Pine Martens and John Clare

pine marten card

Pine Martens cover image Whittet Books


Originally untitled; NOES editors title


The martin cat long shaged of courage good
Of weazle shape a dweller in the wood
With badger hair long shagged and darting eyes
And lower then the common cat in size
Small head and running on the stoop
Snuffing the ground and hind parts shouldered up
He keeps one track and hides in lonely shade
Where print of human foot is scarcely made
Save when the woods are cut the beaten track
The woodmans dog will snuff cock tailed and black
Red legged and spotted over either eye
Snuffs barks and scrats the lice and passes bye
The great brown horned owl looks down below
And sees the shaggy martin come and go


The martin hurrys through the woodland gaps
And poachers shoot and make his skin for caps
When any woodman come and pass the place
He looks at dogs and scarcely mends his pace
And gipseys often and birdnesting boys
Look in the hole and hear a hissing noise
They climb the tree such noise they never heard
And think the great owl is a foreign bird
When the grey owl her young ones cloathed in down
Seizes the boldest boy and drives him down
They try agen and pelt to start the fray
The grey owl comes and drives them all away
And leaves the Martin twisting round his den
Left free from boys and dogs and noise and men


John Clare
Punctuation and spelling as from JC mss,  text from
‘Clare’, NOES,  Ed’s: Robinson & Summerfield, published OUP.
 If available now, a good collection to have: includes  some of Clare’s natural history writing
This poem attracted my attention because of the recent title from Whittet Books but also that it had mention of  an owl in ‘reality’, which I was  in search of for an earlier page on ‘owls’ poems.  I am glad to have found something by Clare.
I reckon the owl mentioned is the one known now as Eurasian eagle owl from Clare’s note of colour and nesting.  Not the white, Arctic Owl,  or maybe there was another variety that is now extinct.
(Pine)Martens are extremely secretive animals and now very scarce in most of England.   From this poem we can again see Clare’s quality of observation, including boys and hunters’ proclivities of the day.    Clare was not averse to egg-collecting in his youth, ( note in poem the boy climbing the tree is chased away by the owl).  I doubt he was actively a poacher or into badger hunting and the like but as always was an observer of detail of all around him, including the activities of people.   His poem of ‘Badger’ being cornered by dogs and men can be read as straightforward, vivid, descriptive fact but potentially as anti-hunting though he may not have been able to declare it openly.   It might well have been ‘cruelty’ that concerned him more.

Three Poems by Henry lawson

Well,  just trundled my way through his collected works.  There must be over 500 assorted poems in total by this earl Australian poet, writer and journalist.   Most of them fairly long to put in this post of brief reminders of style.  I complained in the last post that his repetitive rhyming and rhythms were not entirely for me.  My slight reassessment  is that at least you know what you are getting every time and that his consistency is remarkable whilst carrying a wide range of stories, or rather sketches and scenes.     Not for too much re-reading unless I need a snatch of early Australian ‘scenery’, which is effective

Three poems:


Dust, dust, dust, and a dog –

Oh, the shepherd-dog won’t be the last,

Where the long, long shadow of the old bay horse

With the shadow of his mate is cast.

A brick-brown woman, with their brick-brown kids,

And a man with his head half-mast,

The feed-bags hung, and the bedding slung,

And the blackened bucket made fast

Where the tailboard clings to the tucker and things –

So the hawker’s van goes past.


On the night train


Have you seen the Bush by moonlight, from the train, go running by,

Here a patch of glassy water, there a glimpse of mystic sky?

Have you heard the still small voice calling, yet so warm, and yet so cold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that bore you! Come to me when you are old?”


Did you see the Bush below you sweeping darkly to the range,

All unchanged and all unchanging, yet so very old and strange!

Did you hear the Bush a’calling, when your heart was young and bold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that nursed you!  Come to me when you are old?”


Through the long, vociferous cutting as the night train swiftly sped,

Did you hear the grey Bush calling from the pine-ridge overhead:

“You have seen the seas and cities; all seems done, and all seems told;

I’m the Mother Bush that loves you! Come to me now you are old?”


I am back from up the country — very sorry that I went —
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track —
Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I’m glad that I am back.
Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast,
But I think the country’s rather more inviting round the coast —
Anyway, I’ll stay at present at a boarding-house in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.

Sunny plains! Great Scot! — those burning wastes of barren soil and sand
With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land!
Desolation where the crow is! Desert! where the eagle flies,
Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes;
Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep
Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep.
Stunted “peak” of granite gleaming, glaring! like a molten mass
Turned, from some infernal furnace, on a plain devoid of grass.

Miles and miles of thirsty gutters — strings of muddy waterholes
In the place of “shining rivers” (walled by cliffs and forest boles).
“Range!” of ridgs, gullies, ridges, barren! where the madden’d flies —
Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt — swarm about your blighted eyes!
Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees
Nothing. Nothing! but the maddening sameness of the stunted trees!
Lonely hut where drought’s eternal — suffocating atmosphere —
Where the God forgottcn hatter dreams of city-life and beer.

Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger, endless roads that gleam and glare,
Dark and evil-looking gullies — hiding secrets here and there!
Dull, dumb flats and stony “rises,” where the bullocks sweat and bake,
And the sinister “gohanna,” and the lizard, and the snake.
Land of day and night — no morning freshness, and no afternoon,
For the great, white sun in rising brings with him the heat of noon.
Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall
From the sad, heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum, worst of all.

Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift
O’er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift —
Dismal land when it is raining — growl of floods and oh! the “woosh”
Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush —
Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are pil’d
On the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild.

Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men,
Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again —
Homes of men! if homes had ever such a God-forgotten place,
Where the wild selector’s children fly before a stranger’s face.
Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes’ dismal yell,
Heaven of the shanty-keeper — fitting fiend for such a hell —
And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the “curlew’s call” —
And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward thro’ it all!

I am back from up the country — up the country where I went
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have left a lot of broken idols out along the track,
Burnt a lot of fancy verses — and I’m glad that I am back —
I believe the Southern poet’s dream will not be realised
Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised.
I intend to stay at present — as I said before — in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes — taking baths and cooling down.



I might have included others, such as:          A Bush Girl.    To my cultured critics,     Second class wait here.      Pigeon toes….       But didn’t!

On the Eve of St Agnes by John Keats

If it is 20th January, it is a suitable time to put this up.   One of Cambridge ‘A’ level poems for 2016, not sure if it still fits the themes for future exam study.  But this is one of many memorable and once popular poems from John Keats (1795-1821).

On the Eve of St Agnes

St Agnes’ Eve –  Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:
The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,
He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.

Northward he turneth through a little door,
And scarce three steps, ere Music’s golden tongue
Flatter’d to tears this aged man and poor;
But no –  already had his deathbell rung
The joys of all his life were said and sung:
His was harsh penance on St. Agnes’ Eve:
Another way he went, and soon among
Rough ashes sat he for his soul’s reprieve,
And all night kept awake, for sinners’ sake to grieve.

That ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft;
And so it chanc’d, for many a door was wide,
From hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,
The silver, snarling trumpets ‘gan to chide:
The level chambers, ready with their pride,
Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:
The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
Star’d, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.

At length burst in the argent revelry,
With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
Numerous as shadows haunting fairily
The brain, new-stuff’d, in youth, with triumphs gay
Of old romance. These let us wish away,
And turn, sole-thoughted, to one lady there,
Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
On love, and wing’d St Agnes’ saintly care,
As she had heard old dames full many times declare.

They told her how, upon St Agnes’ Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey’d middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline:
The music, yearning like a God in pain,
She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine,
Fix’d on the floor, saw many a sweeping train
Pass by –  she heeded not at all: in vain
Came many a tiptoe, amorous cavalier,
And back retir’d; not cool’d by high disdain,
But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere;
She sigh’d for Agnes’ dreams, the sweetest of the year.

She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,
Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short:
The hallow’d hour was near at hand: she sighs
Amid the timbrels, and the throng’d resort
Of whisperers in anger, or in sport;
‘Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn,
Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort,
Save to St Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.

So, purposing each moment to retire,
She linger’d still. Meantime, across the moors,
Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
Buttress’d from moonlight, stands he, and implores
All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
But for one moment in the tedious hours,
That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss –  in sooth such things have been.

He ventures in: let no buzz’d whisper tell:
All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
Will storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel:
For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords,
Whose very dogs would execrations howl
Against his lineage: not one breast affords
Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul.

Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,
Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
To where he stood, hid from the torch’s flame,
Behind a broad hall-pillar, far beyond
The sound of merriment and chorus bland.
He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
And grasp’d his fingers in her palsied hand,
Saying, “Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;
“They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!

“Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
He had a fever late, and in the fit
He cursed thee and thine, both house and land:
Then there’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
More tame for his gray hairs –  Alas me! flit!
Flit like a ghost away.” — “Ah, gossip dear,
We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
And tell me how” — “Good saints! not here, not here;
Follow me, child, or else these stones will be thy bier.”

He follow’d through a lowly arched way,
Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,
And as she mutter’d “Well-a- – well-a-day!”
He found him in a little moonlight room,
Pale, lattic’d, chill, and silent as a tomb.
“Now tell me where is Madeline”, said he,
“O tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
Which none but secret sisterhood may see,
“When they St Agnes’ wool are weaving piously.”

“St Agnes! Ah! it is St Agnes’ Eve  —
Yet men will murder upon holy days:
Thou must hold water in a witch’s sieve,
And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays
To venture so: it fills me with amaze
To see thee, Porphyro! – – St Agnes’ Eve!
God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays
This very night: good angels her deceive!
But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.”

Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone
Who keepeth clos’d a wondrous riddle-book,
As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.
But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told
His lady’s purpose; and he scarce could brook
Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold
And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.

Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart
Made purple riot: then doth he propose
A stratagem, that makes the beldame start:
“A cruel man and impious thou art:
Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep, and dream
Alone with her good angels, far apart
From wicked men like thee. Go, go! — I deem
Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem.”

“I will not harm her, by all saints I swear,”
Quoth Porphyro: “O may I ne’er find grace
When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
Or look with ruffian passion in her face:
Good Angela, believe me by these tears;
Or I will, even in a moment’s space,
Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen’s ears,
And beard them, though they be more fang’d than wolves and bears.”

“Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;
Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
Were never miss’d.”  Thus plaining, doth she bring
A gentler speech from burning Porphyro;
So woeful, and of such deep sorrowing,
That Angela gives promise she will do
Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.

Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,
Even to Madeline’s chamber, and there hide
Him in a closet, of such privacy
That he might see her beauty unespied,
And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
While legion’d fairies pac’d the coverlet,
And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.
Never on such a night have lovers met,
Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.

“It shall be as thou wishest,” said the Dame:
“All cates and dainties shall be stored there
Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame
Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare
On such a catering trust my dizzy head.
Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,
Or may I never leave my grave among the dead.”

So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.
The lover’s endless minutes slowly pass’d;
The Dame return’d, and whisper’d in his ear
To follow her; with aged eyes aghast
From fright of dim espial. Safe at last
Through many a dusky gallery, they gain
The maiden’s chamber, silken, hush’d and chaste;
Where Porphyro took covert, pleas’d amain.
His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.

Her falt’ring hand upon the balustrade,
Old Angela was feeling for the stair,
When Madeline, St Agnes’ charmed maid,
Rose, like a mission’d spirit, unaware:
With silver taper’s light, and pious care,
She turn’d, and down the aged gossip led
To a safe level matting. Now prepare,
Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed;
She comes, she comes again, like dove fray’d and fled.

Out went the taper as she hurried in;
Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:
She closed the door, she panted, all akin
To spirits of the air, and visions wide:
No utter’d syllable, or, woe betide!
But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.

A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,
All garlanded with carven imag’ries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
And in the midst, ‘mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.

Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven: — Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.

Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.

Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex’d she lay,
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’d
Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;
Blissfully haven’d both from joy and pain;
Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.

Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,
Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress,
And listen’d to her breathing, if it chanced
To wake into a slumbrous tenderness;
Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,
Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,
And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,
And ‘tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo! — how fast she slept!

Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon
Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set
A table, and, half anguish’d, threw thereon
A doth of woven crimson, gold, and jet: —
O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,
The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarinet,
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone: —
The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.

And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.

These delicates he heap’d with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
In the retired quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light. —
“And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
Open thine eyes, for meek St Agnes’ sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”

Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
By the dusk curtains:—’twas a midnight charm
Impossible to melt as iced stream:
The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies:
It seem’d he never, never could redeem
From such a stedfast spell his lady’s eyes;
So mus’d awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.

Awakening up, he took her hollow lute, —
Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy:”
Close to her ear touching the melody: —
Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan:
He ceased—she panted quick—and suddenly
Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.

Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:
There was a painful change, that nigh expell’d
The blisses of her dream so pure and deep,
At which fair Madeline began to weep,
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look’d so dreamingly.

“Ah, Porphyro!” said she, “but even now
Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
How chang’d thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thou diest, my Love, I know not where to go.”

Beyond a mortal man impassion’d far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing star
Seen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep repose
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet, —
Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
Like Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes; St Agnes’ moon hath set.

Tis dark: quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
“This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline!”
‘Tis dark: the iced gusts still rave and beat:
“No dream, alas! alas! and woe is mine!
Porphyro will leave me here to fade and pine. —
Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring?
I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine
Though thou forsakest a deceived thing; —
A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing.”

“My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!
Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
Thy beauty’s shield, heart-shap’d and vermeil dyed?
Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my rest
After so many hours of toil and quest,
A famish’d pilgrim, —  saved by miracle.
Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest
Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think’st well
To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.

“Hark! ’tis an elfin-storm from faery land,
Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed:
Arise—arise! the morning is at hand; —
The bloated wassailers will never heed: —
Let us away, my love, with happy speed;
There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see, —
Drown’d all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead:
Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be,
For o’er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”

She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
For there were sleeping dragons all around,
At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears —
Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found. —
In all the house was heard no human sound.
A chain-droop’d lamp was flickering by each door;
The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,
Flutter’d in the besieging wind’s uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.

They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;
Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
With a huge empty flagon by his side:
The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
By one, and one, the bolts fill easy slide: —
The chains lie silent on the footworn stones, —
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.

And they are gone: ay, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm.
That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,
And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
Were long be-nightmar’d. Angela the old
Died palsy-twitch’d, with meagre face deform;
The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.

Arthur Symons: Some poems and notes

Venetian Night

Her eyes in the darkness shone, in the twilight shed
By the gondola bent like the darkness over her head.
Softly the gondola rocked, lights came and went;
A white glove shone as her black fan lifted and leant
Where the silk of her dress, the blue of a bittern’s wing,
Rustled against my knee, and, murmuring
The sweet slow hesitant English of a child,
Her voice was articulate laughter, her soul smiled.
Softly the gondola rocked, lights came and went;
From the sleeping houses a shadow of slumber leant
Over our heads like a wing, and the dim lagoon,
Rustling with silence, slumbered under the moon.
Softly the gondola rocked, and a pale light came
Over the waters, mild as a silver flame;
She lay back, thrilling with smiles, in the twilight shed
By the gondola bend like the darkness over her head;
I saw her eyes shine subtly, then close awhile:
I remember her silence, and, in the night, her smile.



Water and marble and that silentness
Which is not broken by a wheel or hoof;
A city like a water-lily, less
Seen than reflected, palace wall and roof,
In the unfruitful waters motionless,
Without one living grass’s green reproof;
A city without joy or weariness,
Itself beholding, from itself aloof.


White Heliotrope                  Arthur Symons

The feverish room and that white bed,
The tumbled skirts upon a chair,
The novel flung half-open where
Hat, hair-pins, puffs, and paints, are spread;

The mirror that has sucked your face
Into its secret deep of deeps,
And there mysteriously keeps
Forgotten memories of grace;

And you, half-dressed and half awake,
Your slant eyes strangely watching me,
And I, who watch you drowsily,
With eyes that, having slept not, ache;

This (need one dread? nay, dare one hope?)
Will rise, a ghost of memory, if
Ever again my handkerchief
Is scented with White Heliotrope.


To A Gitana Dancing                                 gitana-a-symons

Because you are fair as souls of the lost are fair,
And your eyelids laugh with desire, and your laughing feet
Are winged with desire, and your hands are wanton, and sweet
Is the promise of love in your lips, and the rose in your hair
Sweet, unfaded, a promise sweet to be sought,
And the maze you tread is as old as the world is old,
Therefore you hold me, body and soul, in your hold,
And time, as you dance, is not, and the world is as nought.
You dance, and I know the desire of all flesh, and the pain
Of all longing of body for body; you beckon, repel,
Entreat, and entice, and bewilder, and build up the spell,
Link by link, with deliberate steps, of a flower-soft chain.
You laugh, and I know the despair, and you smile, and I know
The delight of your love, and the flower in your hair is a star.
It brightens, I follow; it fades, and I see it afar;
You pause: I awake; have I dreamt? was it longer ago
Than a dream that I saw you smile? for you turn, you turn,
As a startled beast in the toils: it is you that entreat,
Desperate, hating the coils that have fastened your feet,
The desire you desired that has come; and your lips now yearn,
And your hands now ache, and your feet faint for love.
Longing has taken hold even on you,
You, the witch of desire; and you pause, and anew
Your stillness moves, and you pause, and your hands move.
Time, as you dance, is as nought, and the moments seem
Swift as eternity; time is at end, for you close
Eyes and lips and hands in sudden repose;
You smile: was it all no longer ago than a dream?


The Absinthe Drinker

Gently I wave the visible world away.

Far off, I hear a roar, afar yet near,

Far off and strange, a voice is in my ear,

And is the voice my own?  The words I say

Fall strangely, like a dream, across the day;

And the dim sunshine is a dream.  How clear,

New as the world to lover’s eyes, appear

The men and women passing on their way!


The world is very fair.  The hours are all

Linked in a dance of mere forgetfulness.

I am at peace with God and man.  O glide,

Sands of the hour-glass that I count not, fall

Serenely: scarce I feel your soft caress.

Rocked on this dreamy and indifferent tide.


Arthur Symons    28 feb 1865 – 1945  Jan 22

Poet, critic, translator and editor. Very involved in the literary (poetics) in his earlier years, seems to be especially appreciative of Villon and Swinburne though often enthusiastic about many others,  see ‘Figures of Several Centuries‘ by Arthur Symons (Gutenberg Project).  He covers a fair selection of literary subjects/people which are very readable and offer an opinion of the day that may add colour to the influences of today’s studies.    Not that I am a serious student, more a monkey that puts his hand in a jar until another takes its fancy.  He spent much time in Italy and especially France as well as  England so will have lived amongst many of the avant-garde of the day.  Paris was in its heyday, it’s ‘Belle Epoque’ of the arts so would have contributed much influence on Arthur Symons.

Symon’s short essay on Villon is a positive explanation of the man and his ability as a poet of intellect and passion though Villon’s view of life was tarnished (to put it mildly…….)   But then what makes people who they are?

Arthur Symons also wrote a lot of poetry.  I have only spent a short time looking but he does like to write of women and thoughts of love in most of the work I have seen.  Maybe it is the period he lived in.. (plus the sentiment of love poetry is and always has been core in all its forms).  He does seem a writer who says what he means, heart on sleeve and monkey-hand in jar.  From nigh-on a hundred years ago, times and fashion have changed, just as they have since Villon’s day.  Poets, like all artists tend to prize open their minds but the ‘reasons why’ are harder to realise than their work.    And anyway is what you get what you see?


St Martin’s Eve by John Clare

St Martin’s day is the 11th November and taken as the feast day of the saint, Martin of Tours, particularly noted as 11th minute of 11th hour of the eleventh day, eleventh month.  (See Brewers Phrase & Fable)

In England, as well as the Saints day the 11th was pastorally (upto/into 19th Century) known as the first day of winter.

This day would set the change in rural patterns of work, especially agricultural labourers and the poor when they would of necessity do less in the fields regarding crops and livestock and more forestry and work that was tied closer to home.  Though livestock would often be held closer to the barns it would still need close attention to feed and for security (in fact more if shelter not available). Winter would mean less outdoor work, or harder outdoor work very much depending on the weather.

The 11th November is also the Feast day of Bacchus.

Armistice Day (UK) has also been placed at 11, 11, 11, November since the end of the First World War.  This referring back to the St Martin’s action when as a Roman soldier in giving half his cloak, on that cold night, to a poor stranger and in the morning discovering the stranger was Jesus.

Especially in village life the Eve of St Martin would be a celebration as the last ‘Hurrah’ before the expected difficulties of the winter.

John Clare wrote a poem around one of these occasions, as usual full of acute observation:

ST MARTINS EVE                  John Clare

Now that the year grows wearisome with age                                                                                 & days grow short & nights excessive long                                                                                     No outdoor sports the village hinds engage                                                                                Still is the meadow romp and harvest song                                                                               That wont to echo from each merry throng                                                                                   At dinner hours beneath hugh spreading tree
Rude winds hath done the landscape mickle wrong
That nature in her mirth did ill foresee                                                                                       Who clingeth now to hope like shipwrecked folk at sea

The woods are desolate of song – the sky
Is all forsaken of its joyous crowd
Martin & swallow there no longer flye
– Hugh seeming rocks & deserts now enshroud
The sky for aye with shadow shaping cloud
None there of all those busy tribes remain
No song is heard save one that wails aloud
From the all lone & melancholly crane
Who like a traveller lost the right road seeks in vain

The childern hastening in from threatening rain
No longer round the fields for wild fruit run
But at their homes from morn till night remain
& wish in vain to see the welcome sun
Winters imprisonment is all begun
Yet when the wind grows troubleous & high
Pining for freedom like a lovesick nun
Around the gardens little bounds they flye
Beneath the roaring trees fallen apples to espye

But spite of all the melancholly moods                                                                                       That out of doors poor pleasures heart alarms                                                                        Flood bellowing rivers & wind roaring woods
The fireside evening owns increasing charms
What with the tale & eldern wine that warms
In purple bubbles by the blazing fire                                                                                               Of simple cots & rude old fashioned farms                                                                                They feel as blest as joys can well desire                                                                                          & midnight often joins before the guests retire

& such a group on good St Martins eve                                                                                             Was met together upon pleasure bent
Where tales & fun did cares so well deceive
That the old cottage rung with merriment                                                                                      & even the very rafters groaned and bent
Not so much it would seem from tempests din                                                                         That roared without in roaring discontent                                                                                     As from the merry noise & laugh within                                                                                     That seemed as summers sports had never absent bin

Beside the fire large apples lay to roast
& in a hugh brown pitcher creaming ale
Was warming seasoned with a nutmeg toast
The merry group of gossips to regale
Around her feet the glad cat curled her tail
Listening the crickets song with half shut eyes
While in the chimney top loud roared the gale
Its blustering howl of outdoor symphonies
That round the cottage hearth bade happier moods arise

& circling round the fire the merry folks
Brought up all sports their memory could devise
Playing upon each other merry jokes
& now one shuts his hands & archly cries
Come open wide your mouth & shut your eyes
& see what gifts are sent you—foolish thing
He doth as he is bid & quickly rise
The peals of laughter when they up & fling
The ashes in while he goes spitting from the ring

& the old dame tho not in laughing luck
For that same night at one fell sweeping stroke
Mischieving cat that at a mouse had struck
Upon the shelf her best blue china broke
Yet spite of fate so funny was the joke
She laughed until her very sides did shake
& some so tittled were they could not smoke
Laying down their pipes lest they their pipe should break
& laughed & laugh again until their ribs did ache

Then deftly one with cunning in his eyes                                                                                   With out stretched hand walks backward in the dark
Encouraged to the feet with proffered prize
If so he right can touch pretended mark
Made on the wall — & happy as a lark
He chuckles oer success by hopes prepared                                                                            While one with open mouth like greedy shark
Slives in the place & bites his finger hard
He bawls for freedom loud & shames his whole reward

Then came more games of wonderment & fun
Which set poor Hodges wisdom all aghast
Who sought three knives to hide them one by one
While one no conjuror to reveal the past
Blindfold would tell him where he hid the last
Hodge hiding two did for the third enquire
All tittered round & bade him hold it fast
But ah he shook it from his hands in ire
For while he hid the two they warmed it in the fire

Then to appease him with his burning hand
They bade him hide himself & they would tell
The very way in which he chose to stand
Hodge thought the matter most impossible
& on his knees behind the mash tub fell
& muttering said I’ll beat em now or never
Crying out “how stand I” just to prove the spell
They answered “like a fool” & thing so clever
Raised laughter against Hodge more long & loud than ever

Nor can the aged in such boisterous glee
Escape the tricks for laugh & jest designed
The old dame takes the bellows on her knee
& puffs in vain to tricks of rougery blind
Nor heeds the urgin who lets out the wind
With crafty finger & with cunning skill
That for her life the cause she cannot find
Untill the group unable to be still
Laughs out & dame though tricked smiles too against her will

Yet mid this strife of joy — on corner stool
One sits all silent doomed to worst of fate
Who made one slip in love & played the fool
& since condemned to live without a mate
No youth again courts once beguiled Kate
Tho hopes of sweethearts yet perplex her head
& charms to try by gipseys told of late
Beneath her pillow lays an onion red
To dream on this same night with whom she is to wed

& hopes that like to sunshine warming falls                                                                            Being all the solace to her withering mind                                                                               When they for dancing rise old young & all                                                                                 She in her corner musing sits behind                                                                                           Her palid cheek upon her hand reclined                                                                                 Nursing rude melancolly like a child                                                                                            Who sighs its silence to the sobbing wind                                                                                   That in the chimney roars with fury wild                                                                                 While every other heart to joy is reconciled

One thumps the warming pan with merry glee                                                                         That bright as is a mirror decks the cot                                                                                 Another droning as an humble bee                                                                                             Plays on the muffled comb till Piping hot                                                                                   With over strained exertion – yet the lot                                                                                         Is such an happy one that still he plays                                                                                      Fatigue & all its countless ills forgot                                                                                               All that he wants he wins – for rapture pays                                                                                 To his unwearied skill right earnest words of praise

Ah happy hearts how happy cant be told                                                                                        To fancy music in such clamorous noise                                                                                     Like those converting all they touched to gold                                                                       These all they hearken to convert to joys                                                                                      Thrice happy hearts – old men as wild as boys                                                                              –    Old women whom no cares of life destroys                                                                        Dance with girls – true did the bard surmise                                                                        “Where ignorance is bliss tis folly to be wise”

When weary of the dance one reads a tale                                                                                      Tho puzzled oft to spell a lengthy word                                                                                    Storys though often read yet never stale                                                                                      But gaining interest every time theyre heard                                                                            With morts of wonderment that neer occurred                                                                           Yet simple souls their faith it knows no stint                                                                           Things least to be believed are most preferred                                                                              All counterfeits as from truths sacred mint                                                                                 Are readily believed if once put down in print

Bluebeard & all his murders dread parade                                                                                  Are listened to & all mourned for & the tear                                                                           Drops from the blue eye of the listening maid                                                                          Warm as it fell upon her lovers bier                                                                                           None in the circle doubt of what they hear
It were a sin to doubt oer tales so true
So say the old whose wisdom all revere
& unto whom such reverence may be due
For honest good intents praise that belongs to few

& Tib a Tinkers Daughter is the tale
That doth by wonder their rude hearts engage
Oer young & old its witchcraft scenes prevail                                                                                In the rude legends of her pilgrimage
How she in servitude did erst engage                                                                                             To live with an old hag of dreadful fame
Who often fell in freaks of wonderous rage                                                                                     & played with Tib full many a bitter game                                                                                   Till een the children round cried out for very shame

They read how once to thrash her into chaff
The fearful witch tied Tibby in a sack
& hied her to the wood to seek a staff
That might be strong enough her bones to whack
But lucky Tib escaped ere she came back                                                                                     And tied up dog & cat her doom to share                                                                                          & pots & pans – & loud the howl and crack
That rose when the old witch with inky hair                                                                            Began the sack to thrash with no intent to spare

& when she found her unrevenged mistake
Her rage more fearful grew but all in vain
For fear no more caused Tibbys heart to ache
She far away from the old hags domain
Ran hartsomely a better place to gain
& here the younkers tongues grew wonder glib
With gladness & the reader stopt again
Declaring all too true to be a fib
& urged full glasses round to drink success to Tib

& when her sorrows & her pilgrimage
The plot of most new novels & old tales                                                                                     Grew to a close her beauty did presage                                                                                       Luck in the wind – & fortune spread her sails
In favouring bounty to Tibs summer gales                                                                                     All praised her beauty & the lucky day                                                                                            At length its rosey smiling face unveils                                                                                    When Tib of course became a lady gay
& loud the listeners laugh while childern turned to play

Anon the clock counts twelve & mid their joys
The startled blackbird smooths its feathers down
That in its cage grew weary of their noise
—The merry maiden & the noisey clown
Prepare for home & down the straggling town
To seek their cottages they tittering go
Heartened with sports & stout ale berry brown
Beside their dames like chanticleer they crow
While every lanthorn flings long gleams along the snow


Below is a well-known ballad of unknown origins, possibly Scotland where many good ballads seem to have originated, or at least remained to be handed down.  It seems typical of stories that would have circulated round fireplaces at Martinmass and is still a regular in the folk-singers’ songbook.    Clare would have known this ballad as he was an avid collector of ballads and their tunes.  Seems he had a knowledge of some 200 folk tunes for the fiddle though not all would have been with words as dance was a high priority for entertainment.

The Wife of Usher’s Well

There lived a wife at Ushers Well,
And a wealthy wife was she;
She had three stout and stalwart sons,
And sent them o’er the sea.

They hadna been a week from her,
A week but barely ane,
Whan word came to the carline wife
That her three sons were gane.

They hadna been a week from her,
A week but barely three,
Whan word came to the carlin wife
That her sons she’d never see.

“I wish the wind May never cease,
Nor (fashes) in the flood,
Till my three sons come home to me,
In earthly flesh and blood,”

It fell about the Martinmass,
When nights are lang and mirk,
The carlin wife”s three sons came hame,
And their hats were o’ the birk.

It neither grew in syke nor ditch,
Nor yet in ony sheugh;
But at the gates o Paradise,
That birk grew fair enough

“Blow up the fire, my maidens!
Bring water from the well!
For a’ my house hall feast this night,
Since my three sons are well.”

And she has made to them a bed,
She’s made it large and wide
And she’s ta’en her mantle her about,
Sat down at the bed-side.

Up then crew the red, red cock,
And up and crew the gray;
The eldest to the youngest said,
“‘Tis time we were away.”

The cock he hadna craw’d but once,
And clapp’d his wings at a’,
When the youngest to the eldest said,
“Brother, we must awa’.

“The cock doth craw, the day doth daw,
The channerin’ worlm doth chide;
Gin we be mist out o’ our place,
A sair pain we maun bide.

“Fare ye weel, my mother dear!
Fareweel to barn and byre!
And fare ye weel, the bonny lass
That kindles my mother’s fire.

This is a ballad where words are reasonably obvious though older versions seem to have been written in an even more ‘Scottish’ dialect than others.   This version can be read easily and assists with spellings that help with a vaguely original (older! Scottish!) pronunciation.   Though maybe as I am English I do not have a clue!!!

Another ballad/poem I have read is very similar but the sons appear at the door in the state in which they were called back to visit there mother:  somewhat dead and decomposed I seem to recall.  When I come across it I will write it in……


John Clare: This Happy Spirit, A Graph Review

this happy spiritA Graph Review:              70 to 85 points   It hits all the high notes for quality of production, selection of poems and linocuts

John Clare       This Happy Spirit

Poems of Clare selected and edited by R.K.R. Thornton and Carry Akroyd.

Illustrated by Carry Akroyd

this happy spirit graph 70 to 80Published by  John Clare Society.  2013

£9.99.  Paperback     ISBN: 978 095641133 4

I tend to note down the poems I especially like  as I read a collection then re-read and whittle down to the ones that echo longest to suggest them for other readers.   I know I have read many of Clare’s poems and biographies over the last 50 years, admittedly with assorted gaps between then and now and found many I like.   So, as usual I start to note the poems as I like them in this collection:   some new to me, others welcome returns.  Here lies the problem; I could write them all down as potential recommendations…….

The cover blurb states:  ‘this selection, a companion to The Wood is Sweet, presents less familiar poems of John Clare.  It emphasises Clare’s ability to use, in Wordsworth’s words, his ‘deep power of joy’ to ‘see into the life of things’.  This delight and intimacy with essentials is what makes Clare’s poetry alive, and this edition, with Carry Akroyd’s striking evocations of the flora and fauna he knew, will please those who know Clare’s work, and will bring new readers to the pleasures of his poetry.’

I need say no more, a blurb that states truly the quality of the poetry and artwork that matches superbly with those poems.  the book is divided into sections highlighted as:  The Poet in the Fields;  Flowers;  Forests,Woods and Trees;  Birds;    The Seasons; and   Village Life.

Clare had a unique ability to observe the smallest detail of his humble world not purely flora and fauna. This collection focuses on the natural world around him.  His genius was in writing that detail in such a  concise and descriptive way that even now readers can see the images he saw and feel his excitement at the wonder, the variety, of nature in all its flavours and seasons.

The selection keeps away (almost) from extracts of his longer poems though as many of these (longer poems) were written in chunks over periods of time it could have been an option, except that their tones of satire may have unbalanced this collection.

The sheer volume of his output means that there are subjects often repeated though always with a slightly altered perspective.  All aspects of his poetry show his commitment and love of being ‘at one’ with his natural, humble, habitats. Even his satirical long poem The Parish thrusts his written images into the mind of the reader with such immediacy that his passion shines through. Though in the Parish it is his anger that is uppermost in his passion of ‘place’. What is also obvious is his recognition and understanding of his surroundings.

This Happy Spirit  has a brief introduction to Clare’s life and a chronology, also a note on editors/artist and a three page glossary of words needing clarification.

Despite my stated problem of choosing my favourite poems I have noted a few.  Some because the linocuts add to the experience but would also promote all others, every single one:

Rural Scenes…..and full page linocut opposite

The Meadow Hay

The Ragwort


The Beans in Blossom……..with accompanying linocut

The Winter’s Spring………… With a full page linocut opposite

The Woodman Comes Home


May I quote one poem from the book:

Rural Scenes

I never saw a man in all my days –

One whom the calm of quietness pervades –

Who gave not woods and fields his hearty praise,

And felt a happiness in Summer shades.

There I meet common thoughts, that all may read

Who love the common fields: – I note them well,

Because they give me joy as I proceed,

And joy renewed, when I their beauties tell

In simple verse, and unambiguous songs,

That in some mossy cottage haply may

Be read, and win the praise of humble tongues

In the green shadows of some after-day.

For rural fame may likeliest rapture yield

To hearts, whose songs are gathered from the field.


John Clare may have claimed to be a simple poet, a simple peasant, for his publishing and readership but that takes no account that with his knowledge of poetry and poets of his day he seems to have chosen his own path of style and subject rather than imitate.  I suspect that he knew early that his strengths were clarity of eye and understanding of life around him and maybe a sense of genius (difference) despite the huge difficulties of his life.  Perhaps too frequently the poems selected start with ‘I love to’ or at least ‘I love’; which is no reflection on the individual poems but noticeable. Of course with Clare that is exactly what he ‘loved’ so why not say it?  Clare’s rhythm and rhyme-schemes are frequently easy and lilting but like his use of language there is also subtlety and skill in the construction around the world of the labourer he portrays.  The editors’ sympathetic addition of some punctuation adds overall whilst there is still freedom to enjoy the elements where words are allowed to run naturally.

With the good number of 77 poems the additional linocuts are a huge addition to the content-value of this little paperback.  The John Clare Society have produced a rare item of beauty where the quality far outweighs the very reasonable price of £9.99 ( my copy from Heffers in Cambridge) but also available from the John Clare Society and shop at Helpston.

This is a companion to the earlier: The Wood is Sweet also published by the John Clare Society.


‘This Happy Spirit’  is recommended reading for anyone interested in Natural History in all its forms as well as pure poetry of Clare and the beautiful relevance and precision of Carry Akroyd’s work.




A Poesy of Roses

A Poesy of Roses:    Poets have a lot to answer for:


Go, lovely rose!                    Edmund Waller   1606-1687

Go, lovely rose !

Tell her that wastes her time and me,

That now she knows,

When I resemble her to thee,

How sweet and fair she seems to be.


Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.


Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.


Then die!  that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!




A Word To Two Young Ladies        Robert Bloomfield  1766-1823
When tender rose-trees first receive
On half-expanded Leaves, the Shower;
Hope’s gayest pictures we believe,
And anxious watch each coining flower.

Then, if beneath the genial sun
That spreads abroad the full-blown May,
Two infant stems the rest out-run,
Their buds the first to meet the day,

With joy their op’ning tints we view,
While morning’s precious moments fly:
My pretty Maids, ’tis thus with you;
The fond admiring gazer, I.

Preserve, sweet Buds, where’er you be;
The richest gem that decks a wife;
The charm of female modesty:
And let sweet music give it life.

Still may the favouring Muse be found:
Still circumspect the paths ye tread:
Plant moral truths in fancy’s ground;
And meet old age without a dread.

Yet, ere that comes, while yet ye quaff
The cup of health without a pain,
I’ll shake my grey hairs when you laugh,
And, when you sing, be young again.



My Pretty Rose Tree                      William Blake

A flower was offered to me,
Such a flower as May never bore;
But I said ‘I’ve a pretty rose tree,’
And I passed the sweet flower o’er.

Then I went to my pretty rose tree,
To tend her by day and by night;
But my rose turned away with jealousy,
And her thorns were my only delight.


A Dead Rose                              Elizabeth Barrett Browning

O Rose! who dares to name thee?
No longer roseate now, nor soft, nor sweet;
But pale, and hard, and dry, as stubble-wheat,—
Kept seven years in a drawer—thy titles shame thee.

The breeze that used to blow thee
Between the hedgerow thorns, and take away
An odour up the lane to last all day,—
If breathing now,—unsweetened would forego thee.

The sun that used to smite thee,
And mix his glory in thy gorgeous urn,
Till beam appeared to bloom, and flower to burn,—
If shining now,—with not a hue would light thee.

The dew that used to wet thee,
And, white first, grow incarnadined, because
It lay upon thee where the crimson was,—
If dropping now,—would darken where it met thee.

The fly that lit upon thee,
To stretch the tendrils of its tiny feet,
Along thy leaf’s pure edges, after heat,—
If lighting now,—would coldly overrun thee.

The bee that once did suck thee,
And build thy perfumed ambers up his hive,
And swoon in thee for joy, till scarce alive,—
If passing now,—would blindly overlook thee.

The heart doth recognise thee,
Alone, alone! The heart doth smell thee sweet,
Doth view thee fair, doth judge thee most complete,—
Though seeing now those changes that disguise thee.

Yes, and the heart doth owe thee
More love, dead rose!  than to such roses bold
As Julia wears at dances, smiling cold!—
Lie still upon this heart—which breaks below thee!