Thursday, January 18, 2007


Asyndetic Privative Adjectives in John Clare

A song by John Clare (dated March 3, 1847) contains an example of asyndetic privative adjectives starting at the third word of the third line of the third stanza (italicized below):
I would not be a wither'd leaf
Twirled in an autumn sky
Mine should not be a life so brief
To fade and fall and die

Nor would I be a wither'd flower
Whose stalk was broke before
The bud showed bloom in springs young hour
Heart sicken'd at the core

But I would be a happy thought
With thy sweet sleep to lie
And live unknown, unseen, unsought
And keep my lonely joy

Yes I would be a ray of light
In the apple of thy eye
And watch o'er thee the live long night
In beauty, and in joy
There is no need to posit any literary influences. But we do know that Clare was familiar with Milton's Paradise Lost, which contains several examples of asyndetic privative adjectives (listed here). See Jonathan Bate, John Clare: A Biography (2003), chap. 5:
Clare said that Thomson's The Seasons and Milton's Paradise Lost formed his foundation in poetry. He discovered them early in life and read through them again and again until he was at least thirty.

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