24th July 1841: John Clare
Two wives I have,
iffen folk say no,
law say no,
feeble brain imagines.
I’ve walked these miles,
a gypsy crawl
a home in Mary’s smile.
And still I reckon,
sing love tunes:
huswife and bedwife,
to bicker over moons;
a harvest supper
wi wooden spoons.
the neighbours snigger.
I whistle rhythms
nobbut fools chose.
And walk at night,
nimbling poacher’s ways,
sleep on clover trusses,
chew grass ‘cos
fish gone, game gone,
now fields and common closed.
I chew tobacco too,
no lucifers to light my pipe,
smoke fumes enew.
Two wives I have,
acrost bare fields of stubble,
no pastoral views,
childern learned to reddle.
where wind whips elms:
red gypsy hat for warmth or trouble.
where Eden used to be,
a game for saucey drovers.
says me home.
Sweet Mary died.
And how can I forget?
nimbling moving nimbly reddle riddle enew enough
‘I am, yet what I am, none cares or knows.’*
A taproom weaver show’d me heaven,
Thomson’s Seasons his drunken fun,
my heart lurching like a cart of hay.
I knew he laughed, mocked the lines,
blank verse or rhyme a thing for hymns
or ballad singers’ cheapest trash,
chapel mornings or taproom brags.
I had to own such verses. I had to sing.
Teazed the shillings off my father,
and walked to Stamford in summer rain.
The lowering High Street stood deserted,
bookseller and printer away from home.
‘You never ‘eard o’ Sundays?’
a crowd of grinning childern clowned.
I stole a day off work. Lost that job.
Then sat in leafy Burghly sun,
rhyming the blue shine of heaven,
reckless in summer morning sunlight
where skylarks weaved and spelled
their own wild stories. The world to tell.
John Clare at Burghley House
They’ve put No Trespass signs across the way,
but fox don’t read, hare don’t stay to look,
starnel and redcap up and leave.
‘You’ll work to get a living,’ my old dad say,
‘bow and scrape at gardiner’s ease,
‘cos white stockings are allus grand,
clean neck cloths summat proud.’
Master of the kitchen garden they call him,
and him as bent as a struck bough,
no matter how low you duck your head.
‘A wauk child grown tall enew to work?’
he said, grinding the both of us down.
‘How’s tha feel, good feelow now?’
I feel enclosure fencing me round.
A garden allus cloyed me,
red brick walls and ivy twined round trees,
the gate no gate to heaven.
But swallow words. Turn up for work.
Swinkt till the toiling gets us down,
then run, ‘fore crizzling water freeze.
O then I knew the fribble games:
fished struttle from the shallow stream,
ran murmering woods and sudden breeze.
In fallow fields and plasky meadows,
chanted Thomson’s words unheard,
no sneering clown, conscieted coxcomb,
leering from the Blue Bell tavern,
enjoying mirth at words I made my own.
A poet’s work is hardest labour,
No Trespass signs across the road.
starnel starling wauk weak swinkt wearied with toil crizzling water starting to freeze fribble frivolity nonsense struttle minnow or stickleback plasky wet clown yokel