John Clare (1793 - 1864)
The son of a Northamptonshire labourerer, and himself at various times a herd-boy, militiaman, vagrant and unuccessful farmer, who became insane in 1837.' Thus the unpreposessing entry for Clare in my copy of Harvey's Oxford Companion to English Literature, published in 1932. Clare's reputation has risen since then and he is no longer patronised as merely 'the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet'.
See also the Literary Drinkers page on John Clare on this site.
Poems and letters
Books about John Clare
John Clare on the Web
Three poems by John Clare
Clare's spelling and punctuation was irregular and he tended not to punctuate at all. Many dialect expressions add to the richness of his work. Editors sometimes tidy up and 'correct' his work, leading to differences between versions of the same poem.
'Tis haytime and the red-complexioned sun
Was scarcely up ere blackbirds had begun
Along the meadow hedges here and there
To sing loud songs to the sweet-smelling air
Where breath of flowers and grass and happy cow
Fling o'er one's senses streams of fragrance now
While in some pleasant nook the swain and maid
Lean o'er their rakes and loiter in the shade
Or bend a minute o'er the bridge and throw
Crumbs in their leisure to the fish below
- Hark at that happy shout - and song between
'Tis pleasure's birthday in her meadow scene.
What joy seems half so rich from pleasure won
As the loud laugh of maidens in the sun?
Little Trotty Wagtail
Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain
And twittering tottering sideways he ne'er got straight again,
He stooped to get a worm and looked up to get a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry
Little trotty wagtail he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks, trample where he would.
He waddled in the water-pudge and waggle went his tail
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.
Little trotty wagtail, you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out;
Your home is nigh at hand and in the warm pigsty,
So little Master Wagtail I'll bid you a 'Goodbye.'
The rolls and harrows lie at rest beside
The battered road and spreading far and wide
Above the russet clods the corn is seen
Sprouting its spiry points of tender green,
Where squats the hare, to terrors wide awake,
Like some brown clod the harrows failed to break.
While 'neath the warm hedge boys stray far from home
To crop the early blossoms as they come
Where buttercups will make them eager run
Opening their golden caskets to the sun
To see who shall be first to pluck the prize -
Up from their hurry up the skylark flies
And o'er her half-formed nest with happy wings
Winnows the air - till in the cloud she sings
Then hangs a dust-spot in the sunny skies
And drops and drops till in her nest she lies
Which boys unheeding passed ne'er dreaming then
That birds which flew so high would drop again
To nests upon the ground where anything
May come at to destroy. Had they the wing
Like such a bird, themselves would be too proud,
And build on nothing but a passing cloud
As free from danger as the heavens are free
From pain and toil - there would they build and be
And sail about the world to scenes unheard
Of and unseen - O were they but a bird -
So think they while they listen to its song,
And smile and fancy and so pass along
While its low nest moist with the dews of morn
Lye safely with the leveret in the corn.