Here is final poem in the story of Roger’s romantic adventures - sorry it's a bit late, but I got distracted by other things, as one does.

In the end Roger meets a visiting Scot (a drover’s daughter?) and finds in her something he seemed not to be able to find in the local Northamptonshire lasses.  The Kirk at Upton, incidentally is very much worth a visit.  The church (photo above) is virtually unchanged from Clare’s time, and the little village a reminder of how much of the county used to be.

Coy Maidens o' Drysail bonny Girls o' Buckhiven
Young beauty's o' Largo bonny Lasses o' Leven
I loved them the gether I loved one alone
And the rest followed with her Else I'd made her my own

Nay stop there auld Sodger Yo're nae kin o' her kind
She belongs to young Rodger our Shepherd—sae mind
Her voice shouted Rodger like throwing a stone
Sae gae on oud Sodger and let her alane

The voice it gaed through me like throwing a stone
And sair did it rue me knocking at my breast bone
Gae awa' wi' yer Rodger young Man do I see
If you'r then auld Sodger you may march on wi' me

Sae I went with the Maiden over heath and o'er plain
And when Sunday was come too I saw her again
I saw her and courted the sun from the West
And left my last kiss on the mole of her breast

I kissed and were married and bedded and a'
And the auld Kirk at Upton the green Wedding saw
For the grass it was green and our years was the same
And frae morning to E'en Nane ca'd us to blame

LP II 843

“Her voice shouted Rodger like throwing a stone” – as I child my mother, now in her 93rd year, often in the late afternoon would call me in for tea.  I could have been anywhere as we lived in the country, so she shouted my name at the top of her voice – I have experience of what ‘the voice it gaed through me’ sounds like.  The volume, the inflection… even the memory makes shudder just a little!

The Nightingales Nest

Of the many notable examples of Clare’s ability to grasp the unique particularity of the wild world, his poem ‘The Nightingale’s Nest’ is arguably the greatest.  Here the rural epiphany figured in Clare’s poem is so persuasively delivered that we cannot evade the implications of our dual potential: as ‘rude’ desecrators or privileged caretakers.  Clare’s use of the inclusive ‘we’ positions us within a drama of whispered complicity, even culpability, as we ‘trample’ nearer to witness the fugitive showing forth of the nightingale’s nest.

The exactitude of his gaze, Clare’s attentive regard of and for all natural objects is now, more than ever, essential to our humanity.  If poetry lives in the ear, before taking root in mind and heart, there can be no better way to connect with the lyrical specificity of John Clare’s world than this.

 (Kaye Kossick – 2012)

Aye as I live her secret nest is here
upon this white thorn stump––I’ve  searched about
for hours in vain––there! put that bramble bye
Nay trample on its branches and get near
How subtle is the bird! she started out
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh
Ere we were past the brambles and now near
Her nest she sudden stops––as choking fear
That might betray her home so even now
We’ll leave it as we found it… our presence doth retard

Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on sweet bird may no worse hap befall
Thy visions than the fear that now deceives
We will not plunder music of its dower
Nor turn this spot of happiness to thrall

(lines  53-70)

John Clare - Major Works (OUP) 1984

Betty Sell

[Image: Annie Lee]

‘They ask me who I love the best’

They ask me who I love the best
But who I never tell
& when I laugh among the rest
I think of Betty Sell

They ask me who my heart preferred
& much on beauty dwell
I never say a single word
But think of Betty Sell

They talk of who their hearts has won
But mine I never tell
& look as if I knew of none
But think of Betty Sell

Pet MSA61 p91
MP V 303

Betty Sell was the daughter of a labourer at Southorp, near Barnack.  “… and while I was at home in the winter (1819/20) I renewd my acquaintance with a former love and had made a foolish confidence with a young girl at Southorpe and tho it began in a heedless flirtation at Stamford fair from accompanying her home it grew up in to an affection that made my heart ach to think it must be broken for patty was then in a situation that marriage coud only remedy”

John Clare By Himself p111

Betty Sell

When woodbine blossoms twining high
Comingld with the thorn
& busy bees wewed bumming bye
To sip the sweets of morn
A stranger lass with rake afield
Blyth stepping thro the dell
As wisht a swain her name reveald
‘Good morning betty Sell’

She gave me room to climb the stile
I lingerd soodling bye
My jumping heart beheld the smile
& vanishd in a sigh
As bird lime daubs the linnets nest
By her enchantments fell
I pausd me trembling at her feet
A slave to betty sell

Her ringlets black as gloss rind sloes
The hazel melts her eye
As flusht as the dayrosey blows
Who coud gang safly bye
Love unmasked wi a sigh
I gan my story tell
While new charms shone in curls wip'd bye
O charming betty Sell

Ye busy bees intruding round
Some meaner blossom seek
Think not your welcom tho your found
A rose upon her cheek
Your medling insults here decline
To hunt the ether bell
The honey of the flower is mine
While courting betty Sell

While woodbine flowers in wanton twine
Weave round the matted thorn
While bees their humming musick join
To rob the sweets of morn
When ere I wipe the boughs away
To tread the bushy dell
Or be't a year or be't a day
I'll think of Betty Sell

Pet MS B1 p58
EP 1 487
(April 1819)


Clare having a bit of fun with the Northamptonshire dialect of his day.  Most of us are used to having a glossary of Northamptonshire words and phrases when we read almost any of Clare's work, but the four verses of 'John Bumkins Lucy' almost need a glossary of their own.  I particularly like lines 7 & 8 :

"How-so-miver she beets all the wenches I kno
An' hur big-roundy bosom is witer then sno"

Well stop bill wi' dogging me so oer an' oer
I've told yah hur name—what and now summot more?
Gosh boy but thats hardish to tell yah wi out—hur
Hur looks an hur tallnes an all things about—hur
—La' us see whot is like to tha straitness of hur
Theres summot cums near to't d' yah see yender fur
Well then do yah mind me she's straiter then that
An' hur eye's an' hur hair is az blak az my hat
     O' my pritty deer Lucy az I am a sinnur
Hite op wi' old byard go on
     I'll zartinly do all I can for to win hur
     Ha az shure az my crisn'd name's jon

Hur face is not like to yahr kitts i' the town
Nor fine coking jinny's so roozy an' brown
No if yah did kno hur yah'd think em a site
Its so wite an' red sumhow I cant tell yah rite
But I think if tha rosey an' may grow'd togither
'Tw'd be summot like-it but not so fine nither
How-so-miver she beets all the wenches I kno
An' hur big-roundy bosom is witer then sno
     O' my pritty deer lucy az I am a sinnur
Hite op wi old byard go on
     I'll zartinly do all I can for to win hur
     Ha az shure az my crisn'd name's jon

Now Ive told yah about hur az much az I can
How to get hur bill-boy is the next thing to plan
Well that I can deel wi' an' soon yah shal see
Jon Bumkin a shentleman fine oz can be
An' now then to tell yah a bit o' my pride
This greezey old smokfrok I'll fost thro aside
Nex I'll change this old crap for a fine beaver hat
Drest about wi a blak ribbin bo' an' all that
     Then so wastly fine bill-boy az I am a sinnur
Hite op wi' old byard go on
     'T'will zartinly be a good shilling to win hur
     Ha oz shure oz my crisn'd name's jon

Then there'll be the waiscot an' briches an' cote
An' lite shoo's an stokin's wi' all tha' best sote
Then old women will chatter an' say ‘he looks neet
‘From tha crown of his hed to tha sole of his feet’
But I shal think more wen they cum to be mine
That better then neetnes they'll look very fine
How-so-miver it sing-i-fys nothink to me
If thee will but noistish an' do but agree
     Wi' my pritty deer Lucy—for az I am a sinnur
Hite op wi' old byard go on
     I'll zartinly do all I can for to win hur
     Ha az shure oz my crisn'd name's jon

EP I 196

Some 'fragments'

Flying out to Tunis yesterday, I sat next to a lady who was very interested in my reading... John Clare.  I showed her these small fragments on my iPad, and she promptly photographed the screen.  The power of even Clare's shortest fragmentary poems!

Natures sweet bard of spring the sable bee
Hums round each cottage wall its minstrelsy
& the gay wasp in its stript jacket comes
To sunny banks in terryfying hums
Waking the herd boys fears that ramble nigh
& threatning vengance to each passer bye

Swarthy yet lovly by each zepher fand
As the soft cheek of milkmaids summer tan'd

EP II 522


My favourite poem from this whole series, I read “Crummaching Cow” to a church full of Clare Society members at Upton Church a few years ago, with dear Peter Moyse.  Upton is at the farthest extremity of Emmonsales Heath, on what would have been the old Roman Road King Street, if it did not take a sharp right turn at Langley Bush. 

I've got an ould crimmocking Cow
And a Dairy for butter I ween
Three hens that lays eggs just enow
To boil one for Roger at een
A rusty flick hangs i' the neuk
All sooty and salt to the bone
A Frying pan ready to cook
When Roger comes courting alone

For Roger's a handsome young Man
And I am his sweetheart Kate
I give him a kiss when I can
And spend a few hours at the gate
When the sparrows go bed in the eves
And to roost goes the three speckled hens
I turn down my cotton drab sleeves
And go to kiss Roger agen

He lovs me for dearly I ken
And kisses my cheek on his breast
And dearly I love him my sen
While in his fond arms I am prest
The bee seeks the hole i' the wall
In the eves the ould sparrows go bed
To night Roger sed he would call
And fix on the day we should wed

LP II 863

BALLAD : ‘The heavy thick mist hangs over the sun’

I’m afraid the squire proved too much of a temptation, poor Roger has had his doubts, but now has been ousted from Jenny’s affections.

The heavy thick mist hangs over the sun
The grass is all wet wi the dew
I cannot come out to thee roger till noon
Fear o' spoiling my sealskin shoe
No mists need to tarry my jenny till noon
The mist simmers thin on the hill
Sun beams getting yellow will master him soon
& ye may walk out if ye will

But she a new ribbon put on at the time
Which roger neer bought for her brow
& tho he neer knew of his jenny a crime
Fears jealousy wisperd it now
& she had a mantle all fringed wi silk
& a new gown as smart as coud be
Far too fine for the hassard of going to milk
Full o tucks even up to the knee

& shed a green purse which a gold tassel drew
& gold in it plenty beside
Such tokens spoke more then hard labour coud do
Rich rivals had gen her the pride
So rogers fears dreamt & his dreams to pursue
To green bowers in ambush he hies
Where jane like a lady soon hazards the dew
—He wishd twas a dream of his eyes

Jane lightly skipt by wipd away the bower briar
Where roger conseald from the view
& who shoud be shooting hard by but the squire
That provd rogers dreamings too true
They kissd & they toyd upon loves pleasant lap
& thought roger true at the end
But he like a fox saw em baiting the trap
& never sought jenny agen

EP II 428

Again from the amazing 1819-20 period when Clare was, shall we say, “baiting the trap” in “loves pleasant lap” with Patty.