To a cowslip early


  1. Cowslip bud so early peeping
  2. Warmd by aprils hazard hours
  3. Oer thy head tho sunshines creeping
  4. Hind it threatnd temp[e]sts lower
  5. Trembling blossom let me bear thee
  6. To a better safer home
  7. Tho a fairer blossom wear thee
  8. Near a tempest there shall come

  9. Marys bonny breasts to charm thee
  10. Bosom soft as down can be
  11. Eyes like any suns to warm thee
  12. & scores of sweets unknown to me
  13. Ah for joys thoult there be meeting
  14. In a station so divine
  15. I'd 'most wish thats vain repeating
  16. Cowslip bud thy life were mine

    EP II 51/2
    Village Minstrel I 82 (1821)
    In the Shadows (2014)

Early Spring


Winter is past—the little bee resumes
Her share of sun & shade & oer the lea
Hums its first hymnings to the flowers perfumes
& wakes a sense of gratfulness in me
The little daisey keeps its wonted pace
Ere march by april gets disarmd of snow
A look of joy opes on its smiling face
Turnd to that power that suffers it to blow
Ah pleasant time as pleasing as ye be
One still more pleasing, hope reserves for me
Where suns unsetting one long summer shine
Flowers endless bloom where winter neer destroys
O may the good mans righteous end be mine
As I may witness these unfading joys

The Village Minstrel
Volume II, page 172

The Crow (Sonnet)

How peaceable it seems for lonely men
To see a crow fly in the thin blue sky
Over the woods and fealds, o'er level fen
It speaks of villages, or cottage nigh
Behind the neighbouring woods -- when March winds high
Tear off the branches of the huge old oak
I love to see these chimney sweeps sail by
And hear them o'er gnarled forest croak
Then sosh askew from the hid woodman's stroke
That in the woods their daily labours ply
I love the sooty crow nor would provoke
Its march day exercises of croaking joy
I love to see it sailing to and fro
While feelds, and woods, and waters spread below


LP I 498

Did John Clare and Eliza Emmerson have an 'affair' ?

When I was in London the first time   Lord Radstock introduced me to Mrs Emmerson     she has been known as a very pretty woman & [it] is not a miss still     & a woman's pretty face is often very dangerous to her common sense   for the notion she has received in her young days throws affectation about her feelings   which she has not got shot of yet   for she fancys that her friends are admirers of her person as a matter of course & act accordingly     which happens in the eyes of a stranger as delicious enough   but the grotesque wears off on becoming acquainted with better qualities   & better qualities she certainly has to counter ballance them    

          She at once woud [be] the best friend I found    & my expectations are looking no further then correspondence with me early in my public life   & grew pretty thick as it went on     I fancyd it a pretty [thing] to correspond with a lady   & by degrees I grew up into an admirer   sometimes foolishly when I could not account for what I did   & I then after requested her portrait     & then I reccollect ridiculously enough   alluding to Lord Nelsons Lady Hamilton     she sent it & flattered my vanity in return     It was beautifully drawn by Behnes the sculptor     But bye & bye my knowledge of the world weakened my romantic feelings     I gave up in friendship & lost in flattery

          afterwards she took to patronizing one of Colridges   who had written a visionary ode on Beauty in Knights Quarterly Magazine in whom she discovered much genius     she called him   On that strike   one of the first Lyne poets in England --

          she soon wisht for her picture agen & I readily agreed to part with it   for the artificial flower of folly had run to seed

Pet MS B3 p82

Riches, Poverty and Slavery


Clare writing nearly 200 hundred years ago of what we observe all around us:

"Slavery originates with the luxury of tyranny & forced to submit to the crueltys [only] of oppression until the effeminancy of its oppressions grow into dotage     it then rises & regains its liberty like as the lion in his strength overawes the lesser beasts into unjust subjugation     but in the season of age when he looses his teeth [& needs] friends     they oppress him in turn [with injustice] & regain their former freedom     thus Tyrany generally gets paid with its own coin

Tyrants hate liberty the more bitterly because they themselves can enjoy every thing but liberty         they persecute their slaves into obedience but never consciliate them into friends     there for fear makes them the slave of slav[es]   for as they are dreaded by others      yet it is only as one tyrant to many of the oppressed so they more bitterly feel the dreaded vengance of the many enemys which their crueltys have made   recoiling upon themselves"

Pet MS A49 p1

"What a time we live in -- one class have been compaining & from complaints I fear have been encouraging the lower orders to break away from their own intention     this class complain of poverty but show no appearance of it   while the other is so destitute that one almost wonders they should have been silent so long"

Pet MS B5 p5

'Helpstone' from 'Accursed Wealth'

Helpstone (excerpt)

Thy pleasing spots to which fond memory clings 

Sweet cooling shades & soft refreshing springs 

& tho fates pleas'd to lay their beauties bye 

In a dark corner of obscurity 

As fair & sweet they blo[o]m'd thy plains among 

As blooms those Edens by the poets sung 

Now all laid waste by desolations hand 

Whose cursed weapons levels half the land 

Oh who could see my dear green willows fall 

What feeling heart but dropt a tear for all 

      Accursed wealth oer bounding human laws 

      Of every evil thou remains the cause 

      Victims of want those wretches such as me 

      Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee 

      Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed 

      & thine our loss of labour & of bread 

      Thou art the cause that levels every tree 

      & woods bow down to clear a way for thee 


I have indented the verses that Clare’s rich friends in London, as well as his publisher John Taylor wanted removed from the 2nd and subsequent editions of  ‘Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery’ (Jan 1820).  They got their way, much to Clare’s annoyance:

“Being very much botherd latley I must trouble you to leave out the 8 lines in ‘helpstone’ beginning ‘Accursed wealth’ …”

(Letter from JC to Taylor dated 16th May 1820)

'Accursed Wealth' - Arbour Editions (2017) page 1
£4 including P&P - leave me an MSS.

"TREES - In a Strange Stillness"


[Image : Shelly Rolinson]

From Clare's 'Autobiography'
On Sundays I usd to feel a pleasure to hide in the woods instead of going to church     to nestle among the leaves & lye upon a mossy bank were the fir likefern its under forest keeps

‘In a strange stillness’

watching for hours the little insects climb up & down the tall stems of the woodgrass & broad leaves

‘Oer the smooth plantain leaf a spacious plain’

or reading the often thumbd books which I possesd till fancy ‘made them living things’ I lovd the lonely nooks in the fields & woods & many favourite spots had lasting places in my Memory

‘the boughs that when a school boy screend my head’

before inclosure destroyd them

---oOo---

 Those who had the privilege of attending the Society Festival last July will have encountered, either on my bookstall, in the Clare Cottage or in the Bluebell, one or other of my Arbour Editions Chapbooks.  Clare knew Chapbooks well, and it is in his honour I resurrected the form for my 32-page books.

 Historically a Chapbook is normally octavo in size (A5) and is a book or made up of one or more full sheets of paper on which 16 pages of text were printed, which were then folded three times to produce eight leaves. Each leaf of an octavo book thus represents one eighth the size of the original sheet.  These eight leaves are also known as ‘signatures’.  So my Chapbooks being 32 pages in length are two signatures long, or 16 octavo (A5) sheets.

Chapbooks first came about in 16th century England with popular fairy tales like "Jack and Giant Killer" which Clare mentions of course:

To John Clare
 Well honest John how fare you now at home 

 The spring is come & birds are building nests 

 The old cock robin to the stye is come 

 With olive feathers & its ruddy breast 

 & the old cock with wattles & red comb 

 Struts with the hens & seems to like some best 

 Then crows & looks about for little crumbs 

 Swept out bye little folks an hour ago 

 The pigs sleep in the sty the bookman comes 

 The little boys lets home close nesting go 

 & pockets tops & tawes where daiseys bloom 

 To look at the new number just laid down 

 With lots of pictures & good stories too 

 & Jack the jiant killers high renown 


  (written in around 1861)

 Chapbooks were cheaply constructed and often roughly printed, but during the 17th Century and later they were purchased by people who otherwise weren't able to afford books.  Very few survive as they were often thrown out after reading, or often (it is said) used as toilet paper!

The number of chapbooks printed in England is mind boggling.  During the 1660s, as many as 400,000 almanacs were printed every year, enough to distribute to one of every three households in the country.

 I've been planning such for several years, to introduce the general reader to a wider range of 'Clare-related' subjects, each book concentrating on just one topic.  In keeping with their history my Arbour Editions Chapbooks are very inexpensive, but in a break with tradition the books are high quality productions with gloss covers.  

I have around a dozen titles planned, and have to date published five, all at £3.50:

1.             'Drinking with John Clare'
2.             'Helpston's Fountains'
3.             'With the Gypsies'
4.             ‘Playing Games with John Clare’
5.             “Accursed Wealth”
  
The sixth, ‘Trees – In a Strange Stillness’ is of double length (64 pages) and the first Chapbook in full colour - 17 colour photographs illustrating Clare’s text – priced at £6.50 including post and & packing.  The idea for this book came from an essay written by Professor Eric Robinson in 1989 which has not been widely read, so with his permission ‘Trees’ was created with the ‘Introduction’ by Professor Eric and myself.  Here is a extract:

“Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss.  

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations.

Clare was concerned about maintaining the tree population of his environment, and in a sense the history of Helpston and of our poet, is that partly told in trees.  Then came enclosure when, for the trees, a wholesale devastation took place.”

So there we have it, inexpensive, paperback sized, quality productions... the ideal gift for the lover of Clare.  Or perhaps that friend who just might love Clare if only they had opportunity to read the great man’s work.

The book will be published on Friday, 19th January, priced at £6.50 (including P&P)
Just email me at arborfield@gmail.com