First Love's Recollections (part)

First love will with the heart remain
When all its hopes are bye,
As frail rose-blossoms still retain
Their fragrance when they die;
And joy's first dreams will haunt the mind
With shades from whence they sprung,
As summer leaves the stems behind
On which spring's blossoms hung.

Mary! I dare not call thee dear,
I've lost that right so long;
Yet once again I vex thine ear
With memory's idle song.
Had time and change not blotted out
The love of former days,
Thou wert the last that I should doubt
Of pleasing with my praise.

MP V 11

Clare on the Skylark

Yesterday jogging around the East Devon lanes turned out to be the day to which I always look forward every year -- the skylarks are 'up' and singing their little hearts out. When they say it is Spring... it is Spring. 

Bird of the morn,
When roseate clouds begin
To show the opening dawn
Thou gladly sing'st it in,
And o'er the sweet green fields and happy vales
Thy pleasant song is heard, mixed with the morning gales.

LP I 309

A Thrall in Northampton

[Clare in the porch of All Saint's Church, Northampton - Unknown artist]

Although rather changed from the text of the Authorised Version of the Bible that Clare knew, had memorised and loved, the words (below) are dredged up from the depth of his subconscious and desolate state of mind; arguably a true reflection of his inner life at the end of this (1841), the most difficult year of his life.

Obsessed as he is with the veracity of his memory of Mary, Clare finds himself dwelling on a biblical passage of doom and loss. Composing a long paraphrase of the prophecy, with that final denouement — ‘though bondsmen enslave thee’ — laying in wait. He finds himself writing a prophecy of his own judgment and removal.

Roger R.
John Clare Society newsletter
No. 111 - March 2011

All powerless thou to shun the doom
Or to avert the blow
To sudden desolation shalt thou go
& to the ruin which thou shalt not know

(Isaiah 47 paraphrase, lines 57-60)

Thy merchants from thy youth
They shall wander one & all
To his quarters & the truth
Shall leave thee more in thrall
Though slave dealers take thee
though bondsmen enslave thee
There's none shall be able to shield thee or save thee

(Isaiah paraphrase, lines 85-90)

In due course the ‘slave dealers’, in the form of Parson Glossop, Fenwick Skrimshire and William Page, arrive at the cottage and there are none able to shield him or save him, estranged as he was… ‘a stranger to his own family’.

One day keepers came, and a vain struggle, and the Northborough cottage saw John Clare no more. He was now in the asylum at Northampton, and the minds of Northamptonshire noblemen need no longer be troubled that a poet was wandering in miserable happiness under their park walls.

So far, the madness of Clare had been rather an exaltation of mind than a collapse. Forsaken mainly by his friends… unrecognized by the new generation of writers and of readers, hated by his neighbours, wasted with hopeless love, he had encouraged a life of imagination and ideals. Imagination overpowered him, until his perception of realities failed him. He could see Mary Joyce or talk with her, he had a family of dream-children by her: but if this was madness, there was method in it. But now the blow fell, imprisonment for life: down went John Clare into idiocy, "the ludicrous with the terrible." And even from this desperate abyss he rose.

Earl Fitzwilliam paid for Clare's maintenance in the Northampton Asylum, but at the ordinary rate for poor people. The asylum authorities at least seemed to have recognized Clare as a man out of the common, treating him as a "gentleman patient," and allowing him -- for the first twelve years -- to go when he wished into Northampton, where he would sit under the portico of All Saints' Church in meditation.

(from ‘Poems Chiefly From Manuscript’
Edited by Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter.

New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1921


The morning is up betimes my dear
Each postman is loaded by Cupid
The letters are nothing but lovers and rhymes
Some loving or joking or stupid

'Tis an old fashioned thing to go church to be wed
And then nothing can alter the fashion
But today like the birds many lovers are led
More warmly revealing their passion.

Thy love at the first gave such witching delight
No maiden on earth could be neater
And absence has kept thee so long from my sight
That thy beauty shines sweeter and sweeter.

The flowers of summer are showy and fine
But the blossoms of spring are the dearest
And just so it is with my fair Valentine
The best are the sweet and the sincerest.

There's the cyclamen flower of a delicate hue
There's the snowdrop so drooping of delicate white
There's the violet and crocus all over dark blue
That makes in a nosegay a Valentine quite.

I'll wed thee and love thee, and this is the day
We must call those we love Valentine
And I hope when we see the sweet blossoms of May
Thou'lt be a sweet blossom of mine.

LP I 405
(A final Knight transcript)

Pxxxx in 1818

[Image by Clementina Lady Hawarden (1860s) V&A]

Her hair was swarthy brown and soft of hue
As the sweet gloom that falls with evens dew
That on her fine white forehead did divide
In the triumphant negligence of pride
Her eyes were dark but they wore lights to shine
That love adores & poets call divine
Her cheeks summer blooms more hues than shade
Of loves soft innosence without its guide
& on the poutings of her amorous lip
Where youth loves fancied nectar loves to sip
Beauty had formulated that bewitching spell
That love adores & language cannot tell
Where charms triumphant made each gaze a prey
Heartaches for looking ere he turned away

"The Poet in Love" - Arbour Editions (2014)

“I met Patty by accident fell in love by accident married her by accident and esteemed her by choice       sure enough if I had not met her I should have at this day been a lonely solitary – feeling nothing but the worlds sorrows and troubles and sharing none of its happiness – as it is in the midst of trouble I am happy having a companion whom I feel deserves my best esteem”

'My Autobiographical Writings' (Robinson)

Song : "Say what is love?"

This is the first of Clare's poems that grasped me as a young(er) man in the early 1970s.  I learned it then -- probably as I was then newly engaged -- and find it is still on my mind and lips from time to time.  And to illustrate it?  A lover's view of Swaddywell in the Summer.
Say what is love? To live in vain
To live and die and live again?

Say what is love? Is it to be
In prison still and still be free --

Or seem as free? Alone and prove
The hopeless hopes of real love?

Does real love on earth exist?
Tis like a sun beam on the mist,

That fades and nowhere will remain,
And nowhere is o’ertook again.

Say what is love? -– A blooming name,
A rose-leaf on the page of fame,

That blooms, then fades, to cheat no more,
And is what nothing was before?

Say what is love? Whate’er it be,
It centres, Mary, still with thee.

LP I 78
(part of 'Child Harold')

Schoolboys in Winter

The schoolboys still their morning ramble take 
To neighboring village school with playing speed
Loitering with passtimes leisure till they quake
Oft looking up the wild geese droves to heed
Watching the letters which their journeys make
Or plucking haws on which their fieldfares feed
& hips and sloes -- and on each shallow lake 
Making glib slides were they like shadows go 
Till some fresh passtimes in their minds awake
Then off they start anew & hasty blow 
Their numbd and clumpsing fingures till they glow
Then races with their shadows wildly run 
That stride huge giants oer the shining snow 
In the pale splendour of the winter sun. 

Early Poems II 586