palls a bit, he turns to his book and soon Thompson's story of Damon and Musidora gets him 'rapt'. It's quite an erotic tale, even in Thompson (and plenty of artists were drawn to the subject - Musidora's skinny dip whilst Damon looks on in secret."

Published only in Early Poems (Volume II) and the Tibble collection from the 1930s.  Dated exactly to the 21st August 1820.  I've split the poem into groups of 10 lines to aid reading, the original manuscript does not have verses.

Give me the leisure of a summers day.  
With one old friend to loiter it away

Were level meadows stretch their green domains
Alive with joys of laughing maids & swains
Some making hay beside our pleasant paths
& mowers sweeping with their even swaths
Neath sheltering haycocks some & willow bowers
Soaking the bottle in their booning hours
Discoursing onward with our lines & hooks
With some refreshments nor without some books

Cheerd by the rural objects as we pass
To were trees shadows keepeth green the grass
Checking intrusions of the summer suns
There drop us down close were the river runs
In sight of rural sounds & pleasing strife
That warms the laughing landscape into life
& while in cheerfull mirth as we prepare
Our sporting things & bait our angles there
With flye or fish of artificial forms
To shun the anguish of the wreathing worms

Feel warm hopes glow with earnest eagerness
To mark the signs that promise us success
As gleaming suns that twitter while they gleam
& dance their blazing shadows in the stream
Were small black moths dip light their fluttering wings
& heedless fishes leap in bouncing springs
Curving the flood tho winds withold their breath
In ceasless eddies with their playfull mirth
Then free from bother of entangling weeds
As we throw in were clear the stream proceeds

Watch for the trembling float that shows a bite
& followd jerks that dodge it out of sight
While taper angles as we eager rise
Bend as we pull & prophesy the prize
Thus sporting on till weary with the cheat
The fish get wise & sicken & retreat
Our quiet floats more shoyley sliding bye
To jump at distance for the dancing flye
Leaving us then our leisure to regale

To sip refreshment from our hoarded ale
& loll upon the grass neath willows grey
To view the scene or talk the hours away
Or with my Thompson added joys engage
Reading the season in his blooming page
Were budding springs eternally appear
& fragrant summers freshen all the year
There while the willow oer the water spreads
& bushes throw dark shadows oer our heads
Well fancy Damons rapt in daring dreams
& Musidora's shrinking to the streams

With flowing hair let loose upon the breeze
Oer maddening charms a Damon only sees
White breasts & burning cheeks that redder glow
To see the image in the flood below
Tho our real scenes perfections fail to give
Were Musidoras of less beauty live
Yet there are Damons that as warmly burns
& maidens lov'd that make as kind returns
& then as weary of our reading hours
Wed shut our books & look upon the flowers

Or any scene that might engage the eye
As bumming by us went the dragon flye
In wonders admiration often led
To mark confusions nature round us spread
Inscects on constant travel as they past
Shows each new comer different to the last
& butterflyes whose varied painted wings
Boasts every hue that summers glory brings
Like the gilt eyes in peacocks feathers some
Some hued like flowers to which their wanderings come

In namless colours others sport the plains
Hued as misterious as their birth remains
Then cropping flowers that round our sitting dwells
Nor marvel less to meet so many smells
Each different scent possest by different tribes
Sense easy feels but ignorance describes
For like the mistery wonder left before
We know we feel it & we know no more

Thus woud we muse oer natures varied book
Were fresh enchantments rose at every look

That with new wonders on our senses come
& still delight us till we ramble home
When suns sink downward with a reddening face
& blue clouds fringe as if with golden lace
Sunk 'hind the meadows bridges calm & chill
& thro the arches peep'd upon us still
While blue cool haziness approachd us round
& misty patches smoakd about the ground
When reeds & flags that rustld by our seat
As if their bloom was witherd by the heat

Now greend agen from gifts which night recieves
As forming dewdrops moisten on the leaves
When laughing labour left its toils & glee
& sought its dwellings with the housing bee
Whose mournfull hums bewails declining day
While waking crickets welcome it away
& fluttering larks betook themselves to rest
& with less caution passd us to their nest
Then woud we leave what leisure had pursued
& in our memorys feel the joy renewd

EP II 671

Clare later took the story and re-worked it in several different ways.  In 'Upon the Plain' for instance, here is the denouement :

Stretchd on the Green—her beauty seen
To all advantage there
To meet the breeze that fand the trees
Her snowy breast was bare
She meets his view Sweet Peace adieu
And Pleasures known before
He sighs—Approves—Admires & loves
—His heart's his own no more

EP I 138

Helpstone (extract)

A reminder of the causes of Clare's sadness at the loss of the fields he knew as a boy.  And the passage "accursed wealth" to which many of his (largely wealthy remember) reading public -  and his publishers Taylor and Hessey - objected so much.   Quite likely one of the reasons why Clare's second collection did so badly?

As fair & sweet they bloomd thy plains among
As blooms those Edens by the poets sung
Now all laid waste by desolations hand
Whose cursed weapons levels half the land
Oh who could see my dear green willows fall
What feeling heart but dropt a tear for all
Accursed wealth oer bounding human laws
Of every evil thou remains the cause
Victims of want those wretches such as me
Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee
Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed
& thine our loss of labour & of bread
Thou art the cause that levels every tree
& woods bow down to clear a way for thee



Sweet rest & peace ye dear departed Charms
Which once Industry cherishd in her arms
When peace & plenty known but now to few
Where known to all & labour had his due
When mirth & toil companions thro' the day
Made labour light & passd the hours away
When nature made the fields so dear to me
Thin scattering many a bush & many a tree
Where the wood minstrels sweetly joind among
& cheer'd my needy toilings with a song

Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)
(lines 121-144)

The Old Willow


The juicey wheat now spindles into ear
& trailing pea blooms ope their velvet eyes
& weeds & flowers by crowds far off & near
In all their sunny liveries appear
For summers lustre boasts unnumbered dyes
How pleasant neath this willow by the brook
Thats kept its ancient place for many a year
To sit & oer these crowded fields to look
& the soft dropping of the shower to hear
Ourselves so sheltered een a pleasant book
Might lie uninjured from the fragrant rain
For not a drop gets through the bowering leaves
But dry as housed in my old hut again
I sit & troubleous care of half its claim deceive

Middle Period IV 267

This sonnet reminded me rather of Clare's "Round Oak Spring" written around the same time.  My photograph above looks rather a lot like what is left of Round Oak Spring to the south and west of Rice Wood.  It is now channelled into a drainage ditch.  I like to think that one of the many willows that graced the bank of the spring survived as a reminder of what was lost.

Sweet brook Ive met thee many a summers day
& ventured fearless in thy shallow flood
& rambled oft thy sweet unwearied way
Neath willows cool that on thy margin stood


Middle Period IV 280

from "Summer Evening"

The sinken sun is takin leave
& sweetly gilds the edge of eve
While purple clouds of deepening dye
Huddling hang the western skye
Crows crowd quaking oever head
Hastening to the woods to bed
Cooing sits the lonly dove
Calling home her abscent love
Kirchip Kirchip mong the wheat
Partridge distant partridge greet
Beckening call to those that roam
Guiding the squandering covey home
Swallows check their rambling flight
& twittering on the chimney light


Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)

Beautiful Woman (fragment) & With our little ones...


Beautiful woman visions dwell
Of heavens joy about thee
& every step I take is hell
That walks thro life without thee

LP 10

When with our little ones we spent
Each Sunday after tea
And up the woods dark side we went
Or pastures rushy lea
To look among the woodland boughs
To find the bird' retreat,
Or crop the cowslap for the cows

Then sat to rest the little feet
In many a pleasant place
And see the lambs who tried to bleat
Come first in every race
Then laughd the childerns joys to view
Who ran across the lea
At birds that from the rushes flew
& many a wandering bee

LP 10

Both published in 'Overland Monthly' (1873)