These are the top twenty (20) most popular poems of John Clare.
From The Birds And St. Valentine to The Ants.
If you want to know his greatest poems of all time, then this poetry collection is for you.
The Birds And St. Valentine
Sorrow came with downcast eyes,
And stole the lyre of love away.
– VAN DYK.
[From ACKERMANN’S “Juvenile Forget-me-not”]
Some two or three weeks before Valentine’s day,
Sir Winter grew kind, and, minded to play,
Shook hands with Miss Flora, and woo’d her to spare
A few pretty snowdrops to stick in his hair,
Intending for truth, as he said, to resign
His throne to Miss Spring and her priest Valentine;
Which trifle he asked for before he set forth,
To remind him of all when he got in the North;
And this is the reason that snowdrops appear
‘Mid the cold of the Winter, so soon in the year.
Flora complied, and, the instant she heard,
Flew away with the news to each bachelor bird,
Who in raptures half moved on Love’s errand to start,
Their songs muttered over to get them by heart:
Nay, the Mavis at once sung aloud in his glee,
And looked for a spot where love’s dwelling should be;
And ever since then, both in garden and grove,
The Mavis tunes first a short ditty to love,
While all the young gentlemen birds that were near
Fell to trimming their jackets anew for the year:
One and all they determined to seek for a mate,
And thought it a folly for seasons to wait,
So even agreed, before Valentine’s day,
To join hearts in love; but the ladies said, Nay!
Yet each one consented at once to resign
Her heart unto Hymen on St. Valentine;
While Winter, who only pretended to go,
Lapt himself out of sight in some hillocks of snow,
That behind all the rest ‘neath the wood hedges lay
So close that the sun could not drive them away:
Yet the gentlemen birds on their love errands flew,
Thinking all Flora told them was nothing but true,
Till out Winter came, and his frowns in a trice
Turned the lady birds’ hearts all as hardened as ice.
In vain might the gentles in love sue and plead–
They heard, but not once did they notice or heed:
From Winter they crept, who, in tyranny proud,
Yoked his horses of storms to his coach of a cloud;
For on Valentine’s morn he was raving so high,
Lady Spring for the life of her durst not come nigh;
While Flora’s gay feet were so numbed with the snow
That she could not put on her best slippers to go.
Then the Spring she fell ill, and, her health to regain,
On a sunbeam rode back to her South once again;
And, as both were the bridesmaids, their teasing delay
Made the lady birds put off their weddings till May.
Some sighed their excuses, and feared to catch cold;
And the Redcap, in mantle all bordered with gold,
Sore feared that the weather would spoil her fine clothes,
And nought but complaints through the forest arose.
So St. Valentine came on his journey alone
In the coach of the Morn, for he’d none of his own,
And put on his cassock and band, and went in
To the temple of Hymen, the rites to begin,
Where the Mavis Thrush waited along with his bride,
Nor in the whole place was a lady beside.
The gentlemen they came alone to the saint,
And instead of being married, each made a complaint
Of Sir Winter, whose folly had caused the delay,
And forced Love to put off the wedding till May;
So the priest shook his head, and unrobed to be gone,
As he had no day for his leisure but one.
And when the May came with Miss Flora and Spring,
They had nought but old cares and new sorrows to sing;
For some of the lady birds ceased to be kind
To their old loves, and changed for new-comers their mind;
And some had resolved to keep single that year,
Until St. Valentine with the next should appear.
The birds sung their sorrows the whole Summer long,
And the Robin first mixed up his ills with his song:
He sung of his griefs–how in love he’d been crossed,
And gave up his heart as eternally lost;
‘T was burnt to a coal, as sly Cupid let fall
A spark that scorched through both the feathers and all.
To cure it Time tried, but ne’er found out the way,
So the mark on his bosom he wears to this day:
And when birds are all silent, and not a leaf seen
On the trees, but the ivy and holly so green,
In frost and in snow little Robin will sing,
To put off the sorrow that ruffles his wing.
And that is the cause in our gardens we hear
The Robin’s sweet note at the close of the year.
The Wagtail, too, mourned in his doublet of grey,
As if powdered with rime on a dull winter’s day;
He twittered of love–how he courted a fair,
Who altered her mind, and so made him despair.
In a stone-pit he chose her a place for a nest,
But she, like a wanton, but made it a jest.
Though he dabbled in brooks to convince her how kind
He would feed her with worms which he laboured to find,
Till he e’en got the ague, still nought could prevail,
So ever since then he’s been wagging his tail.
In the whitethorn the Linnet bides lonely to sing
How his lady-love shunned his embraces in Spring,
Though he found out a bush that the sun had half drest
With leaves quite sufficient to shelter their nest;
And yet she forsook him, no more to be seen,
So that is the reason he dresses in green.
Then aloud in his grief sings the gay speckled Thrush,
That changes his music on every bush–
“My love she has left me to sorrow and mourn,
Yet I hope in my heart she’ll repent and return;”
So he tries at all notes her approval to meet,
And that is the reason he singeth so sweet.
And as sweet sang the Bullfinch, although he confest
That the anguish he felt was more deep than the rest,
And they all marvelled much how he’d spirits to sing,
When to show them his anguish he held up his wing;
From his throat to his tail not a feather was found
But what had been stained red with blood from the wound.
And sad chirped the Sparrow of joys fled and gone,
Of his love being lost he so doted upon;
So he vowed constant silence for that very thing,
And this is the reason why Sparrows don’t sing.
Then next came the Rook and the sorrowful Crow,
To tell birds the cause why in mourning they go,
Ever since their old loves their embraces forsook;
And all seemed to pity the Crow and the Rook.
The Jay he affected to hide his despair,
And rather than mourn he had spirits to wear
A coat of all colours, but in it some blue
Denoted his passion; though crossed, ‘t was true;
So now in lone woods he will hide him all day,
And aloud he scolds all that intrude in his way.
The Magpie declared it should never be said
That he mourned for a lover, though fifty had fled;
Yet his heart all the while was so burnt and distrest,
That it turned all the feathers coal-black on his breast.
The birds they all marvelled, but still he denied,
And wore a black cap his deep blushes to hide;
So that is the reason himself and his kin
Wear hoods with the lappets quite under the chin.
Then last came the Owl, grieving loud as he flew,
Saying how his false lover had bade him adieu;
And though he knew not where to find her or follow,
Yet round their old haunts he would still whoop and halloo,
For no sleep could he get in his sorrowful plight.
So that is the reason Owls halloo at night.
And here ends the song of each woe-stricken bird.
Now was a more pitiful story e’er heard?
The rest were all coupled, and happy, and they
Sung the old merry songs which they sing at this day:
And good little boys, when this tale they read o’er,
Will ne’er have the heart to hurt birds any more,
And add to the griefs they already have sung
By robbing their nests of their eggs and their young;
But feel for their sufferings, and pity their pain,
Nor give them new cause of their lot to complain.
Dedicated To The Rev. J. Knowles Holland.
The beating snow-clad bell, with sounding dead,
Hath clanked four–the woodman’s wak’d again;
And, as he leaves his comfortable bed,
Dithers to view the rimy feather’d pane,
And shrugs, and wishes–but ’tis all in vain:
The bed’s warm comforts he must now forego;
His family that oft till eight hath lain,
Without his labour’s wage could not do so,
And glad to make them blest he shuffles through the snow.
The early winter’s morn is dark as pitch,
The wary wife from tinder brought at night,
With flint and steel, and many a sturdy twitch,
Sits up in bed to strike her man a light;
And as the candle shows the rapturous sight,
Aside his wife his rosy sleeping boy,
He smacks his lips with exquisite delight,
With all a father’s feelings, father’s joy,
Then bids his wife good-bye, and hies to his employ.
His breakfast water-porridge, humble food;
A barley crust he in his wallet flings;
On this he toils and labours in the wood,
And chops his faggot, twists his band, and sings,
As happily as princes and as kings
With all their luxury:–and blest is he,
Can but the little which his labour brings
Make both ends meet, and from long debts keep free,
And neat and clean preserve his numerous family.
Far o’er the dreary fields the woodland lies,
Rough is the journey which he daily goes;
The woolly clouds, that hang the frowning skies,
Keep winnowing down their drifting sleet and snows,
And thro’ his doublet keen the north wind blows;
While hard as iron the cemented ground,
And smooth as glass the glibbed pool is froze;
His nailed boots with clenching tread rebound,
And dithering echo starts, and mocks the clamping sound.
The woods how gloomy in a winter’s morn!
The crows and ravens even cease to croak,
The little birds sit chittering on the thorn,
The pies scarce chatter when they leave the oak,
Startled from slumber by the woodman’s stroke;
The milk-maid’s song is drown’d in gloomy care,
And, while the village chimneys curl their smoke,
She milks, and blows, and hastens to be there;
And nature all seems sad, and dying in despair.
The quirking rabbit scarcely leaves her hole,
But rolls in torpid slumbers all the day;
The fox is loth to ‘gin a long patrole,
And scouts the woods, content with meaner prey;
The hare so frisking, timid once, and gay,
‘Hind the dead thistle hurkles from the view,
Nor scarce is scar’d though in the traveller’s way,
Though waffling curs and shepherd-dogs pursue;
So winter’s rugged power affects all nature through.
What different changes winter’s frowns supply:
The clown no more a loitering hour beguiles,
Nor gaping tracks the clouds along the sky,
As when buds blossom, and the warm sun smiles,
And “Lawrence wages bids” on hills and stiles:
Banks, stiles, and flowers, and skies, no longer charm;
Deep drifting snow each summer-seat defiles;
With hasty blundering step and folded arm
He glad the stable seeks, his frost-nipt nose to warm.
The shepherd haunts no more his spreading oak,
Nor on the sloping pond-head lies at lair;
The arbour he once wattled up is broke,
And left unworthy of his future care;
The ragged plundering stickers have been there,
And pilfer’d it away: he passes by
His summer dwelling, desolate and bare,
And ne’er so much as turn a conscious eye,
But gladly seeks his fire, and shuns th’inclement sky.
The scene is cloth’d in snow from morn till night,
The woodman’s loth his chilly tools to seize;
The crows, unroosting as he comes in sight,
Shake down the feathery burden from the trees;
To look at things around he’s fit to freeze:
Scar’d from her perch the fluttering pheasant flies;
His hat and doublet whiten by degrees,
He quakes, looks round, and pats his hands and sighs,
And wishes to himself that the warm sun would rise?
The robin, tamest of the feather d race,
Soon as he hears the woodman’s sounding chops,
With ruddy bosom and a simple face
Around his old companion fearless hops,
And there for hours in pleas’d attention stops:
The woodman’s heart is tender and humane,
And at his meals he many a crumble drops.
Thanks to thy generous feelings, gentle swain;
And what thy pity gives, shall not be given in vain.
The woodman gladly views the closing day,
To see the sun drop down behind the wood,
Sinking in clouds deep blue or misty grey,
Round as a foot-ball and as red as blood:
The pleasing prospect does his heart much good,
Though ’tis not his such beauties to admire;
He hastes to fill his bags with billet-wood,
Well-pleas’d from the chill prospect to retire,
To seek his corner chair, and warm snug cottage fire.
And soon us dusky even hovers round,
And the white frost ‘gins crizzle pond and brook,
The little family are glimpsing round,
And from the door dart many a wistful look;
The supper ready stewing on the hook:
And every foot that clampers down the street
Is for the coming father’s step mistook;
O’erjoy’d are they when he their eyes does meet,
Bent ‘neath his load, snow-clad, as white as any sheet.
I think I see him seated in his chair,
Taking the bellows up the fire to blow;
I think I hear him joke and chatter there,
Telling his children news they wish to know;
With leather leggings on, that stopt the snow,
And broad-brimm’d hat uncouthly shapen round:
Nor would he, I’ll be bound, if it were so,
Give twopence for the chance, could it be found,
At that same hour to be the king of England crown’d.
The woodman smokes, the brats in mirth and glee,
And artless prattle, even’s hours beguile,
While love’s last pledge runs scrambling up his knee,
The nightly comfort from his weary toil,
His chuff cheeks dimpling in a fondling smile;
He claims his kiss, and says his scraps of prayer;
Begging his daddy’s pretty song the while,
Playing with his jacket-buttons and his hair;–
And thus in wedlock’s joys the labourer drowns his care.
And as most labourers knowingly pretend
By certain signs to judge the weather right,
As oft from “Noah’s ark” great floods descend,
And “buried moons” foretell great storms at night,
In such-like things the woodman took delight;
And ere he went to bed would always ken
Whether the sky was gloom’d or stars shone bright,
Then went to comfort’s arms till morn, and then
As cheery as the sun resum’d his toils agen.
And ere he slept he always breath’d a prayer,
“I thank thee, Lord, that thou to-day didst give
Sufficient strength to toil; and bless thy care,
And thank thee still for what I may receive:
And, O Almighty God! while I still live,
Ere my eyes open on the last day’s sun,
Prepare thou me this wicked world to leave,
And fit my passage ere my race is run;
‘Tis all I beg, O Lord! thy heavenly will be done.”
Holland! to thee this humble ballad’s sent,
Who for the poor man’s welfare oft hast pray’d;
Whose tongue did ne’er belie its good intent,
Preacher, as well in practice, as in trade–
Alas, too often money’s business made!
O may the wretch, that’s still in darkness living,
The Bible’s comforts hear by thee display’d;
And many a woodman’s family, forgiven,
Have cause for blessing thee that led their way to heaven.
The Lover’s Invitation
Now the wheat is in the ear, and the rose is on the brere,
And bluecaps so divinely blue, with poppies of bright scarlet hue,
Maiden, at the close o’ eve, wilt thou, dear, thy cottage leave,
And walk with one that loves thee?
When the even’s tiny tears bead upon the grassy spears,
And the spider’s lace is wet with its pinhead blebs of dew,
Wilt thou lay thy work aside and walk by brooklets dim descried,
Where I delight to love thee?
While thy footfall lightly press’d tramples by the skylark’s nest,
And the cockle’s streaky eyes mark the snug place where it lies,
Mary, put thy work away, and walk at dewy close o’ day
With me to kiss and love thee.
There’s something in the time so sweet, when lovers in the evening meet,
The air so still, the sky so mild, like slumbers of the cradled child,
The moon looks over fields of love, among the ivy sleeps the dove:
To see thee is to love thee.
A beanfield full in blossom smells as sweet
As Araby, or groves of orange flowers;
Black-eyed and white, and feathered to one’s feet,
How sweet they smell in morning’s dewy hours!
When seething night is left upon the flowers,
And when morn’s sun shines brightly o’er the field,
The bean bloom glitters in the gems of showers,
And sweet the fragrance which the union yields
To battered footpaths crossing o’er the fields.
Song. “A Beautiful Flower, That Bedeck’d A Mean Pasture”
A beautiful flower, that bedeck’d a mean pasture,
In virgin perfection I found;
Its fair bloom stood naked to every disaster,
And deep the storm gather’d around:
The rose in the midst of its brambles is blooming,
Whose weapons intruders alarm,
But sweetest of blossoms, fond, fair, and weak woman
Has nothing to guard her from harm.
Each stranger seem’d struck with a blossom so lovely,
In such a lone valley that grew;
The clown’s admiration was cast on it roughly
While blushing it shrank from his view:
O sweet was the eve when I found the fair blossom,
Sure never seem’d blossom so fair,
I instant transplanted its charms to my bosom,
And deep has the root gather’d there.
Written In November.
Autumn, I love thy parting look to view
In cold November’s day, so bleak and bare,
When, thy life’s dwindled thread worn nearly thro’,
With ling’ring, pott’ring pace, and head bleach’d bare,
Thou, like an old man, bidd’st the world adieu.
I love thee well: and often, when a child,
Have roam’d the bare brown heath a flower to find;
And in the moss-clad vale, and wood-bank wild
Have cropt the little bell-flowers, pearly blue,
That trembling peep the shelt’ring bush behind.
When winnowing north-winds cold and bleaky blew,
How have I joy’d, with dithering hands, to find,
Each fading flower; and still how sweet the blast,
Would bleak November’s hour restore the joy that’s past.
Now as even’s warning bell
Rings the day’s departing knell,
Leaving me from labour free,
Solitude, I’ll walk with thee:
Whether ‘side the woods we rove,
Or sweep beneath the willow grove;
Whether sauntering we proceed
Cross the green, or down the mead;
Whether, sitting down, we look
On the bubbles of the brook;
Whether, curious, waste an hour,
Pausing o’er each tasty flower;
Or, expounding nature’s spells,
From the sand pick out the shells;
Or, while lingering by the streams,
Where more sweet the music seems,
Listen to the soft’ning swells
Of some distant chiming bells
Mellowing sweetly on the breeze,
Rising, falling by degrees,
Dying now, then wak’d again
In full many a ‘witching strain,
Sounding, as the gale flits by,
Flats and sharps of melody.
Sweet it is to wind the rill,
Sweet with thee to climb the hill,
On whose lap the bullock free
Chews his cud most placidly;
Or o’er fallows bare and brown
Beaten sheep-tracks wander down,
Where the mole unwearied still
Roots up many a crumbling hill,
And the little chumbling mouse
Gnarls the dead weed for her house,
While the plough’s unfeeling share
Lays full many a dwelling bare;–
Where the lark with russet breast
‘Hind the big clod hides her nest,
And the black snail’s founder’d pace
Finds from noon a hiding-place,
Breaking off the scorching sun
Where the matted twitches run.
Solitude ! I love thee well,
Brushing through the wilder’d dell,
Picking from the ramping grass
Nameless blossoms as I pass,
Which the dews of eve bedeck,
Fair a pearls on woman’s neck;
Marking shepherds rous’d from sleep
Blundering off to fold their sheep;
And the swain, with toils distrest,
Hide his tools to seek his rest:
While the cows, with hobbling strides,
Twitching slow their fly-bit hides,
Rub the pasture’s creaking gate,
Milking maids and boys to wait.
Or as sunshine leaves the sky,
As the daylight shuts her eye,
Sweet it is to meet the breeze
‘Neath the shade of hawthorn trees,
By the pasture’s wilder’d round,
Where the pismire hills abound,
Where the blushing fin-weed’s flower
Closes up at even’s hour:
Leaving then the green behind,
Narrow hoof-plod lanes to wind,
Oak and ash embower’d beneath,
Leading to the lonely heath,
Where the unmolested furze
And the burdock’s clinging burs,
And the briars, by freedom sown,
Claim the wilder’d spots their own.
There while we the scene survey
Deck’d in nature’s wild array,
Swell’d with ling-clad hillocks green
Suiting the disorder’d scene,
Haply we may rest us then
In the banish’d herdsman’s den;
Where the wattled hulk is fixt,
Propt some double oak betwixt,
Where the swain the branches lops,
And o’er head with rushes tops;
Where, with woodbine’s sweet perfume,
And the rose’s blushing bloom,
Loveliest cieling of the bower,
Arching in, peeps many a flower;
While a hill of thyme so sweet,
Or a moss’d stone, forms a seat.
There, as ‘tween-light hangs the eve,
I will watch thy bosom heave;
Marking then the darksome flows
Night’s gloom o’er thy mantle throws;
Fondly gazing on thine eye
As it rolls its extasy,
When thy solemn musings caught
Tell thy soul’s absorb’d in thought;
When thy finely folded arm
O’er thy bosom beating warm
Wraps thee melancholy round;
And thy ringlets wild unbound
On thy lily shoulders lie,
Like dark streaks in morning’s sky.
Peace and silence sit with thee,
And peace alone is heaven to me:
While the moonlight’s infant hour
Faint ‘gins creep to gild the bower,
And the wattled hedge gleams round
Its diamond shadows on the ground.
– O thou soothing Solitude,
From the vain and from the rude,
When this silent hour is come,
And I meet thy welcome home,
What balm is thine to troubles deep,
As on thy breast I sink to sleep;
What bliss on even’s silence flows,
When thy wish’d opiate bring repose.
And I have found thee wondrous sweet,
Sheltering from the noon-day heat,
As ‘neath hazels I have stood
In the gloomy hanging wood,
Where the sunbeams, filtering small,
Freckling through the branches fall;
And the flapping leaf the ground
Shadows, flitting round and round:
Where the glimmering streamlets wreathe
Many a crooked root beneath,
Unseen gliding day by day
O’er their solitary way,
Smooth or rough, as onward led
Where the wild-weed dip its head,
Murmuring,–dribbling drop by drop
When dead leaves their progress stop,–
Or winding sweet their restless way
While the frothy bubbles play.
And I love thy presence drear
In such wildernesses, where
Ne’er an axe was heard to sound,
Or a tree fall gulsh’d the ground,
Where (as if that spot could be)
First foot-mark’d the ground by me,
All is still, and wild, and gay,
Left as at creation’s day.
Pleasant too it is to look
For thy step in shady nook,
Where, by hedge-side coolly led,
Brooks curl o’er their sandy bed;
On whose tide the clouds reflect,
In whose margin flags are freckt;
Where the waters, winding blue,
Single-arch’d brig flutter through,
While the willow-branches grey
Damp the sultry eye of day,
And in whispers mildly sooth
Chafe the mossy keystone smooth;
Where the banks, beneath them spread,
Level in an easy bed;
While the wild-thyme’s pinky bells
Circulate reviving smells;
And as the breeze, with feather-feet,
Crimping o’er the waters sweet,
Trembling fans the sun-tann’d cheek,
And gives the comfort one would seek.
Stretching there in soft repose,
Far from peace and freedom’s foes,
In a spot, so wild, so rude,
Dear to me is solitude!
Soothing then to watch the ground,–
Every insect flitting round,
Such as painted summer brings;–
Lady-fly with freckled wings,
Watch her up the tall bent climb;
And from knotted flowers of thyme,
Where the woodland banks are deckt,
See the bee his load collect;
Mark him turn the petals by,
Gold dust gathering on his thigh,
As full many a hum he heaves,
While he pats th’intruding leaves
Lost in many a heedless spring,
Then wearing home on heavy wing.
But when sorrows more oppress,
When the world brings more distress,
Wishing to despise as then
Brunts of fate, and scorn of men;
When fate’s demons thus intrude,
Then I seek thee, Solitude,
Where the abbey’s height appears
Hoary ‘neath a weight of years;
Where the mouldering walls are seen
Hung with pellitory green;
Where the steeple’s taper stretch
Tires the eye its length to reach,
Dizzy, nauntling high and proud,
Top-stone losing in a cloud;
Where the cross, to time resign’d,
Creaking harshly in the wind,
Crowning high the rifted dome,
Points the pilgrim’s wish’d-for home;
While the look fear turns away,
Shuddering at its dread decay.
There let me my peace pursue
‘Neath the shade of gloomy yew,
Doleful hung with mourning green,
Suiting well the solemn scene;
There, that I may learn to scan
Mites illustrious, called man,
Turn with thee the nettles by
Where the grave-stone meets the eye,
Soon, full soon to read and see
That all below is vanity;
And man, to me a galling thing,
Own’d creation’s lord and king,
A minute’s length, a zephyr’s breath,
Sport of fate, and prey of death;
Tyrant to-day, to-morrow gone;
Distinguish’d only by a stone,
That fain would have the eye to know
Pride’s better dust is lodg’d below,–
While worm like me are mouldering laid,
With nothing set to say “they’re dead;”–
All the difference, trifling thing,
That notes at last the slave and king.
As wither’d leaves, life’s bloom when stopt,
That drop in autumn, so they dropt:
As snails, which in their painted shell
So snugly once were known to dwell,
When in the school-boy’s care we view
The pleasing toys of varied hue.–
By age or accident are flown,
The shell left empty,–tenant gone;–
So pass we from the world’s affairs,
And careless vanish from its cares;
So leave, with silent, long farewel,
Vain life–as left the snail his shell.
All this when there my eyes behold
On every stone and heap of mould,
Solitude, though thou art sweet,
Solemn art thou then to meet;
When with list’ning pause I look
Round the pillar’s ruin’d nook,
Glooms revealing, dim descried,
Ghosts, companion’d by thy side;
Where in old deformity
Ancient arches sweep on high;
And the aisles, to light unknown,
Create a darkness all their own:
Save the moon, as on we pass,
Splinters through the broken glass,
Or the torn roof, patch’d with cloud,
Or the crack’d wall, bulg’d and bow’d;–
Glimmering faint along the ground,
Shooting solemn and profound,
Lighting up the silent gloom
Just to read an ancient tomb:
‘Neath where, as it gilding creeps,
We may see some abbot sleeps;
And as on we mete the aisle,
Daring scarce to breathe the while,
Soft as creeping feet can fall,
While the damp green-stained wall
Swift the startled ghost flits by,
Mocking murmurs faintly sigh;
Reminding our intruding fear
Such visits are unwelcome here.
Seemly then, from hollow urn,
Gentle steps our step return:
E’er so soft and e’er so still,
Check our breath or how we will,
List’ning spirits still reply
Step for step, and sigh for sigh.
Murmuring o’er one’s weary woe,
Such as once ’twas theirs to know,
They whisper to such slaves as me,
A buried tale of misery:–
“We once had life, ere life’s decline,
Flesh, blood, and bone, the same as thine;
We knew its pains, and shar’d its grief,
Till death, long wish’d-for, brought relief;
We had our hopes, and like to thee,
Hop’d morrow’s better day to see,
But like to thine, our hope the same,
To-morrow’s kindness never came:
We had our tyrants, e’en as thou;
Our wants met many a scornful brow;
But death laid low their wealthy powers,
Their harmless ashes mix with ours:
And this vain world, its pride, its form,
That treads on thee as on a worm,
Its mighty heirs–the time shall be
When they as quiet sleep by thee!”
O here’s thy comfort, Solitude,
When overpowering woes intrude!
Then thy sad, thy solemn dress
Owns the balm my soul to bless:
Here I judge the world aright;
Here see vain man in his true light;
Learn patience, in this trying hour,
To gild life’s brambles with a flower;
Take pattern from the hints thou’st given,
And follow in thy steps to heaven.
The Morning Walk
The linnet sat upon its nest,
By gales of morning softly prest,
His green wing and his greener breast
Were damp with dews of morning:
The dog-rose near the oaktree grew,
Blush’d swelling ‘neath a veil of dew,
A pink’s nest to its prickles grew,
Right early in the morning.
The sunshine glittered gold, the while
A country maiden clomb the stile;
Her straw hat couldn’t hide the smile
That blushed like early morning.
The lark, with feathers all wet through,
Looked up above the glassy dew,
And to the neighbouring corn-field flew,
Fanning the gales of morning.
In every bush was heard a song,
On each grass blade, the whole way long,
A silver shining drop there hung,
The milky dew of morning.
Where stepping-stones stride o’er the brook
The rosy maid I overtook.
How ruddy was her healthy look,
So early in the morning!
I took her by the well-turned arm,
And led her over field and farm,
And kissed her tender cheek so warm,
A rose in early morning.
The spiders’ lacework shone like glass,
Tied up to flowers and cat-tail grass;
The dew-drops bounced before the lass,
Sprinkling the early morning.
Her dark curls fanned among the gales,
The skylark whistled o’er the vales,
I told her love’s delightful tales
Among the dews of morning.
She crop’t a flower, shook oft’ the dew,
And on her breast the wild rose grew;
She blushed as fair, as lovely, too–
The living rose of morning.
The Tell-Tale Flowers
And has the Spring’s all glorious eye
No lesson to the mind?
The birds that cleave the golden sky–
Things to the earth resigned–
Wild flowers that dance to every wind–
Do they no memory leave behind?
Aye, flowers! The very name of flowers,
That bloom in wood and glen,
Brings Spring to me in Winter’s hours,
And childhood’s dreams again.
The primrose on the woodland lea
Was more than gold and lands to me.
The violets by the woodland side
Are thick as they could thrive;
I’ve talked to them with childish pride
As things that were alive:
I find them now in my distress–
They seem as sweet, yet valueless.
The cowslips on the meadow lea,
How have I run for them!
I looked with wild and childish glee
Upon each golden gem:
And when they bowed their heads so shy
I laughed, and thought they danced for joy.
And when a man, in early years,
How sweet they used to come,
And give me tales of smiles and tears,
And thoughts more dear than home:
Secrets which words would then reprove–
They told the names of early love.
The primrose turned a babbling flower
Within its sweet recess:
I blushed to see its secret bower,
And turned her name to bless.
The violets said the eyes were blue:
I loved, and did they tell me true?
The cowslips, blooming everywhere,
My heart’s own thoughts could steal:
I nip’t them that they should not hear:
They smiled, and would reveal;
And o’er each meadow, right or wrong,
They sing the name I’ve worshipped long.
The brook that mirrored clear the sky–
Full well I know the spot;
The mouse-ear looked with bright blue eye,
And said “Forget-me-not.”
And from the brook I turned away,
But heard it many an after day.
The king-cup on its slender stalk,
Within the pasture dell,
Would picture there a pleasant walk
With one I loved so well.
It said “How sweet at eventide
‘T would be, with true love at thy side.”
And on the pasture’s woody knoll
I saw the wild bluebell,
On Sundays where I used to stroll
With her I loved so well:
She culled the flowers the year before;
These bowed, and told the story o’er.
And every flower that had a name
Would tell me who was fair;
But those without, as strangers, came
And blossomed silent there:
I stood to hear, but all alone:
They bloomed and kept their thoughts unknown.
But seasons now have nought to say,
The flowers no news to bring:
Alone I live from day to day–
Flowers deck the bier of Spring;
And birds upon the bush or tree
All sing a different tale to me.
Birds, Why Are Ye Silent?
Why are ye silent, Birds?
Where do ye fly?
Winter’s not violent,
With such a Spring sky.
The wheatlands are green, snow and frost are away,
Birds, why are ye silent on such a sweet day?
By the slated pig-stye
The redbreast scarce whispers:
Where last Autumn’s leaves lie
The hedge sparrow just lispers.
And why are the chaffinch and bullfinch so still,
While the sulphur primroses bedeck the wood hill?
The bright yellow-hammers
Are strutting about,
All still, and none stammers
A single note out.
From the hedge starts the blackbird, at brook side to drink:
I thought he’d have whistled, but he only said “prink.”
The tree-creeper hustles
Up fir’s rusty bark;
All silent he bustles;
We needn’t say hark.
There’s no song in the forest, in field, or in wood,
Yet the sun gilds the grass as though come in for good.
How bright the odd daisies
Peep under the stubbs!
How bright pilewort blazes
Where ruddled sheep rubs
The old willow trunk by the side of the brook,
Where soon for blue violets the children will look!
By the cot green and mossy
Feed sparrow and hen:
On the ridge brown and glossy
They cluck now and then.
The wren cocks his tail o’er his back by the stye,
Where his green bottle nest will be made by and bye.
Here’s bunches of chickweed,
With small starry flowers,
Where red-caps oft pick seed
In hungry Spring hours.
And blue cap and black cap, in glossy Spring coat,
Are a-peeping in buds without singing a note.
Why silent should birds be
And sunshine so warm?
Larks hide where the herds be
By cottage and farm.
If wild flowers were blooming and fully set in the Spring
May-be all the birdies would cheerfully sing.
After Reading In A Letter Proposals For Building A Cottage.
Beside a runnel build my shed,
With stubbles cover’d o’er;
Let broad oaks o’er its chimney spread,
And grass-plats grace the door.
The door may open with a string,
So that it closes tight;
And locks would be a wanted thing,
To keep out thieves at night.
A little garden, not too fine,
Inclose with painted pales;
And woodbines, round the cot to twine,
Pin to the wall with nails.
Let hazels grow, and spindling sedge,
Bent bowering over-head;
Dig old man’s beard from woodland hedge,
To twine a summer shade.
Beside the threshold sods provide,
And build a summer seat;
Plant sweet-briar bushes by its side,
And flowers that blossom sweet.
I love the sparrow’s ways to watch
Upon the cotter’s sheds,
So here and there pull out the thatch,
That they may hide their heads.
And as the sweeping swallows stop
Their flights along the green,
Leave holes within the chimney-top
To paste their nest between.
Stick shelves and cupboards round the hut,
In all the holes and nooks;
Nor in the corner fail to put
A cupboard for the books.
Along the floor some sand I’ll sift,John Clare
To make it fit to live in;
And then I’ll thank ye for the gift,
As something worth the giving.
The thistle-down’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red hot.
The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.
Hill tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.
The small wind whispers through the leafless hedge
Most sharp and chill, where the light snowy flakes
Rest on each twig and spike of wither’d sedge,
Resembling scatter’d feathers;–vainly breaks
The pale split sunbeam through the frowning cloud,
On Winter’s frowns below–from day to day
Unmelted still he spreads his hoary shroud,
In dithering pride on the pale traveller’s way,
Who, croodling, hastens from the storm behind
Fast gathering deep and black, again to find
His cottage-fire and corner’s sheltering bounds;
Where, haply, such uncomfortable days
Make musical the wood-sap’s frizzling sounds,
And hoarse loud bellows puffing up the blaze.
Syren of sullen moods and fading hues,
Yet haply not incapable of joy,
Sweet Autumn! I thee hail
With welcome all unfeigned;
And oft as morning from her lattice peeps
To beckon up the sun, I seek with thee
To drink the dewy breath
Of fields left fragrant then,
In solitudes, where no frequented paths
But what thy own foot makes betray thy home,
Stealing obtrusive there
To meditate thy end:
By overshadowed ponds, in woody nooks,
With ramping sallows lined, and crowding sedge,
Which woo the winds to play,
And with them dance for joy;
And meadow pools, torn wide by lawless floods,
Where water-lilies spread their oily leaves,
On which, as wont, the fly
Oft battens in the sun;
Where leans the mossy willow half way oer,
On which the shepherd crawls astride to throw
His angle, clear of weeds
That crowd the water’s brim;
Or crispy hills, and hollows scant of sward,
Where step by step the patient lonely boy
Hath cut rude flights of stairs
To climb their steepy sides;
Then track along their feet, grown hoarse with noise,
The crawling brook, that ekes its weary speed,
And struggles through the weeds
With faint and sullen brawl.
These haunts I long have favoured, more as now
With thee thus wandering, moralizing on,
Stealing glad thoughts from grief,
And happy, though I sigh.
Sweet Vision, with the wild dishevelled hair,
And raiment shadowy of each wind’s embrace,
Fain would I win thine harp
To one accordant theme;
Now not inaptly craved, communing thus,
Beneath the curdled arms of this stunt oak,
While pillowed on the grass,
We fondly ruminate
Oer the disordered scenes of woods and fields,
Ploughed lands, thin travelled with half-hungry sheep,
Pastures tracked deep with cows,
Where small birds seek for seed:
Marking the cow-boy that so merry trills
His frequent, unpremeditated song,
Wooing the winds to pause,
Till echo brawls again;
As on with plashy step, and clouted shoon,
He roves, half indolent and self-employed,
To rob the little birds
Of hips and pendent haws,
And sloes, dim covered as with dewy veils,
And rambling bramble-berries, pulp and sweet,
Arching their prickly trails
Half oer the narrow lane:
Noting the hedger front with stubborn face
The dank blea wind, that whistles thinly by
His leathern garb, thorn proof,
And cheek red hot with toil.
While oer the pleachy lands of mellow brown,
The mower’s stubbling scythe clogs to his foot
The ever eking whisp,
With sharp and sudden jerk,
Till into formal rows the russet shocks
Crowd the blank field to thatch time-weathered barns,
And hovels rude repair,
Stript by disturbing winds.
See! from the rustling scythe the haunted hare
Scampers circuitous, with startled ears
Prickt up, then squat, as bye
She brushes to the woods,
Where reeded grass, breast-high and undisturbed,
Forms pleasant clumps, through which the soothing winds
Soften her rigid fears,
And lull to calm repose.
Wild sorceress! me thy restless mood delights,
More than the stir of summer’s crowded scenes,
Where, jostled in the din,
Joy palled my ear with song;
Heart-sickening for the silence that is thine,
Not broken inharmoniously, as now
That lone and vagrant bee
Booms faint with wearp chime.
Now filtering winds thin winnow through the woods
In tremulous noise, that bids, at every breath,
Some sickly cankered leaf
Let go its hold, and die.
And now the bickering storm, with sudden start,
In flirting fits of anger carps aloud,
Thee urging to thine end,
Sore wept by troubled skies.
And yet, sublime in grief, thy thoughts delight
To show me visions of most gorgeous dyes,
Haply forgetting now
They but prepare thy shroud;
Thy pencil dashing its excess of shades,
Improvident of waste, till every bough
Burns with thy mellow touch
Soon must I view thee as a pleasant dream
Droop faintly, and so sicken for thine end,
As sad the winds sink low
In dirges for their queen;
While in the moment of their weary pause,
To cheer thy bankrupt pomp, the willing lark
Starts from his shielding clod,
Snatching sweet scraps of song.
Thy life is waning now, and silence tries
To mourn, but meets no sympathy in sounds.
As stooping low she bends,
Forming with leaves thy grave;
To sleep inglorious there mid tangled woods,
Till parch-lipped summer pines in drought away,
Then from thine ivied trance
Awake to glories new.
Sweet type of innocence, snow-clothed blossom,
Seemly, though vainly, bowing down to shun
The storm hard-beating on thy wan white bosom,
Left in the swail, and little cheer’d by sun;
Resembling that frail jewel, just begun
To ope on vice’s eye its witcheries blooming,
Midst all its storms, with little room to shun–
Ah, thou art winter’s snowdrop, lovely Woman!
In this world dropt, where every evil’s glooming
With killing tempests o’er its tender prey,
Watching the opening of thy beauties coming,
Its every infant charm to snatch away:
Then come the sorrows thou’rt too weak to brave,
And then thy beauty-cheek digs ruin’s early grave.
To The Butterfly.
Lovely insect, haste away,
Greet once more the sunny day;
Leave, O leave the murky barn,
Ere trapping spiders thee discern;
Soon as seen, they will beset
Thy golden wings with filmy net,
Then all in vain to set thee free,
Hopes all lost for liberty.
Never think that I belie,
Never fear a winter sky;
Budding oaks may now be seen,
Starry daisies deck the green,
Primrose groups the woods adorn,
Cloudless skies, and blossom’d thorn;
These all prove that spring is here,
Haste away then, never fear.
Skim o’er hill and valley free,
Perch upon the blossom’d tree;
Though my garden would be best,
Couldst thou but contended rest:
There the school-boy has no power
Thee to chase from flower to flower,
Harbour none for cruel sport,
Far away thy foes resort;
Nought is there but liberty,
Pleasant place for thee and me.
Then hither bend thy roving flight,
In my garden take delight.
Though the dew-bent level dale
Rears the lily of the vale,
Though the thicket’s bushy dell
Tempts thee to the foxglove’s bell,
Come but once within my bounds,
View my garden’s airy rounds,
Soon thou’lt find the scene complete,
And every flowret twice as sweet:
Then, lovely insect, come away,
Greet once more the sunny day.
Oft I’ve seen, when warm and dry,
‘Mong the bean-fields bosom high,
How thy starry gems and gold
To admiration would unfold:
Lo! the arching heavenly bow
Doth all his dyes on thee bestow,
Crimson, blue, and watery green,
Mix’d with azure shade between;
These are thine–thou first in place,
Queen of all the insect race!
And I’ve often thought, alone,
This to thee was not unknown;
For amid the sunny hour,
When I’ve found thee on a flower,
(Searching with minutest gleg,)
Oft I’ve seen thy little leg
Soft as glass o’er velvet glides
Smoothen down thy silken sides;
Then thy wings would ope and shut;
Then thou seemingly wouldst strut:
Was it nature, was it pride
Let the learned world decide.
Enough for me, (though some may deem
This a trifling, silly theme,)
Would’st thou in my garden come,
To join the bee’s delightful hum;
These silly themes then, day and night,
Should be thy trifler’s whole delight.
Then, lovely insect, haste away,
Greet once more the sunny day.
The March Nosegay
The bonny March morning is beaming
In mingled crimson and grey,
White clouds are streaking and creaming
The sky till the noon of the day;
The fir deal looks darker and greener,
And grass hills below look the same;
The air all about is serener,
The birds less familiar and tame.
Here’s two or three flowers for my fair one,
Wood primroses and celandine too;
I oft look about for a rare one
To put in a posy for you.
The birds look so clean and so neat,
Though there’s scarcely a leaf on the grove;
The sun shines about me so sweet,
I cannot help thinking of love.
So where the blue violets are peeping,
By the warm sunny sides of the woods,
And the primrose, ‘neath early morn weeping,
Amid a large cluster of buds,
(The morning it was such a rare one,
So dewy, so sunny, and fair,)
I sought the wild flowers for my fair one,
To wreath in her glossy black hair.
The summer-flower has run to seed,
And yellow is the woodland bough;
And every leaf of bush and weed
Is tipt with autumn’s pencil now.
And I do love the varied hue,
And I do love the browning plain;
And I do love each scene to view,
That’s mark’d with beauties of her reign.
The woodbine-trees red berries bear,
That clustering hang upon the bower;
While, fondly lingering here and there,
Peeps out a dwindling sickly flower.
The trees’ gay leaves are turned brown,
By every little wind undress’d;
And as they flap and whistle down,
We see the birds’ deserted nest.
No thrush or blackbird meets the eye,
Or fills the ear with summer’s strain;
They but dart out for worm and fly,
Then silent seek their rest again.
Beside the brook, in misty blue,
Bilberries glow on tendrils weak,
Where many a bare-foot splashes through,
The pulpy, juicy prize to seek:
For ’tis the rustic boy’s delight,
Now autumn’s sun so warmly gleams,
And these ripe berries tempt his sight,
To dabble in the shallow streams.
And oft his rambles we may trace,
Delv’d in the mud his printing feet,
And oft we meet a chubby face
All stained with the berries sweet.
The cowboy oft slives down the brook,
And tracks for hours each winding round,
While pinders, that such chances look,
Drive his rambling cows to pound.
The woodland bowers, that us’d to be
Lost in their silence and their shade,
Are now a scene of rural glee,
With many a nutting swain and maid.
The scrambling shepherd with his hook,
‘Mong hazel boughs of rusty brown
That overhang some gulphing brook,
Drags the ripen’d clusters down.
While, on a bank of faded grass,
Some artless maid the prize receives;
And kisses to the sun-tann’d lass,
As well as nuts, the shepherd gives.
I love the year’s decline, and love
Through rustling yellow shades to range,
O’er stubble land, ‘neath willow grove,
To pause upon each varied change:
And oft have thought ’twas sweet, to list
The stubbles crackling with the heat,
Just as the sun broke through the mist
And warm’d the herdsman’s rushy seat;
And grunting noise of rambling hogs,
Where pattering acorns oddly drop;
And noisy bark of shepherds’ dogs,
The restless routs of sheep to stop;
While distant thresher’s swingle drops
With sharp and hollow-twanking raps;
And, nigh at hand, the echoing chops
Of hardy hedger stopping gaps;
And sportsmen’s trembling whistle-calls
That stay the swift retreating pack;
And cowboy’s whoops, and squawking brawls,
To urge the straggling heifer back.
Autumn-time, thy scenes and shades
Are pleasing to the tasteful eye;
Though winter, when the thought pervades,
Creates an ague-shivering sigh.
Grey-bearded rime hangs on the morn,
And what’s to come too true declares;
The ice-drop hardens on the thorn,
And winter’s starving bed prepares.
No music’s heard the fields among;
Save where the hedge-chats chittering play,
And ploughman drawls his lonely song,
As cutting short the dreary day.
Now shatter’d shades let me attend,
Reflecting look on their decline,
Where pattering leaves confess their end,
In sighing flutterings hinting mine.
For every leaf, that twirls the breeze,
May useful hints and lessons give;
The falling leaves and fading trees
Will teach and caution us to live.
“Wandering clown,” they seem to say,
“In us your coming end review:
Like you we lived, but now decay;
The same sad fate approaches you.”
Beneath a yellow fading tree,
As red suns light thee, Autumn-morn,
In wildest rapture let me see
The sweets that most thy charms adorn.
O while my eye the landscape views,
What countless beauties are display’d;
What varied tints of nameless hues,–
Shades endless melting into shade.
A russet red the hazels gain,
As suited to their drear decline;
While maples brightest dress retain,
And in the gayest yellows shine.
The poplar tree hath lost its pride;
Its leaves in wan consumption pine;
They hoary turn on either side,
And life to every gale resign.
The stubborn oak, with haughty pride
Still in its lingering green, we view;
But vain the strength he shows is tried,
He tinges slow with sickly hue.
The proudest triumph art conceives,
Or beauties nature’s power can crown,
Grey-bearded time in shatters leaves;
Destruction’s trample treads them down.
Tis lovely now to turn one’s eye,
The changing face of heaven to mind;
How thin-spun clouds glide swiftly by,
While lurking storms slow move behind.
Now suns are clear, now clouds pervade,
Each moment chang’d, and chang’d again;
And first a light, and then a shade,
Swift glooms and brightens o’er the plain.
Poor pussy through the stubble flies,
In vain, o’erpowering foes to shun;
The lurking spaniel points the prize,
And pussy’s harmless race is run.
The crowing pheasant, in the brakes,
Betrays his lair with awkward squalls;
A certain aim the gunner takes,
He clumsy fluskers up, and falls.
But hide thee, muse, the woods among,
Nor stain thy artless, rural rhymes;
Go leave the murderer’s wiles unsung,
Nor mark the harden’d gunner’s crimes.
The fields all clear’d, the labouring mice
To sheltering hedge and wood patrole,
Where hips and haws for food suffice,
That chumbled lie about their hole.
The squirrel, bobbing from the eye,
Is busy now about his hoard,
And in old nest of crow or pye
His winter-store is oft explor’d.
The leaves forsake the willow grey,
And down the brook they whirl and wind;
So hopes and pleasures whirl away,
And leave old age and pain behind.
The thorns and briars, vermilion-hue,
Now full of hips and haws are seen;
If village-prophecies be true,
They prove that winter will be keen.
Hark! started are some lonely strains:
The robin-bird is urg’d to sing;
Of chilly evening he complains,
And dithering droops his ruffled wing.
Slow o’er the wood the puddock sails;
And mournful, as the storms arise,
His feeble note of sorrow wails
To the unpitying frowning skies.
More coldly blows the autumn-breeze;
Old winter grins a blast between;
The north-winds rise and strip the trees,
And desolation shuts the scene.
Poets Love Nature–A Fragment
Poets love Nature, and themselves are love.
Though scorn of fools, and mock of idle pride.
The vile in nature worthless deeds approve,
They court the vile and spurn all good beside.
Poets love Nature; like the calm of Heaven,
Like Heaven’s own love, her gifts spread far and wide:
In all her works there are no signs of leaven
* * * *
Her flowers * * * *
They are her very Scriptures upon earth,
And teach us simple mirth where’er we go.
Even in prison they can solace me,
For where they bloom God is, and I am free.
What wonder strikes the curious, while he views
The black ant’s city, by a rotten tree,
Or woodland bank! In ignorance we muse:
Pausing, annoyed,–we know not what we see,
Such government and thought there seem to be;
Some looking on, and urging some to toil,
Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly:
And what’s more wonderful, when big loads foil
One ant or two to carry, quickly then
A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men.
Surely they speak a language whisperingly,
Too fine for us to hear; and sure their ways
Prove they have kings and laws, and that they be
Deformed remnants of the Fairy-days.
All of these poems are classics! John Clare was referred to as “The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet” His skills in creating powerfully written poems are indeed magnificent!
Of course, I wouldn’t miss reading my favorite work in this collection―To The Butterfly. If I’m not mistaken, I also mentioned how I love butterflies in my previous blog, which is why I also love this poem.
What about you? What’s your most favorite poem of John Clare?
Do you still want to add another of his poem to this list? Let me know in the comment section below! 😉