Winter Walk

Some of the largest surviving lowland heath in East Devon are remnants of a habitat that would have once covered large areas of Southern England. Dominated by heather and purple moor grass, scattered pools exist throughout the heaths, providing permanent havens for their associated wildlife. Within this range of wildlife are nationally rare species of plants and insects, including some real rarities such as the Dartford Warbler, and a great variety of Damsel Flies. As a result management is now underway to conserve and protect these threatened and declining species. A walk over what we have always called "Woodbury Common" is a must, and with Clare as a guide, one can still be transported back a century or two. The looped walk we covered has all the habitats of the whole of the 'Commons', but it was a bit boggy in places.

The holly bush, a sober lump of green,
Shines through the leafless shrubs all brown and grey,
And smiles at winter be it eer so keen
With all the leafy luxury of May.
And O it is delicious, when the day
In winter's loaded garment keenly blows
And turns her back on sudden falling snows,
To go where gravel pathways creep between
Arches of evergreen that scarce let through
A single feather of the driving storm;
And in the bitterest day that ever blew
The walk will find some places still and warm
Where dead leaves rustle sweet and give alarm
To little birds that flirt and start away.

MP V 225

The poor Affrican...

Clare’s 2nd Visit to London (1822)

I do not know how the qualms of charity come over those who have plenty of riches to be charitable but I often feel it so strongly myself when objects of compassion pass me   that its the only thing that makes me oftenest wish I had plenty for the pleasure of relieving their wants      & when I was in London I often parted my little money so freely that I was often as bad off as those I relieved & needed it perhaps as bad that is I felt as bad or Worse inconvinience then they from the want of it    I remember passing St Pauls one morning where stood a poor Affrican silently soliciting charity but the sincerity of his distress spoke plainer then words           I felt in my pockets but I had only fourpence in all and I felt almost ashamed to recieve the poor creatures thanks for so worthless a pittance and passed him     but his looks spoke so feelingly that even a trifle would be acceptable that I ran back a long way and put the fourpence into his hand & I felt worse dissapointment when I saw the poor creatures heart leap to thank me & the tears steal down his cheeks at the gratification of the unlooked for boon      for his thanks & supprise told me he had met with little of even such charity as mine -- and I determind the next day to get my pocket recruited if possible    & give him a shilling & my first walk was to St Pauls but the poor affrican was gone and I never saw him again

Pet MS B5 R931
Robinson & Powell 'Major Works' (1984)

Clare wrote again about the poor Affrican in "The Memoirs of Barnaby" his aborted novel, to be published in March 2017.  Both passages are crucially important in helping us to further understand his compassion toward all people.  Most especially perhaps, to those he encountered trapped in the penury he saw all around him magnified in the London of 1822.

Beauties of a winter Forrest (excerpt)

Now tis Winter plainly shown by the icicles which hang pendant from the low mossy eaves of the woodmans cottage -- who now with his mattocks and leather doublet is ready to begin his winters labour to cut down the wood in the still forrest and plash [shape] the hedge to stand as a fence against intruding cattle -- He and he only knows & sees the beauties & horrors of winter mingled together tho the short day – 

 For the shepherd cuts his journeys short & now only visits his flock on nescessity – Croodling with his hands in his pockets and his crook under his arms he tramples the frosty plain with dithering haste glad and eager to return to the warm corner of his cottage fire -- His favorite tree (where he was wont in summer to stretch his limbs in idle dalliance on the flowrey turf beneath its cooling shade) is now left desolate robbed both of its idle shepherd & the green foliage that clothd its summer boughs – 

 The Milk-boy too in his morning rambles no longer saunters to the pasture as he had used to do in summer (pausing on every pathway flower & swanking idly along; often staring with open mouth thoughtlessly musing on the heavens as if he could wish for somthing in the passing clouds leaning his lazy sides gainst everystile he come{s} to and can never get his heavy cloutred shoon over the lowest without resting      sighing as he retires with the deepest regret to leave such easy chairs) – 

But now in hasty claumping tried finding nothing but cold & snow to pause on he never stops to cawm his thoughtless head about – but shuffling along he make{s} the frosty plain reecho with his hasty bruzzing foot-steps – the stiles which where (were) so hard to climb over in summer are now scald (scaled) with the greatest ease and he wishes for nothing but his journey's end – prefering the sheltering warm confines of the farm yard and stables before the frozen plain – 

 But tis not so with the woodman no He glories in the weather & rising early in the dark morning ere the copper colored streaks appear to spread over the eastern skie – he pursues his journey over many new made hills and valleys of new fallen snow with “heart felt glee” cheering his rugged way with the oft repeated scrap of an harmless old song making the rihmy feathered thickets rezound in rural melody      Thus he cheerfully sallutes the winter morning till at length [he] enters the wild forrest – Here he brushes along his well known winding pad and the many intricating turns that leads to its deepest recesses – and then the beauties of witherd nature “surround him on every side”

Hidden Treasures (Arbour Editions) 2016

Harvest from 'The Village Minstrel'

As rests warm rapture rousd the rustics lay
The thread bare ballad from each quavering tongue
As ‘peggy bond’ or the ‘sweet month of may’
As how he joyd to hear each ‘good old song’
That on nights pausing ear did echo loud & strong
The muse might sing too for he well did know
The freaks & plays that harvest home doth end
How the last load is crownd wi boughs & how
Wi floating ribbons diznd at their end
The swains & maids wi fork & rake attend
& how the children on the load delight
Wi shouts of harvest home their throats to rend
& how the dames peep out to mark the sight
& all the feats that crown the harvest supper night

(Lines 559-572)

Ave Maria...

As is the maiden while her heart pursues
Her evening walk oer fields in silent dews
Ave Maria tis the hour of love

Sighs & pains & tears on beautys breast
Are whispered into blessings from above
Ave Maria tis the hour of rest

For man & woman & the weary beast
That blesses all with sleep & quiet rest
Ave Maria tis the hour of night
Like to an Indian Maiden dressed in white

(Lines 8-17 of "Now evenings rosey streaks...")
LP I 168

Though bonsmen enslave thee...

With these stark final lines, written in December 1841, the composition of Child Harold comes to an end:
But now loves hopes are all bereft
A lonely man I roam
& abscent Mary long hath left
My heart without a home
Just a few days later Clare is removed from the Northborough cottage to the Northampton General Asylum.  Nevertheless, his Scriptural paraphrases continued right up to his removal, finishing with these prophetic (for Clare) lines from Isaiah 47v15:
Thy merchants from thy youth
They shall wander one & all
To his quarters & the truth
Shall leave thee more in thrall
Though slave dealers take thee
        though bondsmen enslave thee
There's none shall be able to shield thee or save thee
Although rather changed from the text of the Authorised Version of the Bible that Clare knew, had memorised and loved, these words are dredged up from the depth of his subconscious and desolate state of mind; arguably a true reflection of his inner life at the end of this, the most difficult year of his life.

Obsessed as he is with the veracity of his memory of Mary, Clare finds himself dwelling on a biblical passage of doom and loss.  Composing a long paraphrase of the prophecy, with that final denouement — ‘though bondsmen enslave thee’ — laying in wait.  He finds himself writing a prophecy of his own judgment and removal.

I must admit that these poetic paraphrases, coupled with the final four lines of ‘I think of thee…’ to me do read like a prophetic utterance, a premonition of his of own fate.
While life breaths on this earthly ball
What e'er my lot may be
Wether in freedom or in thrall
Mary I think of thee
(Child Harold)
Shall leave thee more in thrall
Though slave dealers take thee
(Isaiah 47v15b)
In due course the ‘slave dealers’, in the form of Parson Glossop, Fenwick Skrimshire and William Page, arrive at the cottage and there are none able to shield him or save him, estranged as he was… ‘a stranger to his own family’.

Clare arrived at the asylum committed ‘After years addicted to poetical prossing’ (sic), and became in his own words, ‘a thrall’ — one who is enslaved, or in bondage.

Roger Rowe

My latest 'gleanings'...

Another Monday and Tuesday this week in the Peterborough Archive, and as always it seems, came up with quite a few Clare poems I did not recognise.  Here is just one, written in pencil, an alternative version of "Pleasures of Spring" (lines 283-292).  I must admit I do think the alternatives in these lines are somewhat more 'Clarean'!?

Forth walks the man of taste among the woods
& fields & where small channels run their floods
Loud laughing on their errands watering flowers
& down the narrow lanes he walks for hours
All carpeted anew with young swathes [of] grass
So soft that birds hear not the feet that pass
Close by their nests he peeps the leaves among
& marks with rapture how they brood their young
He drops beneath the bush [beside] the running brook
To read some pages of a favourite book

Pet MS A31 p23 if you are interested in exactly where I found it.

Compare the final two lines with the PoS (published) version, which do you prefer?

  1. Then drops beneath the bushes to peruse
  2. A pocket poet of some favoured muse