Friday, September 5, 2014

The Living Dead

 Honouring our poetic ancestors

All Nature Has a Feeling
By John Clare (1793-1864)

All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;
There's nothing mortal in them; their decay
Is the green life of change; to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal is its stay,
And with the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.


I very much share these sentiments!

John Clare was an English poet who often celebrated nature. He also wrote lovely love poems, and some political pieces including at least one satire.

I was a bit torn on which to feature, but nature seemed appropriate. I think that we become particularly conscious of nature at times of seasonal change such as now, when Spring is beginning here (Australia) and in the Northern Hemisphere autumn has arrived.

We most often see Clare pictured as a romantically good-looking, open-faced young man. Other images show him grown bald and portly, with a somewhat vacant look. I've chosen a portrait between these extremes.

Known as "the peasant poet of Northamptonshire" (which is on his gravestone) he had problems with poverty, limited education, the English class system, alcohol, and both physical and mental illness. He suffered from bouts of depression and had a stroke from which, we are told, he never really recovered. Towards the end of his life he was delusional.

He spent his final years in and out of asylums. The good news is that he was humanely treated and encouraged to write; in fact wrote some of his most admired work there.

His poetry did achieve recognition in his lifetime. He was very successful in his early poetic career. Ultimately, though, he could not manage enough sales to support himself and his family (he had seven children). He was forced by necessity to find other work as well. I guess most of us can relate to that!

Wikipedia tells us that although he was politically and socially conservative, he was poetically innovative. He tried to make a case for not being strictly grammatical; he included the slang and folk phrases of the time in his poems; he had a more practical, less sentimental understanding of the countryside than the Romantics; and he could be deeply metaphysical.

His importance was re-evaluated in the 20th Century. He is now considered influential. Among other things he is acknowledged for the Clarian sonnet, his own sonnet variation. (It's a lovely one to work in!) Amy Trumble treated Poets United to one of Clare's own examples back in 2011, in her "Exploring the Classics" series. Here it is.

In an article entitled "Man Out of Time", Christopher Caldwell examines the place of Clare's poetics in depth, examining such factors as patronising publishers of his day who "corrected" his work, and the depth it had when restored to the original. The article reviews John Clare: A Biography by Jonathan Bate (also available from Amazon UK and Google Books).

You can find more of his poems at PoemHunter, and collections of his work are still available at Amazon or through Google Books. (Scroll down to see all the different titles available. On the other hand, make sure you don't get him mixed up with contemporary writers of the same name.)

His life was mostly sad and difficult, yet in his pastoral poetry he left us some of the most joyful verses in the English language.

13 comments:

  1. Thank you, Rosemary, for the background and intro to Clare. Now I'm off to read a Clarian Sonnet!

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  2. I immensely enjoyed reading this post. Isn't it odd that so many poets and writers suffer from mental illness?

    By the way, I so would like to participate on this blog. Is it just me who struggles with loading the pages? I believe my problems are due to the sidebar links. My computer is old. Does anyone else have trouble?

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    1. My computer is loading slowly too - excriciatingly so - but I know it is because of the computer. They do tend to get clogged up. I am putting mine in the shop soon and hope to get it speeded up. Keep trying, it's lovely to have you here.

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  3. Lovely! I am also moved by the details of Clare's life. Thanks for linking to Amy's prompt!

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  4. Rosemary, a wonderful share. I, too, am moved by the circumstances of this poet's life. And yet he still saw the beauty of nature all around. That is uplifting. So many gifted souls struggle. I am thankful they also share their gifts, as did this talented poet. I especially love the opening and closing lines of this poem.

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  5. what a inspiring life,,... he does seem quite a handsome one...thank uyou for sharing rosemart!!

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  6. What an interesting article, Rosemary! I enjoyed the poem, and yes I share the sentiments as well. I too am struck by thinking of how many poets (or writers of other things) seem to have mental illness. I am glad to read that his poetry did receive recognition in his lifetime. Interesting that, though he was depressed, he left us poems filled with joy. And interesting to read about the Clarian Sonnet. Thanks for your article, Rosemary. It is definitely a labor of love that you do each week for us.

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  7. You selected a lovely poem to highlight. It felt more contemporary than from his times. i've never read him before but now I'd like to look him up.
    Your articles are always so informative. Thanks so much Rosemary.

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  8. Informative article and a wonderful introduction to a talented poet of nature...a suffering soul lucky to be recognized in his lifetime...the lines 'their decay is the green life of change, to pass away and come again' the concept of Renaissance in nature and learning...Thank you Rosemary for this amazing article complete with Biography and references.

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  9. I love John Clare's work. He was lucky in some respects to have sponsors who helped him as they sought fit. In the book of poems I have of his in the introduction that among other thing it said on his death certificate he died of "..years of addiction to poetical prosings". What a great epitaph!

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  10. I feel sad for him really, for his decline in later life. Yet he strikes me as quite a sweet fellow, and he certainly left us some lovely poems.

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