"In a strange stillness"


Continuing to work on a book entitled "Trees - In a strange stillness' the cover of which will figure this wonderful photograph by Mike Hobson.  Here is part of the introduction, and one of the selected poems:

Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss. 

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations.

Clare was concerned about maintaining the tree population of his environment, and in a sense the history of Helpston and of our poet is that partly told in trees.  Then came enclosure when, for the trees, a wholesale devastation took place.

Nothingness of Life
I never pass a venerable tree
Pining away to nothingness & dust
Ruins vain shades of power I never see
Once dedicated to times chea
ting trust
But warm reflection wakes her saddest thought
& views lifes vanity in cheerless light
& sees earths bubbles youth so eager sought
Burst into emptiness of lost delight
& all the pictures of lifes early day
Like evenings striding shadows haste away
Yet theres a glimmering of pleasure springs
From such reflections of earths vanity
That pines & sickens oer lifes mortal things
& leaves a relish for eternity


(MP IV 278)

The poor affrican...

The Vicar’s Sermon, from the Novel (1826)

After meeting the African beggar on his second visit to London, I do feel that Clare was moved to write this piece - in the mouth of the local vicar - to express his own thoughts.  In my opinion it says rather a lot about Clare.  Remember that slavery was not abolished until 1833, but even then it was partial, to say the least.  


Here is the telling paragraph from Wikipedia: "The Act had its third reading in the House of Commons on 26 July 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died.  It received the Royal Assent a month later, on 28 August, and came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834.  In practical terms, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies.  Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices", and their servitude was abolished in two stages: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840.  The Act specifically excluded "the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena." The exceptions were eliminated in 1843."


Talk not of distinction – look at the poor affrican     does the color of his skin forbid us to treat him with mercy     is his complextion the liscence for our inhumanity – is it a discontinuance of that link that enacts us to be humane to our fellow creatures in what ever grade or station we find them     is color & complextion any insult to our feelings     no     the blood of that poor emaciated black creature which I have in my minds eye   is as crimson as that which flowed down the temples of our divine master when like the affrican he was injured & scourged & crowned with thorns     & what for bretheren     why he suffered him self to be bound that that poor bleeding affrican might be free     he suffered his own blood to flow that that poor affricans blood might be spared     he suffered himself to die that the affrican might live & be happy in escaping the sufferings that he himself underwent for the very purpose that they might be free –

         & our only way to [b]e happy is to be kind to all for he who [se]es so much difference between the negro & himself   as to think a black man cannot be human like a white one   or that a black man [s]oul cannot be of so much consequence in the registery of heaven as his own   or that he stands [n]ot on the same footing in the favour of god as his self – that man (raising his hand with [his] voice & at the same [time] knocking his spectacles above his nose   which he had not time to adjust) – that man I say   be what he may in his own estimation   is no christian – for to think rightly of others is to feel that the same hand that made one made all – he that made the great behemoth   that monster of the deep which putteth the greatest ships in peril of being over set   made the little butterfly that the feeble child   as soon as it feeleth its feet   chaseth without fear  --

          & if the king upon his throne (god bless him)   yes if the king himself thought contrary to myself upon this subject   I would say   and say it out [loud]   that in the midst of earthly magnificance his majesty had not found that nessesary qualification of christian meekess which is a nessesary unto salvation   as the pen was were bye I write this sermon – do good unto thy neighbour as thyself & be charitable to all men –

This very important and eloquent passage was published in 2017 in Clare's aborted novel 'Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby' (Arbour Editions) the passage forms part of a longer passage Clare intended in setting the scene for his novel.  The novel is unfinished of course, but 'Memoirs' is my attempt at putting together in a logical order all the passages I could find, both in discussion with Professor Eric Robinson and seeking out further enlightenment from the archives.

The Spirit of the Woods

The first two paragraphs of a new book I am working on with Professor Eric... the photo 'Southey Tree' is by Mike Hobson, and I hope will adorn the cover.

Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss. 

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations:

Wednesday, 24 Nov. 1824
I have often been struck with astonishment at the tales old men & women relate in their remembrances of the growth of trees the elm groves in the Staves Acre Close at the town-end were the rooks build & that are of giant height      my old friend Billings says he remembers them no thicker than his stick & saw my fathers uncle set them carrying a score on his back at once      I can scarcely believe it

Sunday 5 Dec. 1824

I have been thinking today of all the large trees about our neighbourhood & those that have curious historys about them — there was a walnutt tree (now cut down) stood in Groves yard at Glinton of which this is the history — old Will Tyers now living says while going to Peakirk one day when a boy he pickd up a walnutt & took it home to set in his garden were it throve well & bore nutts before he left the house -- its present occupier got great quantitys of nutts most seasons & a few years back it was cut down & the timber sold for £50

The book "Trees - The Spirit of the Woods" will be ready I judge in the Spring 2018.

"Thou scarest me with dreams" (Job)



The sleepy birds, scared from their mossy nest,
Beat through the evil air in vain for rest;
And many a one, the withering shades among,
Wakened to perish o'er its brooded young.
The cattle, startled with the sudden fright,
Sicken'd from food, and madden'd into flight;
And steed and beast in plunging speed pursued
The desperate struggle of the multitude,
The faithful dogs yet knew their owners' face.
And cringing follow'd with a fearful pace,
Joining the piteous yell with panting breath,
While blasting lightnings follow'd fast with death;
Then, as Destruction stopt the vain retreat,
They dropp'd, and dying lick'd their masters' feet.


The Dream, lines 69-82
MP I 325

A letter from Misthress Leythess...

Clare having fun with language...

& the blak sale   mathem    was fer the reform bill lost in the howse of Lords    & if they downt plase to down o there nappers & loke far it agin I wud niver to go to have prares in thet howse agin      as Humfrey seys    far as thoff it be ritten on a bit of  parchmen no biger then your fingor it will nat tak the lukin far as the needal in the battel of hay did & so thay hav no exchuse bot to find it

            yours ever to admirashun dare mat-hem   exchuse hast & botherashun far Im ap to my elbos in sads & the buk thub

Och the mobs    Misthress Leythess    the mabs thare ane man dun morthashuns of mischeef wid a fire shovel       he bite an officher of chalvery at the pint of his swurd most shamefuly    & Humfrey seys no mather for that    thow hees no rabel    bot hee will hev it thet the kings consitushuns ar no bisnes to be pat in jeporde at the rong end of a dradm swurd      to beshure Mathern    its all well enuff to be at the handel, thets safe enuf for sartin        bot yu no the kalverey ar gentemen & we musthent be afther kapin solders far doinin nathin   thets sartin    & so peceable fokes mast kape throm owt o the wey o the powther & uthe[r] dangerus mortashüns

           bot wat a strange thing thet the man wid the fire showel shud cum oif the ero Mathem     but lard bles yu   he wor prothekted by providence & as thof he was nat doin the rite thing

A single page from the Lettys Correspondence:
'Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby'
(Arbour Editions - 2017)

O woman sweet witchingly woman 


[Image: The cover of the Tern Press (handmade, limited edition (of 100) book) Artwork by Nicholas Parry]

O woman sweet witchingly woman
Amid the worlds bustle & strife
Thourt the only sweet blossom thats blooming
Perfuming the garden of life
Thourt the only pure fountain thats given
From whence all true pleasures doth flow
The angels are unknowns of heaven
But womans real angels below

Our lives woud be lives of vexation
Our days woud be days of despair
Wi out the sweet jems of creation
Soft women to sweeten our care
& powers that formd beauty protect us
If weaknesses cant be conseald
Shoud we view heavens joys as conjectures
& women as heaven reveald

& far be a souls savage natures
That cannot wi tenderness burn
That turns from a look of such creatures
As one from a statue woud turn
When beauty its charms are unsealing
From glances of eyes dewey blue
Devoid must they be of all feeling
That thrills wi no raptures to view

O women sweet witchin[g]ly women
Amid the worlds bustle & strife
Yere the only sweet blossom thats blooming
Perfuming the garden of life
Yere the only pure fountain that[s] given
From whence real happiness flow
While angels are unknowns of heaven
Sweet womens provd angels below

Pet MS A9 R26

Two Sonnets to Mary (II)

[Image: Lady Clementina Harwarden - 1861]

The flower thats gathered beauty soon forsakes
The bliss grows feeble as we gain the prize
Love dreams of joy & in possesion wakes
Scarce time enough to hail it ere it dies
Life intermingles with its cares & sighs
& raptures dreams are ended Heavenly flower
It is not so with thee—still fancys power
Throws rainbow halos round thee & thine eyes
That once did steal their sapphire blue from even
Are beaming on thy cheeks bewitching dye
Where partial roses all their blooms had given
Still in fond memory with the rose can vie
& thy sweet bosom which to view was heaven
No lily yet a fairer hue supplies

EP II 530

The Arbour Chapbook series - No. 5 ‘Accursed Wealth’



           On the 16th July, whilst many were still at the Society’s Festival, Jeremy Corbyn quoted John Clare at Tolpuddle festival:

     "Inclosure came and trampled on the grave  
     Of labour's rights and left the poor a slave …
     And birds and trees and flowers without a name /
     All sighed when lawless law's enclosure came."

            Even in 2017,  without doubt, Clare is as relevant as ever.  Here are the lines from his 1820 collection "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" that his publisher had expunged from the book in the Second and subsequent editions, MUCH to Clare's annoyance:

     "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 "

            ‘Accursed Wealth’ – those two words echo down the generations for any student of Clare, whether scholar or simply a reader of the great poet’s work.  Right from the early poems that have come down to us, we find in Clare an honesty that is often painful to observe.  We all know that here was a man born in grinding poverty but perhaps because of naivety, roundly cheated by his publishers of much of his earnings:

"& tho I know I am cheated   such is the cunning of avarice [that] like the tricks of a conjuror   it defies detection"

It is hardly surprising that Clare was personally affronted by the actions of those who should have been acting on his behalf.  As he appended to one ‘financial’ statement from Drury and Taylor:

"How can this be?  I never sold the poems for any price -- what money I had of Drury was given me on account of profits to be received     but here it seems I have got nothing and am brought in minus twenty pounds of which I never received a sixpence -- or it seems that by the sale of these four thousand copies I have lost that much -- and Drury told me that 5,000 copies had been printed tho' 4,000 only are accounted for." 

Clare had not befitted by these sales by a single penny.  All this simply cemented his long-held belief that, in the words of his essay ‘Apology for the Poor:

“Every restraint now adays is laid on poverty & every liberty is given to luxury (…) every nessesary article with the poor is taxed & every luxury with the rich goes riot free”

For Clare all this is cemented into to place in his mind by the evidence of the enclosure around Helpston.

            Clare’s poetic response to the dramatic transformations in society of the time provides a unique, eye-witness account of the impact these changes had on the people who were their victims.  The only voice, of a rural working man and victim of the enclosures, that we have.  Read Clare for yourself and will get a very good idea of what the ordinary labourer thought.

“They give me eight pence by the day
& make it up at night
With six pence worth of parish pay
& can ye call it right

Nay they have stopt me when Ive gone
To take that weight away
& backed deceptions wrong        
To take your gains away”

“Accursed Wealth” is the 5th Chapbook in the series, and is to be published on the 4th September.  It is available from me for £4 including P&P.  Email me at rogerclare0@yahoo.co.uk for more details, or leave a message below.


--- oOo ---

The Wounded Soldier (excerpt)

An excerpt from a very early poem, no doubt written in the aftermath of the various Napoleonic battles.   The young John Clare, as always, pulls no punches in his condemnation of those he calls "the rich & great".

O cruel War when will thy horrors cease
And all thy slaughtering of poor men give oer
O sheath O sheath thy bloody blade in peace
Nor stain thy hand with human blood no more

See at yon door were round the children swarm
The piteous object of thy rage appears
Thou'st left him nothing but a single arm
Both legs are gone & he is old in years

O shatter'd man did ever eyes behold
A more distressing form of misery

(...)

O what I owe the tender feeling poor
Since I've been brought to this sad state you see 

Ne'er have I left their lowly welcome Door 

Without some token of their Charity

But O in vain (it grieves me to relate) 

These wooden stumps & this poor armless side 

Attracts the pity of the rich & great 

They deem my sorrows far beneath their pride

Yon house that shows its owners wealth & power 

Lur'd me to ask relief but ask'd in vain 

A scornful proudling drove me from the door 

To crave a morsel from the needy swain


But ah ye Rich as rich as you may be 

You—tho You fancy you can't want no more 

May by misfortune be reduc'd like me 

And glad to beg a crust from door to door

EP I 91