Hi… It’s Dave here.
‘The Deep Power of Joy’.
These are the words that the poet Wordsworth used to describe the writing of John Clare… Also known as the Peasant Poet!
Living in the troubles times that we do, I thought I would try to bring some words and poems to light.
I had lost or mislaid these books some time ago, and of course whilst looking for something else… there they were lurking, with some other ‘lost’ books. Lost of course means that I simply didn’t know where they were. These particular faves are books of poetry by John Clare.
You see in this digital age, I find it all too easy to listen to audiobooks, and, I have to say that if ever I need a distraction from the ‘real’ world then it’s either Music or Spoken Word… be it Podcasts or Audible. (Other Audiobook platforms are available!)
John Clare (1793-1864) is a firm favourite for me. I guess that as a country boy at heart I can easily identify with so much of his work.
He was born in the village of Helpston, Cambridgeshire in 1793 and unlike his parents, he learned to read and write…
By the age of 7, he was helping on farms to supplement the family income but continued with his schooling until he was about 12 years old. He had worked at a local Pub and he fell in love with a Mary Joyce, a local farmer’s daughter. But alas the farmer forbade him to see her and this affected him for many years (in fact, it was his undoing). He had many different positions after that including working as a gardener at Burghley House, being enlisted into the Militia, and even living with gypsies. Nature and his surrounding countryside were foremost in his mind.
In 1820 he offered some of his writings and poems to a local book merchant who in turn sent them to the same publisher as Keats! It sold well. “Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery”. He became popular with the ‘London’ set, this book was followed by “Village Minstrel and Other Poems”. He received much acclaim for these works, with critics openly bemused by the “poetical genius who came before them, in humble labourers garb“!!
To cut a very very long story short, John never got over his first love (Mary) and although later in 1820 he married Martha and was to father 9 children by 1823 he was broke and penniless. He had received an annuity from the Marquess of Exeter, but this was insufficient. He wrote another fine book ‘The Shepherds Calendar’ in 1827 which unfortunately did not sell well. He continued with farm work to supplement his income, but by now his health was failing. Depression had set in and he was drinking heavily.
His last book “Rural Muse”, whilst gaining critical acclaim, did not sell well enough to support his family, and this was a tipping point for poor John Clare. He admitted himself into an Asylum in 1837 and continued to write prolifically. But four years later he absconded and decided to walk home, some ninety miles, convinced that he was married to his first love Mary!
Unfortunately, his real wife Martha had to call the doctor in, and he was committed to the ‘Asylum’ in Northants in 1841. His time there was paid for by Earl Fitzwilliam, and he remained there for twenty-three years until his death in 1864. He continued to write, and wrote what is probably his most notable work, “I Am”, whilst incarcerated. This has been made famous following this scene from the TV series, Penny Dreadful… and rightly so.
I love his work, and although often melancholy, I find it real.
‘Careless Ramble’ by John Clare.
I love to wander at my idle will
In Summer’s luscious prime about the fields
And kneel when thirsty at the little rill
To sip the draught its pebbly bottom yields
And, where the maple bush its fountain shields,
To lie and rest a swaily hour away
And crop the swelling peasecod from the land
Or ‘mid the upland’s woodland walk to stray
Where oaks for aye o’er their old shadows stand
‘Neath whose dark foliage with a welcome hand
I pluck the luscious strawberry ripe and red
As beauty’s lips, and in my fancy’s dreams
As ‘mid the velvet moss I musing tread,
Feel life as lovely as her picture seems.
And these my friends were the words of a madman!
If you get a chance, please have a read of some of his poems and prose. Finally, I will leave you with this brilliant quote…
Take care, stay safe…