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John Clare

Who was John Clare?


John Clare, born on July 13th, 1793 in Helpston, United Kingdom, was an English poet known for his many works such as his collection of poems, The Rural Muse.
Today, Clare is known as one of the major 19th century poets.



Early Life and Early Career

John Clare was born on July 13th, 1793 in Helpston, United Kingdom. Raised on a farm by his father who was a poor field laborer and his mother who was illiterate, the opportunity to read and write as well as the passion for literature was never fruitful in Clare’s upbringing. With that being said, John Clare is known as the Peasant Poet for the reason that his formal education only spans for the ability to allow himself to read and write. As a child, he followed in his father's footsteps and began a career as a field worker. Malnutrition as well as excessive labor as a child explained his short stature as an adult. At the same time up until he was twelve, Clare attended school in Glinton church where he learned the absolute basics of reading and writing. After moving around multiple laboring jobs as a child, Clare decided to enlist in the militia for a year in 1817, camping with the gypsies and working as a lime burner. After doing this shortly, he began to accept unemployment, at the time known as parish relief. At that time, as his family was losing money, and he had no job, Clare bought a copy of James Thomson’s The Seasons, and began to write poetry and sonnets after finding an interest in Thomson’s work. He started offering his poetry to a local bookseller by the name of Edward Drury, who submitted this work to his cousin who owned the publishing company Taylor & Hessey. With the help of Drury, Clare’s first poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery were highly regarded, and he slowly began to make a name for himself in the literary field. Readers noticed the humble upbringing Clare had, and found it astonishing that this “Peasant Poet” could have such remarkable skill, especially when referencing nature and the common man’s issues.

Midlife

As his life continued, Clare married Martha “Patty” Turner in 1820. A salary of 15 guineas from the Marquess of Exeter, whom he worked for, was supplemented by subscription, so Clare was given £45 annually. At first, this was wonderful for Clare, as this was more than he had ever earned or was used to seeing. Soon however, as he continued to have more children and his health began declining; this amount of money was not enough for him, and in 1823 he was virtually bankrupt. His poems began having little success, and depression began creeping into Clare’s life. However, he trudged on, and began laboring again in the fields to keep food on the table. This lasted for a short period of time, as his illness became worse and worse. Although he loved poetry, he struggled being consisted with writing it as he needed to make consistent money to support his family. After his sixth child was born in 1830, Clare’s depression rapidly got worse, and his success in poetry kept declining. His friends decided to assist him and move all of their families as well as himself to a larger house in Northborough. Although this assisted in giving him a place to live, Clare only felt like more of a charity case, assisting in his crippling depression. His behavior and alcohol abuse became toxic, as his most notable instance of this was when he assaulted a person during the performance of a play.

Later Life and Death

After being considered a burden and danger to his family, Clare was suggested by a friend to go Dr. Matthew Allen’s private insane asylum in Loughton, Epping Forest. Although promised the best treatment, Clare began experiencing delusions and schizophrenic experiences. In 1841, he fled the asylum after an allusion that he was meeting his first love Mary Joyce to marry her. Although he never found her and ended up going back home to Martha, his illness continued, and five months later his wife admitted him into the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum. Here, he was assigned to stay there for life, where the inspiration of Dr. Thomas Octavious Prichard to write helped him continue to write some of his best poetry, such as "I Am."

Clare passed away on May 20th, 1864 at the age of 71. He was buried at his home in St. Botolph’s churchyard. To this day, children at the John Clare School, Helpston’s main school, hold a parade for this celebrated poet every year. Although the though of the nickname “The Peasant Poet” seems derogatory, Clare is appreciated by the middle and low class still to this day, as his ability to appeal to all walks of life is one that many can follow. This author proved that a lack of formal education does not have to limit one to a great career.







Poetry-
Clare found a publisher in 1818, just as his family was facing eviction from their cottage. Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery made Clare famous after it was published in 1820. His poems were primarily about the beauty of nature, rural life, and suffering. "I became a scribbler for downright pleasure in giving vent to my feelings...I wrote because it pleased me in sorrow and when happier it makes me happier and so I go on." As a Romantic poet, Clare displayed the natural world and the changing of seasons in his poems.


Poems:


I Am!


I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed


Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.


I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

Form and Meter: I Am is one of Clare's most famous poems known today. It is is written in iambic pentameter with three stanzas with six lines in each. The rhyme scheme in the first stanza is different than the last two. The first stanza has a rhyme scheme of ABABAB. The second and third stanza have a rhyme scheme of ABABCC. The way this poem is set up in form goes along with what the words say. The poem starts with a melancholy tone, but in the last stanza he seems to find a little more peace with the idea of death, which goes along with the change of rhyme scheme.

First Stanza: Lines 1-2 begin with "I am-yet what I am none cares of knows; my friends forsake me like a memory lost;" The speaker seems to be telling the reader that he exists, even though his friends do not care or notice him anymore. Clare uses alliteration in line two by repeating the Fs in "friends" and "forsake." He also repeats the letter M in "me" and "memory."
Line 3 says, "I am the self consumer of my woes-: The speaker seems to say that he feels depressed about his friends ignoring him, but he is the only one suffering because no one else cares. Line 4 says, "They rise and banish in oblivion's host," the speaker seems to say that these feelings woe come and go out of nowhere. At one moment he can suddenly feel depressed, but then it quickly disappears. Line 5 says, "Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes" The word "shadows" suggests that his woes don't have a physical existence, but they do exist. The word "frenzied" means crazy, while "stifled" means restrained. "Throes" are bad pains, therefore the speakers seems to suggest that this shadow experiences crazy, restrained pains from love. The speakers suggests that he wants the reader to understand that this is how he feels about his friends not caring about him. Line 6 says, "And yet I am, and live-like vapours tossed." Once again, the speaker says "I am" in order to show that he exists, but he lives like vapours tossed. This line suggests that even though the speaker exists, he feels like he is nothing.


Second Stanza: Lines 7-8 say, "Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, into the living sea of waking dreams," These lines seemed to be where he is suggesting his vapours are tossed. The "nothingness of scorn and noise" suggests that people are saying negative things against him, but none of it is true. The "living sea of waking dreams" could mean that he is going crazy and because the real world is mixing with his dream world. Maybe there is no separation because he does not talk to anyone, therefore everything is combined. Lines 9-10 state, "Where there is neither sense of life or joys, but the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;" Line 9 seems to suggest that there is nothing that makes the speaker happy nor is worth living. In line 10, the words "life's esteems" suggests that everything in his life that he once cared for or lived for, is destroyed. He does not have joy in his life anymore. Lines 11-12 say, "Even the dearest that I love the best Are strange-nay, rather stranger than the rest." There is a shift in these lines because the speaker starts talking about loved ones. He seems to suggest that the ones that he loved the most are strange. These lines are where the rhyme scheme changes, creating a couplet.

Third Stanza:
Lines 13-14 say, "I long for scenes where man hath never trod A place where woman never smiled or wept" The speaker seems to yearn for a place where no one has ever been, which shows his isolation again. Line 15-16 states, "There to abide with my Creator, God, And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept" Line 15 suggests that he wants to be with God, assuming that he means heaven. Line 16 suggests that he wants to be with God and sleep without any interruptions from anyone, just like when he was a baby. The allusion to a baby could represent innocence, which suggests that he may want to go back to when times were simpler, and he had no worries. Overall, it seems like the speaker does not want to be down on Earth with people who do not care about him. He wants to be up in heaven at peace. Overall, it seems like the speaker does not want to be down on Earth with people who do not care about him, but up in heaven in peace.
Lines 17-18 state, "Untroubling and untroubled where I lie The grass below—above the vaulted sky." The words "where I lie" suggest him being burried. He seems to want to die, but not just to be in the ground. The words, "above the vaulted sky," suggest heaven once again. The speaker seems to suggest that he wants his body to be buried and his spirit to be up in heaven with God.




The Nightingale's Nest
Up this green woodland-ride let’s softly rove,
And list the nightingale - she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love ;
For here I’ve heard her many a merry year -
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man’s-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o’er the road, and stops the way -
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails -
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ :
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel’s under boughs, I’ve nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bir
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as ’twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer’s fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain :
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs ;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast ;
The nightingale to summer’s life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter’s nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide -
Hark! there she is as usual - let’s be hush -
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious ’neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round ;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We’ll wade right through, it is a likely nook :
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They’ll build, where rude boys never think to look -
Aye, as I live ! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump ! I’ve searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by -
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird ! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles ; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops - as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We’ll leave it as we found it : safety’s guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on, sweet bird! may no worse hap befall
Thy visions, than the fear that now deceives.
We will not plunder music of its dower,
Nor turn this spot of happiness to thrall ;
For melody seems hid in every flower,
That blossoms near thy home. These harebells all
Seem bowing with the beautiful in song ;
And gaping cuckoo-flower, with spotted leaves,
Seems blushing of the singing it has heard.
How curious is the nest ; no other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots : dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within,
And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare,
What scarcely seem materials, down and hair ;
For from men’s haunts she nothing seems to win.
Yet Nature is the builder, and contrives
Homes for her children’s comfort, even here ;
Where Solitude’s disciples spend their lives
Unseen, save when a wanderer passes near
That loves such pleasant places. Deep adown,
The nest is made a hermit’s mossy cell.
Snug lie her curious eggs in number five,
Of deadened green, or rather olive brown ;
And the old prickly thorn-bush guards them well.
So here we’ll leave them, still unknown to wrong,
As the old woodland’s legacy of song.






The poem “The Nightingales Nest” digs deeps into intricate imagery and wording that is truly beautiful. During this poem, John Clare does an excellent job connecting the reader with nature, not just describing it. John Clare brings you along in the poem, he doesn’t just tell you the story. The lines, “Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails- here have I hunted like a very boy, Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorns. To find her nest and see her feed her young.” make the reality of nature feel tangible. Another example of this explicit wording that makes the nature being described seem so real is the beginning of his poem. “And list the nightingale - she dwells just here. Hush! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear, The noise might drive her from her home of love ;For here I’ve heard her many a merry year -At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,As though she lived on song.”

Lines 1-2 “up this green woodland-ride let’s softly rove, and list the nightingale – she dwells just here.”
John Clare is describing his stroll through the forst, in search of a bird that lives within the trees.


Lines 3-7 “Hush! Let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear the noise might driver her from her home of love; for here ive heard her many a merry year – at morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day, as though she live on song.”
Here Clare is evidently concerned about spooking the bird, making her flee from her place of nesting. It would be particularly upsetting as Clare always listens to her, as she is seemingly always singer for him, as if she needs to sing to live.


Lines 8-14 - Just where that old-man’s-beard all wildly trails, Rude arbours o’er the road, and stops the way -And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got, Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails - There have I hunted like a very boy, Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn, To find her nest, and see her feed her young.”
Here John Clare is describing the winding trails, made of the trees limbs and growings as he moves through the mossy grounds, remaining stealthy to get close enough to see her feed her children.


Lines 15-16 - And vainly did I many hours employ : All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.”
These lines make Clare’s time not important. As he loses track of time in his pure enjoyment of searching for the bird.


Lines 17-25 - And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among, The hazel’s under boughs, I’ve nestled down, And watched her while she sung ; and her renown Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird, Should have no better dress than russet brown. Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy, And feathers stand on end, as ’twere with joy, And mouth wide open to release her heart, Of its out-sobbing songs.”
John Clare describes himself laying among the brush to gain a front row view of her singing. However, his mind wanders that a bird with such a beautiful singing voice, would only have a dull brown fur coat.


Lines 26-41 - The happiest part, Of summer’s fame she shared, for so to me,Did happy fancies shapen her employ ; But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred, All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain : The timid bird had left the hazel bush, And at a distance hid to sing again. Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves, Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain, Till envy spurred the emulating thrush To start less wild and scarce inferior songs ; For while of half the year Care him bereaves, To damp the ardour of his speckled breast ; The nightingale to summer’s life belongs, And naked trees, and winter’s nipping wrongs, Are strangers to her music and her rest.”
The simple rustling of bushes is enough to send the timid bird into flight. However, she quickly found a new tree to belch her songs from. Although, eventually envy sets in a competition arises. However, no singing can compare to that of hers. The cold months are not lucky enough to hear her singing, as it only happens during the summer time.


Lines 42-57 - Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide - Hark! there she is as usual - let’s be hush - For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest, Her curious house is hidden. Part aside, These hazel branches in a gentle way, And stoop right cautious ’neath the rustling boughs, For we will have another search to day, And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round ; And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows, We’ll wade right through, it is a likely nook : In such like spots, and often on the ground, They’ll build, where rude boys never think to look - Aye, as I live ! her secret nest is here, Upon this white-thorn stump ! I’ve searched about, For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by - Nay, trample on its branches and get near."
The Nightingale is a master of hiding herself. Although, John Clare continues to still look, dodging branches and stepping of the boughs, accepting defeat today but, vowing to come back another day. Clare has a hunch he is getting close to finding her, looking in the spots he thinks she will be but, the she is to smart for easy spots, a place where enemies will never think about.


Lines 58-62 - How subtle is the bird ! she started out, And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh, Ere we were past the brambles ; and now, near, Her nest, she sudden stops - as choking fear, That might betray her home."
As John Clare nears her hiding place, her singing alters, even stops. In fear the bird dares to not belch another note, because the enemy might destroy her.
How curious is the nest ; no other bird Uses such loose materials, or weaves, Its dwelling in such spots : dead oaken leaves, Are placed without, and velvet moss within,


"And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare, What scarcely seem materials, down and hair ; For from men’s haunts she nothing seems to win. Yet Nature is the builder, and contrives, Homes for her children’s comfort, even here ; Where Solitude’s disciples spend their lives Unseen, save when a wanderer passes near, That loves such pleasant places. Deep adown, The nest is made a hermit’s mossy cell."
Here Clare finally has the nest in sight, after all of the searching he is intrigued in the unique nest building performed by the bird. The bird uses materials that many would not.


"Snug lie her curious eggs in number five, Of deadened green, or rather olive brown ; And the old prickly thorn-bush guards them well. So here we’ll leave them, still unknown to wrong, As the old woodland’s legacy of song. "
The nest containing five, light colored brown eggs, the children to the mother bird. To deter enemys, the nest is locasted in a sharp thorn bush, acting as a fence to predators. John Clare does not dare to reach for them but, they never knew they were in danger, and neither was the woodlands sound of singing.



















ReferencesImages: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Clare.jpg
Northamptonshire Timeline: http://www.northamptonshiretimeline.com/scene/1793-john-clare/Norton Anthology: Norton Anthology, 9th Edition, Volume 2. Website: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/romantic/welcome.htmJohn Clare Biography: http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/john-clare-3363.phpJune Wilson: Green Shadows: The Life of John ClareJohn Clare Biography: https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-ClareI Am! Poem https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43948Selected Poems of John Clare by Geoffrey Grigson