Saturday, March 18, 2006


I Love...

From John Clare, The Winter's Come:
'Tis Winter, and I love to read indoors,
  When the Moon hangs her crescent up on high;
While on the window shutters the wind roars,
  And storms like furies pass remorseless by.
How pleasant on a feather bed to lie,
  Or, sitting by the fire, in fancy soar
With Dante or with Milton to regions high,
  Or read fresh volumes we've not seen before,
  Or o'er old Burton's Melancholy pore.
I've been reading some of Clare's poems, and I'm struck by how often the words "I love..." occur in them. Mostly what he loves is out of doors, not inside:
All day long I love the oaks...

I love to rustle through the sedge...

I love at early morn, from new mown swath,
  To see the startled frog his route pursue...

I love the south-west wind, or low or loud...

I love to walk the fields, they are to me
  A legacy no evil can destroy;
They, like a spell, set every rapture free
  That cheered me when a boy...

I love with my old haunts to be
  By quiet woods and gravel springs...

Huge elm, with rifted trunk all notched and scarred,
  Like to a warrior's destiny! I love
To stretch me often on thy shadowed sward,
  And hear the laugh of summer leaves above...

I love the weeds along the fen,
  More sweet than garden flowers...
But enough snippets. Here are two complete poems:

I love the fitful gust that shakes
  The casement all the day,
And from the glossy elm tree takes
  The faded leaves away,
Twirling them by the window pane
With thousand others down the lane.

I love to see the shaking twig
  Dance till the shut of eve,
The sparrow on the cottage rig,
  Whose chirp would make believe
That Spring was just now flirting by
In Summer's lap with flowers to lie.

I love to see the cottage smoke
  Curl upwards through the trees,
The pigeons nestled round the cote
  On November days like these;
The cock upon the dunghill crowing,
The mill sails on the heath a-going.

The feather from the raven's breast
  Falls on the stubble lea,
The acorns near the old crow's nest
  Drop pattering down the tree;
The grunting pigs, that wait for all,
Scramble and hurry where they fall.

Emmonsail's Heath in Winter

I love to see the old heath's withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling,
While the old heron from the lonely lake
Starts slow and flaps his melancholy wing,
And oddling crow in idle motions swing
On the half rotten ashtree's topmost twig,
Beside whose trunk the gipsy makes his bed.
Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread,
The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thorn
And for the awe round fields and closen rove,
And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again.
In this last poem I wonder if "awe" means haw, the fruit of the hawthorn. Compare "haws on which the fieldfares feed," from Clare's poem Schoolboys in Winter. "Closen" also puzzles me -- I would expect "closes," the plural of "close" = "an inclosed place; especially, a small field or piece of land surrounded by a wall, hedge, or fence of any kind" (Webster). I don't own a copy of Clare's poetry, and I'm quoting from the online Project Gutenberg edition. Despite the puzzles, Emmonsail's Heath in Winter is a beautiful poem, especially to read aloud. I'd like to hear Garrison Keillor, with his mellifluous voice, read it on Writer's Almanac.

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