on 21 April 2015
I can't agree with the previous review. It is precisely because Clare sees the minutiae that everyone fails to see, that makes this book so wonderful. John Clare, to my mind, is one of the finest English poets ever, and it's sad that he is not more widely known and acclaimed than he is.
It's true that he was uneducated and wrote in the vernacular of Northampton at the time, but is no less readable than the archaic language of Robert Burns or Shakespeare.
on 24 November 2011
The original publisher thought this cycle of poems, describing the C19th rural year, wasn't 'philosophical' enough, and that Clare should 'raise his views'. Actually, the problem with it that it is often not concrete and specific enough.
Clare was a genuine working countryman, England's 'ploughman poet', and ought to have been well equipped for the job; but, whether because of the publisher's influence or not, too much of it is taken up with commonplace observations about the weather and nature. It's stuff that needs no inside knowledge: that any tourist, even today, can easily see for themselves. The 'Shepherd's Calendar' doesn't even mention lambing.
Clare had a limited education. His grammar gets tangled up occasionally, and that can't be helped; but it's hard to understand why the present editors didn't think it worthwhile to clean up the spelling and punctuation. It wouldn't have affected the sound or scansion, and would have helped the sense considerably. On the plus side, each month has a lovely woodcut illustration.
On the whole, you have to say this massive task was beyond Clare's powers; but there are some beautiful passages and, running through it, a poignant theme of loss of childhood sensibility.