Romance Poet: John Clare

Romance Poet: John Clare

John Clare  (1793–1864)

by William Hilton, oil on canvas, 1820

 

John Clare is “the quintessential Romantic poet,” according to William Howard writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. With an admiration of nature and an understanding of the oral tradition, but with little formal education, Clare penned numerous poems and prose pieces, many of which were only published posthumously. His works gorgeously illuminate the natural world and rural life, and depict his love for his wife Patty and for his childhood sweetheart Mary Joyce. Though his first book, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820), was popular with readers and critics alike, Clare struggled professionally for much of his life. His work only became widely read some hundred years after his death.

Clare was born into a peasant family in Helpston, England. Although he was the son of illiterate parents, Clare received some formal schooling, but it ended when he was eleven years old. This child of the ‘unwearying eye’ had a thirst for knowledge and became a model example of the self-taught man. As a poet of rural England he has few rivals. While earning money through such manual labor as ploughing and threshing, Clare recorded the massive changes in both town and countryside in his poems and prose.

Clare published several volumes of poetry, including Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery in 1820. Sadly, the public’s enthusiasm did not last long and each new volume met with diminishing applause. In 1837, after suffering from delusions, Clare was admitted to an insane asylum where, aside from one brief time in 1841, he spent the final 20 years of his life.

John Clare on Poetry Foundation

 

First Love

I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start—
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.

Meet Me in the Green Glen

Love, meet me in the green glen,
Beside the tall elm-tree,
Where the sweetbriar smells so sweet agen;
There come with me.
Meet me in the green glen.

Meet me at the sunset
Down in the green glen,
Where we’ve often met
By hawthorn-tree and foxes’ den,
Meet me in the green glen.

Meet me in the green glen,
By sweetbriar bushes there;
Meet me by your own sen,
Where the wild thyme blossoms fair.
Meet me in the green glen.

Meet me by the sweetbriar,
By the mole-hill swelling there;
When the west glows like a fire
God’s crimson bed is there.
Meet me in the green glen.

Song #4

I wish I was where I would be,
With love alone to dwell,
Was I but her or she but me,
Then love would all be well.
I wish to send my thoughts to her
As quick as thoughts can fly,
But as the winds the waters stir
The mirrors change and fly.

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