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The eye of a naturalist, the voice of a poet1 Aug. 2012
William Timothy Lukeman
- Published on Amazon.com
I completely agree with the previous reviewer -- John Clare's poetry is unjustly neglected, and definitely deserves to be ranked with that of his Romantic contemporaries. More so, in fact, as Clare was the authentic voice of the country & its folk that Wordsworth aspired to himself. Perhaps it's that Clare's mental breakdown later in life & his confinement to an asylum has overshadowed the simplicity, freshness & precision of his poetry -- his life becoming the focus of attention, rather than his work.
This is a pity, because Clare not only has a distinctive voice & a discerning eye, he has a deeply feeling, sensitive heart. In fact in more than one poem, he allows the countryside itself to speak, detailing both its richness & the irreparable damage men have done in their hunger to exploit it. Yet he never becomes mawkish or overly sentimental in the manner of the blatantly artificial pastoral. Born & bred in the country, he's just as aware of its harshness & petty cruelties as he is of its beauties. He describes both the homely & the fleetingly lovely.
From "Sheep in Winter" -
The sheep get up and make their many tracks And bear a load of snow upon their backs And gnaw the frozen turnip to the ground With sharp quick bite and then go noising round
From "The Ragwort" -
Ragwort thou humble flower with tattered leaves I love to see thee come and litter gold What time the summer binds her russet sheaves Decking rude spots in beautys marigold That without thee were dreary to behold
From "Hedge Sparrow" -
In early march it into gardens strays And in the snug clipt box tree green and round It makes a nest of moss and hair and lays When een the snow is lurking on the ground Its eggs in number five of greenish blue Bright beautiful and glossy shining shells Much like the firetails but of brighter hue
He captures the habits & traits of every living thing he sees, simply describing all with a clear but lyrical line. His hatred for needless cruelty towards other animals is evident in many of his poems -- as one who never quite fit in, not among his fellow country folk nor among the sophisticates of town, he often felt the sting of loneliness & quick mockery himself.
This superb collection also includes excerpts from his letters & other prose writings. Editors Merryn & Raymond Williams provide the basic biography & timeline, a thoughtful appreciation of his style & work, and informative notes on individual poems. There's also a useful glossary of the now-archaic dialect words that came so naturally to Clare. I don't think you could find a better introduction to this wonderful poet, whose work has only grown in immediacy & meaning since his death.