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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

John Clare: "Peasant" poet

Although we don't normally think of England having a peasantry in the European tradition, the Encyclopedia Britannica calls John Clare a "peasant" poet. Clare was the son of a farm laborer and had little education, but made a splash with his first book of poetry. People like Charles Lamb took up a subscription so Clare would have an income and be free to write, but it wasn't enough to support his subsequent seven children and indigent father.  Clare ended his life in poverty. Britannica calls Clare a "Romantic" poet, but the poem below, which I liked for its matter-of-fact description of the natural world with no attempts at varnish, is far different from, say, Wordsworth and his ecstatic utterances about daffodils and solitary reapers. It's hard to image John Clare would miss the intense, back breaking labor of a reaper or the ugliness she might see the way Wordsworth does. 

John Clare seems to me less Romantic poet than a precursor to Hardy, at least in the verse below:

John Clare, "The Mouse's Nest"

I found a ball of grass among the hay
And proged it as I passed and went away
And when I looked I fancied something stirred
And turned again and hoped to catch the bird
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheat
With all her young ones hanging at her teats
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me
I ran and wondered what the thing could be
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood
When the mouse hurried from the crawling brood
The young ones squeaked and when I went away
She found her nest again among the hay.
The water o’er the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.

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