began to be added those of the ageing body. Hope even now was not
dead, and a poor versifier but good Samaritan who saw him in 1857
printed some lines in the _London Journal_ for November 2lst asking
the aid of Heaven to restore Clare to his home and his poetry (for he
seems to have written little at that time); a gentleman who was in a
position to judge wrote also that in the spring of 1860 his mind was
calmer than it had been for years, and that he was induced to write
verses once more. But Clare was sixty-seven years old; it was perhaps
too late to release him, and perhaps he had grown past the desire of
liberty. On the 7th of March he wrote to Patty, asking after all his
children and some of his friends, and sending his love to his father
and mother (so long since dead); signing himself "Your loving husband
till death, John Clare." On the 8th he wrote a note to Mr. Hopkins:
"Why I am shut up I don't know." And on the 9th he answered his "dear
Daughter Sophia's letter," saying that he was "not quite so well to
write" as he had been, and (presumably in reply to some offer of books
or comforts) "I want nothing from Home to come here. I shall be glad
to see you when you come." In the course of 1860 he was photographed,
and that the Northampton folk still took an interest in their poet is
proved by the sale of these likenesses; copies could be seen in the
shops until recent years. But that Clare might have been set at large
seems not to have occurred to those who in curiosity purchased his
portrait. A visitor named John Plummer went to the asylum in 1861, and
found Clare reading in the window recess of a very comfortable room.
"Time had dealt kindly with him," he wrote. "It was in vain that we
strove to arrest his attention: he merely looked at us with a vacant
gaze for a moment, and then went on reading his book." This was
possibly rather the action of sanity than of insanity. Yet Plummer did
his best, in _Once a Week_ and elsewhere, to call attention to
the forgotten poet, who was visited soon afterwards by the worthy
Nonconformist Paxton Hood, and presently by Joseph Whitaker, the
publisher of the "Almanack."
Clare became patriarchal in appearance; and his powers failed more
rapidly, until he could walk no longer. A wheel-chair was procured for
him, that he might still enjoy the garden and the open air. On Good
Friday in 1864 he was taken out for the last time; afterwards he could
not be moved, yet he would still manage to reach his window-seat; then
came paralysis, and on the afternoon of May the 20th, 1864,
His soul seemed with the free,
He died so quietly.
His last years had been spent in some degree of happiness, and
from officials and fellow-patients he had received gentleness, and
sympathy, and even homage. It has been said, not once nor twice but
many times, that in the asylum he was never visited by his wife, nor
by any of his children except the youngest son, Charles, who came
once. That any one should condemn Patty for her absence is surely
presumptuous in the extreme: she was now keeping her home together
with the greatest difficulty, nor can it be known what deeper motives
influenced relationships between wife and husband, even if the name of
Mary Joyce meant nothing. That the children came to see their father
whenever they could, the letters given above signify: but, if the
opportunities were not many, there were the strongest of reasons.
Frederick died in 1843, just after Clare's incarceration: Anna in the
year following: Charles the youngest, a boy of great promise, in 1852:
and Sophia in 1863. William, and John who went to Wales, went when
occasion came and when they could afford the expense of the journey:
Eliza, who survived last of Clare's children and who most of all
understood him and his poetry, was unable through illness to leave her
home for many years, yet she went once to see him. The isolation which
found its expression in "I Am" was another matter: it was the sense of
futility, of not having fulfilled his mission, of total eclipse
that spoke there. N. P. Willis, perhaps the Howitts, and a few more
worthies came for brief hours to see Clare, rather as a phenomenon
than as a poet; but Clare, who had sat with Elia and his assembled
host, who had held his own with the finest brains of his time and had
written such a cornucopia of genuine poetry now lying useless in his
cottage at Northborough, cannot but have regarded the Northampton
Asylum as "the shipwreck of his own esteems."
Clare was buried on May 25th, 1864, where he had wished to be, in the
churchyard at Helpston. The letter informing Mrs. Clare of his death
was delivered at the wrong address, and did not eventually reach her
at Northborough before Clare's coffin arrived at Helpston; scarcely
giving her time to attend the funeral the next day. Indeed, had the
sexton at Helpston been at home, the bearers would have urged him to
arrange for the funeral at once; in his absence, they left the coffin
in an inn parlour for the night, and a scandal was barely prevented.
A curious superstition grew up locally that it was not Clare's body
which was buried in that coffin: and among those who attended the last
rite, not one but found it almost impossible to connect this episode
with those days forty years before, when so many a notable man
was seen making through Helpston village for the cottage of the
eager-eyed, brilliant, unwearying young poet who was the talk of
London. After such a long silence and oblivion, even the mention
of John Clare's name in his native village awoke odd feelings of
The poetry of John Clare, originally simple description of the country
and countrymen, or ungainly imitation of the poetic tradition as he
knew it through Allan Ramsay, Burns, and the popular writers of the
eighteenth century, developed into a capacity for exact and complete
nature-poetry and for self-expression. Thoroughly awake to all the
finest influences in life and in literature, he devoted himself to
poetry in every way. Imagination, colour, melody and affection were
his by nature; where he lacked was in dramatic impulse and in passion,
and sometimes his incredible facility in verse, which enabled him to
complete poem after poem without pause or verbal difficulty, was not
his best friend. He possesses a technique of his own; his rhymes are
based on pronunciation, the Northamptonshire pronunciation to which
his ear had been trained, and thus he accurately joins "stoop" and
"up," or "horse" and "cross" - while his sonnets are free and often
unique in form. In spite of his individual manner, there is no poet
who in his nature-poetry so completely subdues self and mood and deals
with the topic for its own sake. That he is by no means enslaved to
nature-poetry, the variety of the poems in this selection must show.
His Asylum Poems are distinct from most of the earlier work. They are
often the expressions of his love tragedy, yet strange to say they
are not often sad or bitter: imagination conquers, and the tragedy
vanishes. They are rhythmically new, the movement having changed from
that of quiet reflection to one of lyrical enthusiasm: even nature
is now seen in brighter colours and sung in subtler music. Old age
bringing ever intenser recollection and childlike vision found Clare
writing the light lovely songs which bear no slightest sign of the
cruel years. So near in these later poems are sorrow and joy that they
awaken deeper feelings and instincts than almost any other lyrics
can - emotions such as he shares with us in his "Adieu!":
I left the little birds
And sweet lowing of the herds,
And couldn't find out words,
Do you see,
To say to them good-bye,
Where the yellowcups do lie;
So heaving a deep sigh,
Took to sea....
In this sort of pathos, so indefinable and intimate, William Blake and
only he can be said to resemble him.
EARLY POEMS -
What is Life
*The Maid of Ocram, or Lord Gregory
The Gipsy's Camp
The Wood-cutter's Night Song
Rural Morning Song
The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story
*To Anna Three Years Old
*From "The Parish: A Satire"
Nobody Cometh to Woo
MIDDLE PERIOD, 1824-1836 -
*The Old Cottagers
*Letter in Verse
Farewell and Defiance to Love
To John Milton
The Vanities of Life
*The Fallen Elm
*Sport in the Meadows
A World for Love
Nature's Hymn to the Deity
*The Cellar Door
The Shepherd's Tree
The Firetail's Nest
The Fear of Flowers
Emmonsail's Heath in Winter
Pleasures of Fancy
The Thrush's Nest
November Earth's Eternity
*Signs of Winter
*Birds in Alarm
The Beautiful Stranger
*"The Lass with the Delicate Air"
*Love and Solitude
ASYLUM POEMS -
*The Frightened Ploughman
*Farewell The Old Year
*The Winter's Come
Bonnie Lassie O!
*Meet Me in the Green Glen
*Love Cannot Die
*The Crow Sat on the Willow
*Now is Past
*The Maid of Jerusalem
*Thou Flower of Summer
The Sleep of Spring
Bonny Mary O!
Where She Told Her Love
*Invitation to Eternity
*The Maple Tree
*House or Window Flies
*From "A Rhapsody"
*Peggy's the Lady of the Hall
*I Dreamt of Robin
*The Peasant Poet
*To John Clare
Graves of Infants
The Dying Child
Love Lives Beyond the Tomb
*Fragment: A Specimen of Clare's rough drafts A Bibliographical
Poems with asterisks are now first printed, or in one or two cases now
A faithless shepherd courted me,
He stole away my liberty.
When my poor heart was strange to men,
He came and smiled and stole it then.
When my apron would hang low,
Me he sought through frost and snow.
When it puckered up with shame,
And I sought him, he never came.
When summer brought no fears to fright,
He came to guard me every night.
When winter nights did darkly prove,
None came to guard me or to love.
I wish, I wish, but all in vain,
I wish I was a maid again.
A maid again I cannot be,
O when will green grass cover me?
Mary, leave thy lowly cot
When thy thickest jobs are done;
When thy friends will miss thee not,
Mary, to the pastures run.
Where we met the other night
Neath the bush upon the plain,
Be it dark or be it light,
Ye may guess we'll meet again.
Should ye go or should ye not,
Never shilly-shally, dear.
Leave your work and leave your cot,
Nothing need ye doubt or fear:
Fools may tell ye lies in spite,
Calling me a roving swain;
Think what passed the other night -
I'll be bound ye'll meet again.
The sinking sun is taking leave,
And sweetly gilds the edge of Eve,
While huddling clouds of purple dye
Gloomy hang the western sky.
Crows crowd croaking over head,
Hastening to the woods to bed.
Cooing sits the lonely dove,
Calling home her absent love.
With "Kirchup! Kirchup!" mong the wheats
Partridge distant partridge greets;
Beckoning hints to those that roam,
That guide the squandered covey home.
Swallows check their winding flight,
And twittering on the chimney light.
Round the pond the martins flirt,
Their snowy breasts bedaubed with dirt,
While the mason, neath the slates,
Each mortar-bearing bird awaits:
By art untaught, each labouring spouse
Curious daubs his hanging house.
Bats flit by in hood and cowl;
Through the barn-hole pops the owl;
From the hedge, in drowsy hum,
Heedless buzzing beetles bum,
Haunting every bushy place,
Flopping in the labourer's face.
Now the snail hath made its ring;
And the moth with snowy wing
Circles round in winding whirls,
Through sweet evening's sprinkled pearls,
On each nodding rush besprent;
Dancing on from bent to bent;
Now to downy grasses clung,
Resting for a while he's hung;
Then, to ferry oer the stream,
Vanishing as flies a dream;
Playful still his hours to keep,
Till his time has come to sleep;
In tall grass, by fountain head,
Weary then he drops to bed.
From the hay-cock's moistened heaps,
Startled frogs take vaunting leaps;
And along the shaven mead,
Jumping travellers, they proceed:
Quick the dewy grass divides,
Moistening sweet their speckled sides;
From the grass or flowret's cup,
Quick the dew-drop bounces up.
Now the blue fog creeps along,
And the bird's forgot his song:
Flowers now sleep within their hoods;
Daisies button into buds;
From soiling dew the butter-cup
Shuts his golden jewels up;
And the rose and woodbine they
Wait again the smiles of day.
Neath the willow's wavy boughs,
Dolly, singing, milks her cows;
While the brook, as bubbling by,
Joins in murmuring melody.
Dick and Dob, with jostling joll,
Homeward drag the rumbling roll;
Whilom Ralph, for Doll to wait,
Lolls him o'er the pasture gate.
Swains to fold their sheep begin;
Dogs loud barking drive them in.
Hedgers now along the road
Homeward bend beneath their load;
And from the long furrowed seams,
Ploughmen loose their weary teams:
Ball, with urging lashes wealed,
Still so slow to drive a-field,
Eager blundering from the plough,
Wants no whip to drive him now;
At the stable-door he stands,
Looking round for friendly hands
To loose the door its fastening pin,
And let him with his corn begin.
Round the yard, a thousand ways,
Beasts in expectation gaze,
Catching at the loads of hay
Passing fodderers tug away.
Hogs with grumbling, deafening noise,
Bother round the server boys;
And, far and near, the motley group
Anxious claim their suppering-up.
From the rest, a blest release,
Gabbling home, the quarreling geese
Seek their warm straw-littered shed,
And, waddling, prate away to bed.
Nighted by unseen delay,
Poking hens, that lose their way,
On the hovel's rafters rise,
Slumbering there, the fox's prize.
Now the cat has ta'en her seat,
With her tail curled round her feet;
Patiently she sits to watch
Sparrows fighting on the thatch.
Now Doll brings the expected pails,
And dogs begin to wag their tails;
With strokes and pats they're welcomed in,
And they with looking wants begin;
Slove in the milk-pail brimming o'er,
She pops their dish behind the door.
Prone to mischief boys are met,
Neath the eaves the ladder's set,
Sly they climb in softest tread,
To catch the sparrow on his bed;
Massacred, O cruel pride!
Dashed against the ladder's side.
Curst barbarians! pass me by;
Come not, Turks, my cottage nigh;
Sure my sparrows are my own,
Let ye then my birds alone.
Come, poor birds, from foes severe
Fearless come, you're welcome here;
My heart yearns at fate like yours,
A sparrow's life's as sweet as ours.
Hardy clowns! grudge not the wheat
Which hunger forces birds to eat:
Your blinded eyes, worst foes to you,
Can't see the good which sparrows do.
Did not poor birds with watching rounds
Pick up the insects from your grounds,
Did they not tend your rising grain,
You then might sow to reap in vain.
Thus Providence, right understood,
Whose end and aim is doing good,
Sends nothing here without its use;
Though ignorance loads it with abuse,
And fools despise the blessing sent,
And mock the Giver's good intent. -
O God, let me what's good pursue,
Let me the same to others do
As I'd have others do to me,
And learn at least humanity.
Dark and darker glooms the sky;
Sleep gins close the labourer's eye:
Dobson leaves his greensward seat,
Neighbours where they neighbours meet
Crops to praise, and work in hand,
And battles tell from foreign land.
While his pipe is puffing out,
Sue he's putting to the rout,
Gossiping, who takes delight
To shool her knitting out at night,
And back-bite neighbours bout the town -
Who's got new caps, and who a gown,
And many a thing, her evil eye
Can see they don't come honest by.
Chattering at a neighbour's house,
She hears call out her frowning spouse;
Prepared to start, she soodles home,
Her knitting twisting oer her thumb,
As, both to leave, afraid to stay,
She bawls her story all the way;
The tale so fraught with 'ticing charms,
Her apron folded oer her arms.
She leaves the unfinished tale, in pain,
To end as evening comes again:
And in the cottage gangs with dread,
To meet old Dobson's timely frown,
Who grumbling sits, prepared for bed,
While she stands chelping bout the town.
The night-wind now, with sooty wings,
In the cotter's chimney sings;
Now, as stretching oer the bed,
Soft I raise my drowsy head,
Listening to the ushering charms,
That shake the elm tree's mossy arms:
Till sweet slumbers stronger creep,
Deeper darkness stealing round,
Then, as rocked, I sink to sleep,
Mid the wild wind's lulling sound.
_What is Life?_
And what is Life? - An hour-glass on the run,
A mist retreating from the morning sun,
A busy, bustling, still repeated dream;
Its length? - A minute's pause, a moment's thought;
And happiness?-A bubble on the stream,
That in the act of seizing shrinks to nought.
What are vain Hopes? - The puffing gale of morn,
That of its charms divests the dewy lawn,
And robs each floweret of its gem, - and dies;
A cobweb hiding disappointment's thorn,
Which stings more keenly through the thin disguise.
And thou, O Trouble? - Nothing can suppose,
(And sure the power of wisdom only knows,)
What need requireth thee:
So free and liberal as thy bounty flows,
Some necessary cause must surely be;
But disappointments, pains, and every woe
Devoted wretches feel,
The universal plagues of life below,
Are mysteries still neath Fate's unbroken seal.
And what is Death? is still the cause unfound?
That dark, mysterious name of horrid sound?
A long and lingering sleep, the weary crave.
And Peace? where can its happiness abound? -
No where at all, save heaven, and the grave.
Then what is Life? - When stripped of its disguise,
A thing to be desired it cannot be;
Since every thing that meets our foolish eyes
Gives proof sufficient of its vanity.
Tis but a trial all must undergo;
To teach unthankful mortals how to prize
That happiness vain man's denied to know,
Until he's called to claim it in the skies.
_The Maid Of Ocram or, Lord Gregory_
Gay was the Maid of Ocram
As lady eer might be
Ere she did venture past a maid
To love Lord Gregory.
Fair was the Maid of Ocram
And shining like the sun
Ere her bower key was turned on two
Where bride bed lay for none.
And late at night she sought her love -
The snow slept on her skin -
Get up, she cried, thou false young man,
And let thy true love in.
And fain would he have loosed the key
All for his true love's sake,
But Lord Gregory then was fast asleep,
His mother wide awake.
And up she threw the window sash,
And out her head put she:
And who is that which knocks so late
And taunts so loud to me?
It is the Maid of Ocram,
Your own heart's next akin;
For so you've sworn, Lord Gregory,
To come and let me in.
O pause not thus, you know me well,
Haste down my way to win.
The wind disturbs my yellow locks,
The snow sleeps on my skin. -
If you be the Maid of Ocram,
As much I doubt you be,
Then tell me of three tokens
That passed with you and me. -
O talk not now of tokens
Which you do wish to break;
Chilled are those lips you've kissed so warm,
And all too numbed to speak.
You know when in my father's bower
You left your cloak for mine,
Though yours was nought but silver twist
And mine the golden twine. -
If you're the lass of Ocram,
As I take you not to be,
The second token you must tell
Which past with you and me. -
O know you not, O know you not
Twas in my father's park,
You led me out a mile too far
And courted in the dark?
When you did change your ring for mine
My yielding heart to win,
Though mine was of the beaten gold
Yours but of burnished tin,
Though mine was all true love without,
Yours but false love within?
O ask me no more tokens
For fast the snow doth fall.
Tis sad to strive and speak in vain,
You mean to break them all. -
If you are the Maid of Ocram,
As I take you not to be,
You must mention the third token
That passed with you and me. -
Twas when you stole my maidenhead;
That grieves me worst of all. -
Begone, you lying creature, then
This instant from my hall,
Or you and your vile baby
Shall in the deep sea fall;
For I have none on earth as yet
That may me father call. -
O must none close my dying feet,
And must none close my hands,
And may none bind my yellow locks
As death for all demands?
You need not use no force at all,
Your hard heart breaks the vow;
You've had your wish against my will
And you shall have it now.
And must none close my dying feet,
And must none close my hands,
And will none do the last kind deeds
That death for all demands? -
Your sister, she may close your feet,
Your brother close your hands,
Your mother, she may wrap your waist
In death's fit wedding bands;
Your father, he may tie your locks
And lay you in the sands. -
My sister, she will weep in vain,
My brother ride and run,
My mother, she will break her heart;
And ere the rising sun
My father will be looking out -
But find me they will none.
I go to lay my woes to rest,
None shall know where I'm gone.
God must be friend and father both,
Lord Gregory will be none. -
Lord Gregory started up from sleep
And thought he heard a voice
That screamed full dreadful in his ear,
And once and twice and thrice.
Lord Gregory to his mother called:
O mother dear, said he,
I've dreamt the Maid of Ocram
Was floating on the sea.
Lie still, my son, the mother said,
Tis but a little space
And half an hour has scarcely passed
Since she did pass this place. -
O cruel, cruel mother,
When she did pass so nigh
How could you let me sleep so sound
Or let her wander bye?
Now if she's lost my heart must break -
I'll seek her till I die.
He sought her east, he sought her west,
He sought through park and plain;
He sought her where she might have been
But found her not again.
I cannot curse thee, mother,
Though thine's the blame, said he
I cannot curse thee, mother,
Though thou'st done worse to me.
Yet do I curse thy pride that aye
So tauntingly aspires;
For my love was a gay knight's heir,
And my father was a squire's.
And I will sell my park and hall;
And if ye wed again
Ye shall not wed for titles twice
That made ye once so vain.
So if ye will wed, wed for love,
As I was fain to do;
Ye've gave to me a broken heart,
And I'll give nought to you.
Your pride has wronged your own heart's blood;
For she was mine by grace,
And now my lady love is gone
None else shall take her place.
I'll sell my park and sell my hall
And sink my titles too.
Your pride's done wrong enough as now
To leave it more to do.
She owneth none that owned them all
And would have graced them well;
None else shall take the right she missed
Nor in my bosom dwell. -
And then he took and burnt his will
Before his mother's face,
And tore his patents all in two,
While tears fell down apace -
But in his mother's haughty look
Ye nought but frowns might trace.
And then he sat him down to grieve,
But could not sit for pain.
And then he laid him on the bed
And ne'er got up again.
_The Gipsy's Camp_
How oft on Sundays, when I'd time to tramp,
My rambles led me to a gipsy's camp,
Where the real effigy of midnight hags,
With tawny smoked flesh and tattered rags,
Uncouth-brimmed hat, and weather-beaten cloak,
Neath the wild shelter of a knotty oak,
Along the greensward uniformly pricks
Her pliant bending hazel's arching sticks:
While round-topt bush, or briar-entangled hedge,
Where flag-leaves spring beneath, or ramping sedge,
Keeps off the bothering bustle of the wind,