Friday, July 13, 2007

Poetry Friday 58

Today is the birthday of the rural poet John Clare, of whose poetry Edmund Blunden was a champion.


The water-lilies on the meadow stream
Again spread out their leaves of glossy green;
And some, yet young, of a rich copper gleam,
Scarce open, in the sunny stream are seen,
Throwing a richness upon Leisure's eye,
That thither wanders in a vacant joy;
While on the sloping banks, luxuriantly,
Tending of horse and cow, the chubby boy,
In self-delighted whims, will often throw
Pebbles, to hit and splash their sunny leaves;
Yet quickly dry again, they shine and glow
Like some rich vision that his eye deceives;
Spreading above the water, day by day,
In dangerous deeps, yet out of danger's way.

Clare was born in Nottinghamshire on July 13, 1793 and may be the poorest person to ever become a major writer in English literature. His father was a peasant farmer and the family often had to live off the proceeds from a single apple tree in their yard. Clare went to the village school between the ages of five and eleven, and having learnt to read and write, he decided that he wanted to write poetry.

He was forced to support himself by working as a farm labourer. Malnutrition had stunted his growth and he was never more than 5 feet tall, so he couldn't do any heavy work. Most of the time he weeded, stacked hay bales and looked after the animals. Since he couldn't afford to buy paper, he made his own from birch bark; he also made his own ink. However some of his poems were written on old envelopes.

Whilst other romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Keats, were writing nature poetry they wrote about nature as a metaphor for something else. Clare, however, always tried to write about nature as it was, the thing itself.

His first poetry book came out in 1820 and the fact that he was a peasant helped to make it a bestseller. However, there was a bank crash a few years later, and then a recession in England so his books sold fewer and fewer copies, and he eventually moved back to the farm.

John Clare wrote: "I live here among the ignorant like a lost man ... they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings." He began suffering from a psychiatric disorder and his behavior became more and more erratic. He began seeing things such as spirits and demons, and was committed to an asylum where he forgot who he was; at some points he thought he was Lord Byron, and wrote some poems in Byron's style. He escaped from the asylum at one point but was returned and lived there for the rest of his life.

In all Clare wrote about 3,500 poems of which only 400 were published in his lifetime, and his great importance as an English poet has only become clear in the last few decades, in part due to the work begun by Edmund Blunden, himself a Nature poet even in the midst of the First World War.

Today's Poetry Friday round up will be hosted by Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that's quite a life's story. Thanks.

Michele said...

Isn't it interesting ?

Mary Lee said...

I read about him on A Writers' Almanac, but there was no poem. Thanks for filling in the blanks!

Michele said...

You're welcome !!

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating story. I'll have to look for more of his work!

Michele said...

Do Kelly !!