John Clare: Beginner's Luck


[This talk was prepared by Edmund Blunden for the 1964 centenary of Clare's death, and was published as a pamphlet in 1971 by Bridge Books / Kent Editions, in an edition of 250, to celebrate Blunden's 75th birthday]

     My purpose on this occasion is to give some account of amateur researches which have yielded greater results than those who under­took them could have counted on, although there were faith and fire within them. To judge by anthologies, broadcast programmes, the books of new poets, the catalogues of famous book-collections and other evidences, the reputation of John Clare is now considerable and probably lasting. In 1964 he will be honoured by many, including lovers of our literature from other nations, at his county town Northampton, his familiar city Peterborough, and sundry places besides: the Aldeburgh Festival will include a Clare occasion. Numerous publications on and of his poems are in preparation: the Oxford edition in several volumes may of course take longer to appear than the selections of which I am told. It is noteworthy that Clare attracts some whose first interest or training is not literary.

The rest of this talk may be found on
http://johnclareephemera.blogspot.co.uk/p/john-clare-beginners-luck.html

The link also appears on the left hand side of this posting... John Clare Ephemera

At the foot of Clifford Hill














Who loves the white-thorn tree,
And the river running free?
There a maiden stood with me
In Summer weather.
Near a cottage far from town,
While the sun went brightly down
O'er the meadows green and brown,
We loved together.

How sweet her drapery flowed,
While the moor-cock oddly crowed;
I took the kiss which love bestowed,
Under the white-thorn tree.
Soft winds the water curled,
The trees their branches furled;
Sweetest nook in all the world
Is where she stood with me.

Calm came the evening air,
The sky was sweet and fair,
In the river shadowed there,
Close by the hawthorn tree.
Round her neck I clasped my arms,
And kissed her rosy charms;
O'er the flood the hackle swarms,
Where the maiden stood with me.

O there's something falls so dear
On the music of the ear,
Where the river runs so clear,
And my lover met with me.
At the foot of Clifford Hill
Still I hear the clacking mill,
And the river's running still
Under the trysting tree.


J.L. Cherry, 'Life and Remains of John Clare'
(London and Northampton: Frederick Warne and J. Taylor and Son, 1873)

from "October"

Like to a painted map the landscape lies
And wild above shine the cloud thronged skies
The flying clouds urged on in swiftest pace
Like living things as if they runned a race
The winds that oer each coming tempest broods
Waking like spirits in their startling moods
Fluttering the sear leaves on the blackning lea
That litters under every fading tree
And pausing oft as falls the patting rain
Then gathering strength and twirling them again
Till drops the sudden calm—the hurried mill
Is stopt at once and every noise is still
The startld stockdove hurried wizzing bye
As the still hawk hangs oer him in the sky
Crows from the oak trees quawking as they spring
Dashing the acorns down wi beating wing


The Shepherd's Calendar, with Village Stories, and Other Poems (1827)

Ive sung farewell...

[Image : Anne Lee]

No idea of the context?  A young friend's death possibly? From a mid-1820s manuscript.  I must admit I immediately thought of Clare's return to Northborough in 1841, it being three years after Mary Joyce had died in 1838.  But the poem is much too early, and the 'scarce lived out fifteen' line rendered meaningless.

Ive sung farewell in many a rhyme
to pleasures that are fled
& I have thought me many a time
oer [my loved ones] cold & dead
but little thought when thus I sung
[and wandered neath the moon]
to one so fair so loved & young
could find a grave so soon.
The daisy now three years hath grown
above thy bed so green
and hadst thou been as living yet
& thou a flower the fairest known
scarce lived out fifteen

John Clare, Poems of the Middle Period
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and P.M.S. Dawson
Volumes I-II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996); Volumes III-IV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)

'Come maiden dear maiden...' (excerpt)
























[Image: Anne Lee]

Come maiden dear maiden a beautiful troop
Of images now the young morning doth wear
The lark leaves her nest & the dew splashes up
As she flies through the clover & sings in the air

The bushes that rustle & catch at thy gown
The trees that thy pathway envelopes in leaves
The grass smooth as velvet runs green up and down
& from the young morning a rapture receives

& from the green hedge that the path brushes nigh
The flight of a bird shakes the rain in the place
& the blackbird frit off from her nest rushing bye
Shakes a shower on the path that will sprinkle thy face

John Clare, Poems of the Middle Period,
ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell and P.M.S. Dawson

The Lovers Meeting (excerpt)
















 







   
  [Image : 'Shadows in a Winter Wood' by Nora S. Unwin]

When day declining usher'd to a Close
& evening silence bid the world repose
& deep'ning darkness hover'd oer the grove
Compell'd (not weary with the joys of love)
We fearless ventur'd from the blissfull seat
& blest the night that kept us still discreet
Unheeded home ward down the dusky plain
I led my charmer to her home again

& as weak troubles discompos'd her breast
I vow'd to love & kiss'd its fears to rest—
‘O do you love me? sighs the timerous maid
‘Will you still come?—I really am afraid
‘—O am I not Or am I to complain?—
‘When will you come?—O will you come again?
‘—Stay Strephon stay—I cannot let you go
‘Promise me truly—will to morrow do?’

Roger Rowe & Anne Lee
John Clare Cottage Press (2014)

(Handmade, numbered, limited edition copies still available from me at £35 inc. P&P - just leave a comment here, or send me a message on Facebook - 'Roger Arborfield')

Rural Morning (excerpt)

[Image: Clare Leighton]

Soon as the twilight through the distant mist 
In silver hemmings skirts the purple east, 
Ere yet the sun unveils his smiles to view 
And dries the morning's chilly robes of dew, 
Young Hodge the horse-boy, with a soodly gait, 
Slow climbs the stile, or opes the creaky gate, 
With willow switch and halter by his side 
Prepared for Dobbin, whom he means to ride; 
The only tune he knows still whistling oer, 
And humming scraps his father sung before, 
As "Wantley Dragon," and the "Magic Rose," 
The whole of music that his village knows, 
Which wild remembrance, in each little town, 
From mouth to mouth through ages handles down. 
Onward he jolls, nor can the minstrel-throngs 
Entice him once to listen to their songs; 
Nor marks he once a blossom on his way; 
A senseless lump of animated clay— 

In hobbling speed he roams the pasture round,
Till hunted Dobbin and the rest are found;
Where some, from frequent meddlings of his whip,
Well know their foe, and often try to slip;
While Dobbin, tamed by age and labour, stands
To meet all trouble from his brutish hands,
And patient goes to gate or knowly brake,
The teasing burden of his foe to take;
Who, soon as mounted, with his switching weals,
Puts Dob's best swiftness in his heavy heels,
The toltering bustle of a blundering trot
Which whips and cudgels neer increased a jot,
Though better speed was urged by the clown--
And thus he snorts and jostles to the town.

The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems (2 volumes, 1821)