Pine Martens and John Clare

pine marten card

Pine Martens cover image Whittet Books

Marten

Originally untitled; NOES editors title

Marten

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.
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Colours of Autumn by John Clare; October by Edward Thomas

 

Colours of Autumn.             John Clare

Now that the year is drawing to a close

Such mellow tints on trees and bushes lie

So like to sunshine that it brighter glows

As one looks more intently.  On the sky

I turn astonished that no sun is there;

The ribboned strips of orange, blue and red

Streaks through the western sky a gorgeous bed,

Painting day’s end most beautifully fair,

So mild, so quiet breathes the balmy air,

Scenting the perfume of decaying leaves

Such fragrance and such loveliness they wear-

Trees, hedgerows, bushes- that the heart receives

Joys for which language owners words too few

To paint that glowing richness which I view.

 

October.                                          Edward Thomas

The green elm with the one great bough of gold

Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one,  –

The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,

Harebell and scabious and tormentil,

That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,

Bow down to; and the wind travels too light

To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;

The gossamers wander at their own will,

At heavier steps than bird’s the Squirrels scold.

 

The rich scene has grown fresh again and new

As Spring and to the touch is not more cool

Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might

As happy be as earth is beautiful,

Were I some other or with earth could turn

In alteration of violet and rose,

Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,

And gorse that has no time not to be gay.

But if this be not happiness,  – who knows?

Some day I shall think this is a happy day,

And this mood by the name of melancholy

Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

………………

You could follow reading Clare’s poem, Colours of Autumn immediately with the Thomas’  ‘October‘ first verse through to the line…… ‘as happy be as earth is beautiful’  in the second verse and they might be mistaken as a single voice.  However Thomas’ lines after this begin to slide away into a questioning of his mood and ability to find what his personal ‘peace of mind may be’.  Hopeful, perhaps, but not convinced.

Clare’s poem illustrates his more positive view of life.     His moods may have varied tremendously over the years but overall his personal outlook was positive despite the tremendous difficulties of his life and times.   It seems to me (albeit a terrible over simplification) that Clare was a glass half-full sort of man whilst Edward Thomas a glass half-empty man.  Clare could find a great deal of peace in solitude and observation whereas Thomas could see the beauty but not ‘feel’ it.  It is also interesting to consider that both men lived through periods of social and political turmoil at turns of (different) centuries: not forgetting the differences in their social groups.

 

John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History: Newly Published

John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History

by  Simon Kovesi         Published  4th Sept 2017

£66.99   hardback only

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN-13: 978-0230277878

  • Size: 8 x 1.8 x 21 cm

This book investigates what it is that makes John Clare’s poetic vision so unique, and asks how we use Clare for contemporary ends. It explores much of the criticism that has appeared in response to his life and work, and asks hard questions about the modes and motivations of critics and editors. Clare is increasingly regarded as having been an environmentalist long before the word appeared; this book investigates whether this ‘green’ rush to place him as a radical proto-ecologist does any disservice to his complex positions in relation to social class, work, agriculture, poverty and women. This book attempts to unlock Clare’s own theorisations and practices of what we might now call an ‘ecological consciousness’, and works out how his ‘ecocentric’ mode might relate to that of other Romantic poets. Finally, this book asks how we might treat Clare as our contemporary while still being attentive to the peculiarities of his unique historical circumstances

………………………………..

Chapters

  • John Clare and Place              Kövesi, Simon
  • Clare and Ecocentrism           Kövesi, Simon
  • Clare Making Text; Making Text of Clare                  Kövesi, Simon
  • Looking, Painting, Listing, Noting: Clare, Women and Nature        Kövesi, Simon
  • Conclusion: Clare as Our Contemporary; Clare as History                Kovesi, Simon

Simon Kövesi is Professor of English Literature, and Head of the Department of English and Modern Languages, at Oxford Brookes University, UK. 

 

 

John Clare, The Trespasser: A Graph Review

John Clare, The Trespasser.  

By John Goodridge and R K R  Thornton

A Graph Review:  high marks to 70s

 

 

Published by Five Leaves Publications.      2016.      Paper £6.99

10 pages of notes and 3 on further reading in print and web

Originally an extended essay in ‘ john Clare in context ‘,  Cambridge 1994.   For this current paperback the typescript was extensively revised, corrected and additions of new material. Also with new and updated references, recent and primary included.

Both authors are Vice-Presidents of the John Clare Society, Professors of English and have been authors and academics in literature and poetry, especially of working/labouring-class with particular interest in Clare. (among several others).

A slim volume of 90 pages of which 74 are text.

You may have read one or more of the now several biographies on Clare, perhaps an academic work such as ….. Clare’s Place in Poetry by Mina Gorji (2009).  (Reviewed on this website).  Or the growing number of texts and collections on specific areas of Clare’s life and poetry.   You will certainly be reading his poetry.  Nonetheless, this little book sums up John Clare’s personality and passions.   He placed himself as an ‘outsider’ and many small pointers throughout the text give glimpses to the make-up of Clare: from a Scottish grandfather who abandoned Clare’s pregnant grandmother to his ‘loneliness’ as a scholar in the village and much leading on from these. Other aspects may be brushed upon in this book but here the authors have hit upon Clare’s core strengths of belief that of ‘every man’s need of liberty’ and Enclosure’ was one large corrosive part of his world.

He may have been shy, awkward and diffident in the presence of those in authority though his pride may also have held him back at times. His writings showed strength of belief and a confidence in himself as a poet.  The awareness of the life of poverty he came from made him desperate to support his family but equally to refine his art and be published, ideally to provide some income to ease his family’s struggles.  A path that was too hard eventually as his health had always been problematic.  A life of hard physical work, often periods of poor or no food, hectic times of too much drink, a growing family and the costs of sudden fame followed by its slow dissipation were too much for him.  His first period in a private Essex asylum, a momentous walk home and a brief time with his family still produced much fine poetry, briefly home in Northborough and the many years lodged in Northampton Asylum produced much more.

Throughout his life he was a naturalist, an observer of all things and wrote about his local community whether from  minutely detailed wildlife, most widely known today, to village life, including satire with scorching caricatures especially in ‘The Parish’.

‘John Clare, The Trespasser’,  does indeed focus on the dire effects of Enclosure on Clare and community-life but uses the definition of a trespasser to travel over the wider fields of his life and work.   He defined himself by his locale and his community. Was compelled to be an observer, a collector, a musician with violin who wrote down words and music traditional of his day from travelling musicians and gypsies.  Gypsy music was so different to his tradition that of he was fascinated by it and spent time with them to study their music. He also found their way of life quite convivial.     His interest was also aroused by the Scottish drovers that passed through, likely as a link to his grandfather.  His liking of Burns another connection to Scotland, including the lowly origins of Burns himself and his poetical style and songs.  Clare was a man without a place in his own village for more than his writing and his spent fame that leaving him floundering, but he could assimilate much that caught his passionate nature.

The last section,  Enclosure, gives the strongest description of Clare.    For me it confirms him as a radical, political poet whose passion is shown in his work though frequently undermined by his poor circumstance and his own diffidence (shyness, almost speechlessness) in the presence of  moneyed people.  Some might say he had an inferiority complex, or more likely a class-complex.  Perhaps his behaviour was partly due to his keeping himself in check as angry outbursts to the wrong people would have severely harmed his ability to retain any employment.  The poor-house loomed large at these times for all labourers and Clare’s father would end in one.  It also seems he felt more able with his village peers when enjoying drink and music at the local ale-houses or celebrations.

Whatever his outward manner, his heart and writing were fixed on the damaging effects of enclosure on nature and the labourer and  Community.

Mentioned in this book, these are poems to read with a fresh eye:

The Mores,    The Lament of Swordy Well,   The Cellar Door,    The Progress of Rhyme .                           The Lament of Swordy Well is highlighted as Clare’s depiction of the result of Enclosure leaving nothing but dreams of the past for the labouring poor, among much else.

On the first pages, Goodridge quotes from an early Clare poem:      ‘Narrative Verses Written after an Excursion from Helpston to Burghley Park’  and describes it as a core ‘journey’ (experience) in his development as a poet.

The book in total is a fascinating short study of John Clare.  It may appear to focus on a small aspect but this is a core description of the man and uses choice selections to illustrate his ideals and his skill in writing more than poetic studies in natural history.  The authors explain the realities of Clare’s words and the use of poetical reference and political sub-text in particular poems.  Highlighting his use of counterbalanced language within an analysis of lines of poems, noted above, brings a strength of understanding not only to the meaning of the work but to the fire and sensibilities of Clare himself.

No doubt the ‘Conclusion’ of this work puts it more clearly….. ‘it is no longer enough to read Clare as a simple observer of nature in transparent descriptive verse,……’

And a quote from the back cover, from another reviewer:  ‘At last a label has been found that fits Clare almost perfectly’. : Roger Sales, Literature and History.

For me Clare will now be thought of as a man who dared to trespass, in a multitude of ways, throughout his life and writings.

link to another comment on Clare as labourer and Enclosure:

John Clare, The Trespasser is a ‘must read‘ for Clare enthusiasts and students of the labouring classes and landscape in the 19th century.

 

 

 

 

Efficiency versus liberty to roam.      Profit and productivity, cost of enclosure and policing.

 

 

 

The cellar door,     Themprogress of rhyme……. in Scottish drovers, gypsies and other clarean trespassers.

 

 

 

Clare: the times of his life

Poems for April

Poems for April.

April may have been overtaken by May and Spring is now sliding into Summer so apologies for being a laggard.  Or maybe I can claim to be presumptious for 2018!   Another small selection for the seasons covering  700 years.

Short extract of beginning of Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.   Modern translation by Ecker and Crook  (online & published by Hodge and Braddock 1993)…. I would highly recommend this translation of the complete Tales for those in study now or for nostalgia of days studied and how it should really be translated!!

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought

Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout

Through every vein with liquid of such power

It brings forth the engendering of the flower;

When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown

Through every field and forest, urging on

The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,

His second half course through the Ram now run,

And little birds are making melody

And sleep all night, eyes open as can be

(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),

On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

The palmers long to travel foreign strands

To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shire’s end

In England, folks to Canterbury wend:

To seek the blissful martyr is their will,

The one who gave such help when they were ill.

 

April Showers                              John Clare

Delightful weather for all sorts of moods

& most for him – grey morn and swarthy eye

Found rambling up the little narrow lane

Where primrose banks amid the hazly woods

Peep most delightfully on passers bye

While Aprils little clouds about the sky

Mottle & freak unto fancy lie

Idling and ending travel for the day

Till darker clouds sail up with cumberous heave

South oer the woods & scares them all away

Then comes the rain pelting with pearly drops

The primrose crowds until they stoop & lie

All fragrance to his mind that musing stops

Beneath the awthorn till the shower is bye

This poem taken from Midsummer Cushion, the manuscript that Clare spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for publication but it  never was in his lifetime.   It took 150 years.   Published by MidNAG &Carcanet in 1978, intro.  by Anne Tibble.    A collection of poems we know selected and ordered by himself makes this a particularly special book.

 

April                                        Jean Whitfield

I saw into the eye of the month with its moist buds

not quite contained on quivering branches

and an embroidered sky beyond white mazes

of yellow-cream green-shining almost-leaves

mere prickings spinning webs with sunlight

and the wild plum tree hazy with dabs of thick leaf.

 

A crazy Crow clowned an April trick

balancing a leg a wing a hooded beak

on one slender single-budded branch

bending low with him and springing up

against the sheer cliff-top blue

as the carrion trampolines and grinned gleaming.

 

Sky is all-at-once a whipped and curling ice-cream sea

with wave-tops flashing peaking into one another

and down here grass reflects its silver in these bending blades

that goldfinches skim on the surface light

and carry its message in their joy lifting and flowing.

 

April’s music laced with wings rejoices in its murmurings

it is all surprises at the heart of it, is a gift for us

an unfolding of the ceaseless year that is happening again.

 

I tasted April sharp and clear

a spring of a day bubbling out of the gill

it wet my lips filled my cold throats and flowed

like light lapping tree-tops fresh through me

and my toes shot sparks in the icy dew:

in the warming sun my skin became April.

 

A poem from ‘Moments’, reprinted by permission of Bakery Press.  Another example of the quality of this poet’s work.

 

 

 

Christmas: Excerpt from ‘The Shepherds Calender’

excerpt from The Shepherds Calender,      John Clare 1793 – 1864

 

Christmas is come, and every hearth

Makes room to give him welcome now.

E’en want will dry its tears in mirth

And crown him wi’ a holly bough,

Though tramping ‘neath a winter sky

O’er snow track paths and rimy stiles;

The huswife sets her spinning by

And bids him welcome wi’ her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before

And windows stuck wi’ evergreens,

The snow is bosomed from the door

And comfort crowns the cottage scenes,

Gilt holly wi’ its thorny pricks

And yew and box wi’ berries small,

These deck the unused candlesticks

And pictures hanging by the wall.

Neighbours resume their annual cheer,

Wishing wi’ smiles and spirits high

Glad Christmas and a happy year

To every morning passer-by,John Clare lifesize statue at his cottage in Helpston

Milk maids their Christmas journeys go

Accompanied wi’ favoured swain,

And children pace the crumping snow

To taste their granny’s cake again.

 

also tagged as  seasons

 

 

 

A trio of Thistles: three poems by poets; Clare, Lee & Whitfield

Thistles                                                                       by John Clare        1793- 1864

Where the broad sheep walk bare and brown

With scant grass pining after showers

And winds go fanning up and down

The little strawy bents and nodding flowers,

There the huge thistle spurred with many thorns

The suncracked uplands’ russet swells adorns.

Not undevoid of beauty, there they come,

Armed warriors waiting neither suns nor showers,

Guarding the little clover plats to bloom

sheep nor oxen dare not crop their flowers,

Unsheathing their own knobs of tawny flowers

When Summer cometh in her hottest hours.

The sheep when hunger presses sore

May nip the clover round its nest

But soon the thistle wounding sore

Relieves it from each brushing guest

That leaves a bit of wool behind

The yellow hammer loves to find.

The bee will make its bloom a bed,

The bumble bee in tawny brown,

And one in jacket fringed with red

Will rest upon its velvet down

When over taken in the rain

And wait till sunshine comes again.

And there are times when travel goes

Along the sheep tracks’ beaten ways

That pleasure many a praise bestows

Upon its blossom’s pointed rays

When other things are parched beside

And hot days leaves it in its pride.

ed:   I am guilty of leaving out verses 3,4,5,7 and 8, purely for  reasons of space ( included are 1,2,6,9 and 10).  Punctuation and spelling is likely to have been ‘tidied up’from his original mss.  This and another, shorter, poem entitled ‘The Thistle’, in full, can be found  in ‘This Happy Spirit‘  published by the John Clare Society  978 095641133 4, with superb linocuts by Carry Akroyd.

…………………………………………………………..

thistleThistle.                                    by    Laurie Lee                                                               1914-1997

Thistle, blue bunch of daggers

rattling upon the wind,

saw-tooth that separates

the lips of grasses.

Your wound in childhood was

a savage shock of joy

that set bees on fire

and the loud larks singing.

Your head enchanted then

smouldering among flowers

filled the whole sky with smoke

and sparks of seed.

Now from your stabbing bloom’s

nostalgic point of pain

ghosts of those summers rise

rustling across my eyes.

Seeding a magic thorn

to prick the memory

to start in my icy flesh

fevers of long lost fields.

……………………………………………………………………..

Thistle’s….                                                  by  Jean Whitfield       1941-84

…… roots quiver

like thin people

stick-limbed

bunched for warmth

leaves corrugate

would probe fingernails

pierce feet

score skin

ready for basting

made of wirewool

its head of hair

would scream through goblets

that tormented

untouchable

bulge of purple.

……………………………………………………………………………

I was certain Edward Thomas and DH Lawrence had written on ‘Thistles’  but it seems not:  ‘Nettles’, yes.  At least not in the places I have looked.  I may well end up researching for an ‘Anthology of Weeds’ but then ‘what is a weed but a flower in the wrong place?’   or someone else’s quote to that effect!

Three poems:   Clare following mostly the rules of the day using iambs (feet) and ABABCC ryme scheme pretty strictly throughout his observational poem. Pure detail and simple acceptance of the existence and beauty and usefulness of this plant, as he had for all things in nature.

Lee writing in simple blank verse; visual but less specific in details.   5 verses, each with four or five lines.    You could, in fact, reduce each verse into two longer lines or even write them each as a single line sentence. Would this change anything?    Quite likely, the spaces between the lines give your mind time to form an image which gains definition as you read the finallines.  Starting in ‘the present’, by the end the author may be seen as old  (‘icy flesh’)  and the ‘magic thorn to prick the memory’  maybe suggests a rising sense of loss at the rousing of memory for ‘fevers of long lost fields’, of  childhood exploits.

Whitfield:    No chance of lining this short poem into a pure single sentence as the words descriptive clash against each other.  The lines breathe the punctuation but you might have to read it more than once to find the sentence stops rather then the commas.    The only poem to include, let alone start with the root (uniquely?) and it slides gratingly upwards to its ‘bulge of purple’.   No minute observation, no hint of self-absorption but maybe this time an anger at its apparent intention to hurt.  As they can.  Another poets view of that self-same jack-of-all-soils, the thistle.

Three poems which follow the core of their periods.