John Clare, the ‘Northamptonshire peasant poet’.

.JOHN CLARE- 1793-1864

spring lamb

 John Clare, ‘The Northamptonshire peasant poet’ is often overlooked, but I think he is one of the great Victorian poets.

The son of a humble farm labourer and almost illiterate mother, Clare grew up in Helpston, a village in Northamptonshire. Despite having little formal education, Clare became an outstanding poet and arguably ranks alongside other great poets of his time, such as Browning, Byron and Wordsworth.

Clare loved the English countryside and was troubled when the industrial revolution destroyed much of his beloved rural Northamptonshire and the lives of those who lived there.  Many poor agricultural labourers and children left their villages in the early nineteenth century to work in the new factories in order to prevent them from starving.

Clare started to write poems and sonnets, reflecting his powerful feelings on the subject. He decided to publish his Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery in 1820 to make money to hold off his family’s eviction from their home. Although he was initially successful, he struggled to provide for his family throughout his life and never came to terms with the social changes in his life, believing he did not fit in with his former poor neighbours or his new-found London poet friends.

John Clare was a complicated, often unstable character, who suffered from frequent bouts of physical and mental illnesses.   Plagued by debt, he ended up in an asylum, where he died in 1864.

‘Young Spring Lambs’ is one of my favourite poems by John Clare.

Young Spring Lambs

The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two—till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe,
And then another, sheltered from the wind,
Lies all his length as dead—and lets me go
Close bye and never stirs but baking lies,
With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.

 

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3 Comments

  1. lovely thanks – buried under work so it lifted my spirits. xxxx

  2. Good to hear Anne, thank you.

  3. He is one of the greatest of English poets misunderstood in his time by even the likes of Keats and co who recognised his genius but did not understand his instinctive calling as the first true nature poet. They themselves still believed in the primacy of Greek and Roman myth and assumed this was a poets highest calling when in fact he was the first true modern. Such abnormal hypersensitivity along with the loss of his first love Mary eventually lead to his madness and permanent incarceration. I hope he had at least an inkling of his greatness and historic importance before he died. I have his collected works at home and revisit it many times and am always amazd at the talent of this hard-working son of the soil and lover of the English landscape prior to the depredations of enclosure.

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