POETRY IN LOCKDOWN 17
John Clare was born in 1793, his background so poor that he would be known as the peasant poet. Self-educated he had a brief period of fame as a published poet in London in the 1820s, but otherwise lived hand-to-mouth and neglected in Northamptonshire with his wife Patty and their children. In 1747 his mental health (never strong) broke down completely and, for most of the last 27 years of his life, he lived apart from his family in an asylum.
Clare is best known as a nature poet though he was also a recorder of rural life, a satirist and a love poet of considerable power. When writing about nature Clare’s strength is that he communicates just what he sees, with a clarity that can take the breath away. The natural world for Clare is not a field in which to moralise, as it was even for Keats, who Clare has often been compared to. But Clare understood better than any other early 19th century poet that nature can exist in a poem without needing to deliver a thumping lesson.
This is an example of Clare’s almost casual brilliance, a few lines from his notebook about the effect of a sudden cloudburst. Unpublished in his lifetime they were never punctuated.
Clouds curl and curdle blue and grey
And dapple the young summers day
Through the torn woods the violent rain
Roars and rattles oer the plain
And bubbles up in every pool
Till dykes and ponds are brimming full
The thickening clouds move slowly on
Till all the many clouds are one
That spreads oer all the face of day
And turns the sunny shine to grey
Now the meadow water smokes
And hedgerows dripping oaks
Pitter patter all around
And dimple the once dusty ground
The spinners threads about the weeds
Are hung with little drops in beads
Clover silver green becomes
And purple blue surrounds the plums
And every place breathes fresh and fair
When morning pays her visit there