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

Accursed Wealth

Jeremy Corbyn quotes John Clare at Tolpuddle festival last weekend:
"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"
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 "
In September I will be publishing the 5th book in the John Clare Chapbook series.  Entitled 'Accursed Wealth' it will explore Clare's writings on the subject of Wealth and Poverty.

John Clare, the poet of the environmental crisis – 200 years ago

Next week I'll mark John Clare Day.  This great poet showed how the era of greed began with the enclosure of the land.

The land around Helpston, just to the north of Peterborough in Northamptonshire, now ranks among the most dismal and regularised tracts of countryside in Europe.  But when the poet John Clare was born in 1793, it swarmed with life.  Clare describes species whose presence there is almost unimaginable today.  Corncrakes hid among the crops, ravens nested in a giant oak, nightjars circled the heath, the meadows sparkled with glow worms.  Wrynecks still bred in old woodpecker holes.  In the woods and brakes the last wildcats clung on.

The land was densely peopled.  While life was hard and spare, it was also, he records, joyful and thrilling.  The meadows resounded with children pranking and frolicking and gathering cowslips for their May Day games; the woods were alive with catcalls and laughter; around the shepherds' fires, people sang ballads and told tales.  We rightly remark on the poverty and injustice of rural labour at that time; we also forget its wealth of fellowship.

All this Clare notes in tremulous bewitching detail, in the dialect of his own people.  His father was a casual farm labourer, his family never more than a few days' wages from the poorhouse.  Clare himself, from early childhood, scraped a living in the fields.  He was schooled capriciously, and only until the age of 12, but from his first bare contact fell wildly in love with the written word.  His early poems are remarkable not only for the way in which everything he sees flares into life, but also for his ability to pour his mingled thoughts and observations on to the page as they occur, allowing you, as perhaps no other poet has done, to watch the world from inside his head.  Read The Nightingale's Nest, one of the finest poems in the English language, and you will see what I mean.

And then he sees it fall apart.  Between 1809 and 1820, Acts of Enclosure granted the local landowners permission to fence the fields, the heaths and woods, excluding the people who had worked and played in them.  Almost everything Clare loved was torn away.  The ancient trees were felled, the scrub and furze were cleared, the rivers were canalised, the marshes drained, the natural curves of the land straightened and squared.  Farming became more profitable, but many of the people of Helpston – especially those who depended on the commons for their survival – were deprived of their living.  The places in which the people held their ceremonies and celebrated the passing of the seasons were fenced off.  The community, like the land, was parcelled up, rationalised, atomised.  I have watched the same process breaking up the Maasai of East Africa.


As Jonathan Bate records in his magnificent biography, there were several possible causes of the "madness" that had Clare removed to an asylum in 1837: bipolar disorder, a blow to the head, malaria (then a common complaint on the edge of the fens).  But it seems to me that a contributing factor must have been the loss of almost all he knew and loved.  His work is a remarkable document of life before and after social and environmental collapse, and the anomie that resulted.

What Clare suffered was the fate of indigenous peoples torn from their land and belonging everywhere.  His identity crisis, descent into mental agony and alcohol abuse, are familiar blights in reservations and outback shanties the world over.  His loss was surely enough to drive almost anyone mad; our loss surely enough to drive us all a little mad.

For while economic rationalisation and growth have helped to deliver us from a remarkable range of ills, they have also torn us from our moorings, atomised and alienated us, sent us out, each in his different way, to seek our own identities.  We have gained unimagined freedoms, we have lost unimagined freedoms – a paradox Clare explores in his wonderful poem The Fallen Elm.  Our environmental crisis could be said to have begun with the enclosures.  The current era of greed, privatisation and the seizure of public assets was foreshadowed by them: they prepared the soil for these toxic crops.

Earlier this year the writer and poet Paul Kingsnorth suggested that we should celebrate Barnes Night, to mark the life of another neglected genius, William Barnes.  His themes – an intense engagement with nature, the destruction caused by the enclosures, even unrequited love for a woman called Mary – are remarkably similar to Clare's.  But to say that he cannot hold a candle to Clare is no disrespect to him, for this puts him in the company of all the other pastoral poets England has produced.

John Clare, unlike Robert Burns (Tam O'Shanter, The Cotter's Saturday Night, Death and Doctor Hornbook), is a poet of the day.  So a Clare Night, whose absence Jonathan Bate laments, does not feel quite right.  I'm not going to wait for anyone else.  As far as I'm concerned, 13 July is Clare Day, and I'll be raising a glass to celebrate and mourn him.  I hope you'll join me.

Published in The Guardian in July 2012 - 
I don't know the author, probably George Monbiot

Ronnie Blythe on the John Clare Festival

(from 2014, but still worth a read)
See YOU at the 2017 Festival?
Sultry July days. Twin calendars rule them: the lectionary, and a writer's. Thus our trip to Helpston, the birthplace of the great rural poet John Clare. It is exactly as we left it last year, except that a strange additional memorial rises over his grave. Dear once-a-year friends walk along the broad village street, with its handsome Barnack stone houses and towering hollyhocks.
Ringing the changes, my lecture is on Thomas Hardy, whose hands did not touch the soil; and Clare, whose hands drove the plough. Their days slightly overlapped - had they heard of each other? Neither could really operate, as it were, outside their own country-side. In their time, the "peasant" would become a "farm labourer", and the bottom of the rural population.
And towards the end of the 19th century the British countryside would fall into a depression that would last until the opening of the Second World War, when food needs, and today's non-traditional farming methods, would rescue it from decline.
I looked up Clare's activities in July from his wonderfully useful The Shepherd's Calendar. So far as I can tell, virtually nothing happens in Wormingford in July. You might have to squeeze past a hay lorry whose dizzy oblong load totters ahead, and whose driver waves his sunburnt hand. No women semi-dressed in the hay-making fields which so tantalised the young poet. What work does he list for July? Well, mostly anything which meant using a scythe.
I keep my scythe in cutting order with a whet-stone. I bought it in Stowmarket a long time ago, and I am enchanted this moment to see Adrian wielding it in the orchard. Softly, it lays the summer growth down in rhythmic folds. Greengages will tumble down on to them without bruising. You have to beat the birds where there are greengages. A week late, and they will be the debris of a feast.
Clare's July village is noisy with "singing, shouting herding boys", and bagpipes, as young Scots tramp down the Great North Road to seek their fortunes in London. Our car makes its journey through ancient lanes and motorways to the church at Helpston, where I sit on the chancel step to talk on England's most eloquent village voice, and a prolific one, so that the John Clare Society need never run out of subjects.
We come home to matins and evensong in two different churches, and to the lasting heat wave. Now, with the house empty, and the white cat thanking her god for summer's torpor as she sleeps in the window ledge above what was the copper, I get back to routine, breaking into it now and then to pull up some giant weed. By far my most wondrous July achievement this year is the sweet-pea wigwam: a score of bamboo rods that carry the flowers to heaven. A vase of them locked into a room overnight is the best welcome to a July breakfast.
Clare sees "the gardener sprinkling showers from watering cans on drooping flowers" as he tended both wild and cultivated plants behind his cottage. It could have been a statement on his own genius. His natural history was marvellously inclusive. It began when he was a boy, lying low in the summer grass, watching climbing insects; and it ended as the beautiful sane region to which he could escape from the "madhouse".

First published in the Church Times, 25th July 2014 

from "The Dream"

When nights last hours like haunting spirits creep
With listning terrors round the couch of sleep
& midnight brooding with its deepest dye
Seizes on fear with dismal sympathy

I dreamd a dream of somthing kin to fate
Which superst[it]ions blackest thoughts create
Something half natural to the grave that seems
Which deaths long trance of slumber aptly dreams

A dream of staggering horrors & of dread
Whose shadows lingerd when the dream had fled
Clinging to memory with their gloomy view
Till doubt & fancy half believd it true

That time was come or seemd as it was come
When death no longer makes the grave its home
When waking spirits leave their earthly rest
To mix forever with the damnd or blest

When years in drowsey thousands counted bye
Then hung on minutes with their destiny
When life in terror drops its draining glass
& all thats mortal like to shadows pass

As neath approaching tempests sinks the sun
When time shall leave eternity begun
Life swoond in terror at that hours dread birth
& as in ague shook the fearful earth

MP I 325

from "The Night Mare"

'Her steps take hold of hell' (Proverbs 5:5)

My dream began in bliss & lifted high
My sleeping feelings into fancys joy
Though like one wandering in a sweet far land
I seemd to hear & coud not understand
Among the many voices hurring bye
Nor knew one face were many met my eye

That dim seen mystery which in dreams appears
Was mine a feeling of joy hopes and fears,
Mingld together yet I knew not why
Where all was beauty trouble shoud be bye
The place was light & yet no sun was there
To cause itpale & beautifully fair,

Nor glare nor gloom but like eternity
Mild like what spirits may expect to see
But there was earth & sky & trees & flowers,
Different in kind & yet resembling ours
& mightiest objects that the eye surveyd
No light they clouded & they cast no shade;


& in that sky no cloud crossd east or west
No storm crept frowning oer its chrystal rest
At length a mighty mansion gatherd high
Whose bounds seemd almost boundless to the eye
A place that wakend fancys wonders there
As mysterys mask left half her shadow bare

MP I 332

John Clare and Footpath Walking

John Clare is the genius of the footpath. So poignant is his statement on the road that it tends to overlay his many and various statements on the footpaths. That wretched road journey, in July 1841, just after his forty-sixth birthday, when he was alone, weakening and penniless, and when he had to, as he said, “lay down with my head towards the north to show myself the steering point in the morning”, was a walk entirely isolated from every other walk he had made, or would ever make.

Clare was more than acquainted with the way, that simplest, purest, most eloquent of ways, the footpath. And life only went wrong when he was diverted from it. He knew where he stood. He knew where he should walk. He knew when he should drop down. He knew what no other English writer knew or knows, which is what the English countryman's eyes saw, or sees, in its purity … we know that countless people, whilst on the way to work, or at work itself, are unwittingly visionary, and that they do not pass through these scenes on earth without taking them in, and wondering at them sometimes. What they -- or few of us do, is to drop down in our tracks to write because the need to write is overwhelming, as it is with writers. There were days when Clare could not follow the footpaths. On Thursday 23 September 1824 he writes:

“A wet day did nothing but nurse my illness Coud not have walkd out had it been fine very disturbd in conscience about the troubles of being forcd to endure life & dye by inches & the anguish of leaving my childern & the dark porch of eternity whence none returns to tell the tale of their reception” (Natural History, p. 181)

But a few weeks later - what a change?

Sunday 31 October 1824
“Took a walk got some branches of fee spindle tree with its pink colord berys that shine beautifully in the pale sun - found for fee first time 'fee herb true love' or 'one berry' [Paris quatrifollia} in Oxey Wood brought a root home to set in my garden” (Natural History, p. 197)

Did we but comprehend it, a great amount of our best poetry, novels and essays smell, not of the lamp, but of dust, mud, grit, pollen, and, I expect, sweat.

Ronald Blythe ~ John Clare Society Journal, 14, 1995

And then there were three... or is that eight?

The publication of “With the Gipsies” today [22nd May] sees the third Clare Arbour Chapbook added to the list.  At the risk of repeating myself, this effort is to put Clare texts into the hands of those who cannot easily afford current paperback prices.  At £3-50 per copy, these will not be listed on Amazon as the minimum they charge for postage and packing is £2-80 – but they ARE available from me for £4-50 inclusive.

How can I afford to do this?  All I seek to do is simply to break-even on all my Arbour Editions titles, to ensure that folk do not have to take a financial punt simply to buy a book!

All my titles are still available (prices maked include P&P):

Hidden Treasures - £7.50
The Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby - £14.00
Drinking with John Clare - £4.50
Helpstons Fountains - £4.50
With the Gipsies - £4.50

I also have a few of my (with Anne Lee) Limited edition, handmade books still available:

The Lovers Meeting - £32.50
The Poet in Love - £37.50
In the Shadows -  £37.50

All will of course be available at the John Clare Society Festival in July.

Roger R.



The Death of Dobbin (excerpt)

The summers heat & winters cutting cold
Have stood with the[e] with the[e] as partners shar'd
The toiling slaves to those that better far'd
These where thy friends & these thy friends well knew
A horses worth that might be trusted too
And this they every day could prove & see
The value dobbin of a horse like thee
They by expirience taught knew how to prize
That worth which unexpirienc'd fools despise
And treat thy Memory with that due respect
Which thy self loving master does neglect
Never through him by hardy work's attain'd
And lasts no longer then his ends are gain'd
Sway'd by self interest—when thy best was o'er
As he could profit by thy strength no more
When courage left thee & old age came on
And all the hopes of an amendment gone
When willing still weak efforts provd too true
That thou hadst done the utmost thou cou'dst do
Then merits past and praises all adieu
His profits vanishd and his praises too
On merits past he could'n't tent to call
Nor spare a praise where merits past was all
But turnd the[e] out in yon bare grounds to feed
To pine or die as future fate decreed
And happy future fate did so ordain
To see thy sufferance and to ease thy pain


EP I 84 (lines 32-58)

Tim Dee takes about John Clare

In a short 9-minute film by James Murray-White, author and birdwatcher Tim Dee speaks of why John Clare is so important to the bird watching community.  Music by Mike Hobson.   A 'must see' film: https://vimeo.com/89252484

From Clare's Novel...

The black thorn was in its blossom & the soldiers were reminded of their early days      & one of them said    in such a spot as this comrade I tended sheep & have been delighted at seeing the black thorn in blossom as the earnest of may day a coming      when we should play at crookhorn & duck under-water & pelt over the garland -- & I little thought then of where I should ramble & what I should see --      these days Richard are all over & our happiness is gone after them for some other boys to pick up & loose agen as we did -- 

& so they wandered along shortning the way by little remembrances of former days that the scene around them brought up in their minds -- untill the sun went to bed as red as a drunken man dropping as if in the midst of the waste that surrounded them      & they were astonished in the seeming boundless stretch of the common which like an ocean of waste seemed to have no shore of termination to human existance & no harbours of comfortable cottages -- for they had not only been out of the sight of smoaking chimneys for hours but had even lost all sight of human existance in the shape of foot paths or waggon tracks –

From Clare's 'The Two Soldiers' an episode in his aborted novel from the 1820s, now published as "The memoirs of Uncle Barnaby" (Arbour Editions, 2017)  The public launch of which will take place at 6pm on 12th April at the John Clare Theatre, Peterborough.

Memory

I would not that my memory all should die,
And pass away with every common lot:
I would not that my humble dust should lie
In quite a strange and unfrequented spot,
By all unheeded and by all forgot,
With nothing save the heedless winds to sigh,
And nothing but the dewy morn to weep
About my grave, far hid from the world's eye:
I fain would have some friend to wander nigh
And find a path to where my ashes sleep--
Not the cold heart that merely passes by,
To read who lies beneath, but such as keep
Past memories warm with deeds of other years,
And pay to friendship some few friendly tears.


Tibbles II 106

John Clare and Charles Lamb

John Clare, the Northamptonshire  "stage peasant in grass-green coat and yellow waistcoat," with whom Lamb walked arm in arm along the Strand, discussing the "Clare-obscurities " of his poetry, and followed by troops of boys, shouting, " There go Tom and Jerry,"* who was lionized by the Mrs. Leo Hunters** of that day when he was not shut out by their footmen.

From ‘Charles Lamb and his biographers’ (1867)

*  Characters in Pierce Egan’s 19th century bestseller ‘Life in London’ in which Tom and Jerry’s ‘rambles and sprees through the Metropolis’ offers readers a unique glimpse into both high and low urban culture.


** A character in ‘Pickwick Papers’ (1852) : "Mrs. Leo Hunter—is proud to number among her acquaintance all those who have rendered themselves celebrated by their works and talents. Permit me, sir, to place in a conspicuous part of the list the name of Mr. Pickwick, and his brother–members of the club that derives its name from him.’ … She dotes on poetry, sir. She adores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up, and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces, herself, sir. You may have met with her “Ode to an Expiring Frog,” sir.’ "