Unlike many revered Romantic poets, John Clare did not owe his artistic adroitness to a university education. He received none. Born to an illiterate mother and a scarcely literate father, Clare read voraciously as a child and began composing poetry at thirteen.
Intimately acquainted with the landscape of his native Northamptonshire, Clare’s poetry is primarily preoccupied with the oscillations and undulations of human emotions and the enshrinement of beauty in nature.
Losing the love of his life after a thwarted courtship, he was forever haunted by the iridescent reminiscences of that failed affair. Marriage to a second love did little to prevent his gradual descent into madness. Nature and literature appeared to nourish him as much as love and loneliness seemed to starve him.
Influenced by an autodidact study of literature and an early exposure to nature, eminent poets have persistently praised Clare’s lyrical skill and charm since he died in an asylum in 1864.
Due to the vibrancy and sincerity of his work as well as the insanity and intensity of his mind, Clare has been compared to the painter Vincent Van Gogh, and has been critically hailed as the greatest working-class poet England has ever produced.
This week’s selection is entitled Summer. Enchanted by the arrival of summer and a blossoming of love, the exaltation of the speaker transforms into an admission of ill health, as he “daily fade[s] away” despite his incredible joy. The frailty of physical existence contrasted to the power of profound feeling is a point romantic poets often loved to emphasise.
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We hope you enjoy this week’s poem as much as we did.
Summer by John Clare
Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover’s breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.
The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover’s breast;
I’ll lean upon her breast and I’ll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o’sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.