Monday, October 10, 2022

John Clare*

John Clare (1793―1864) is a self-educated rural poet who in 1820 caught the attention of the literary elite in London. He had been raised on folk ballads, and was influenced by poets such as Scotland’s James Thomson.

He is best known for his detailed descriptions of nature and of farm life, which celebrate God as the creator and sustainer of all we see ― as can be seen in this exerpt from "Nature's Hymn to the Diety":

-----All nature owns with one accord
-----The great and universal Lord:
-----Insect and bird and tree and flower ―
-----The witnesses of every hour ―
-----Are pregnant with this prophecy
-----And 'God is with us', all reply.
-----The first link in the mighty plan
-----Is still ― and God upbraideth man.

After Clare’s initial grand reception, and top-selling first book, the fashion for peasant poets evaporated, and his subsequent collections were virtually ignored. This change in fortune was hard on him, both financially and emotionally.

As his place as a celebrated poet slipped away, he also found the lifestyle he was raised to vanishing. The enclosure movement in Britain took common land, the public was free to grow crops or graze cattle on, and privatized it for use by the aristocracy. These things, plus Clare’s financial and family difficulties, led to bouts of depression and delusions.

Theologically John Clare sided with the Arminian Wesleyans ― particularly disliking Calvinism ― though remaining loyal to the Anglican church. He was appreciative of the Evangelical movement, and it’s focus on caring for the poor ― which he benefitted from in his own life.

In 1841 he was officially declared insane, and spent the rest of his life at St. Andrew’s Asylum, Northampton ― where some believe he wrote his best poetry.


The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Clare: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.