Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Love Poetry

I first became acquainted with the poetry of John Clare (1793-1864) from W.H. Auden's anthology of Nineteenth Century British Minor Poets. I recently acquired a copy of Clare's Major Works in the Oxford World Classics series. Minor poets can apparently write major works.

Several of Clare's poems begin with the words I love. The index of titles and first lines in the Major Works lists about a dozen such poems. In only one of these does Clare say that he loves a person. In the rest he loves things, natural objects. Clare was infatuated with a woman named Mary Joyce and wrote many poems about her, but it is the poetry in which he expresses his love of nature that most interests me.

There are no pictures in Clare's Major Works. One could compile a interesting book by juxtaposing Clare's poems with photographs of the natural objects he describes. Furze and ling were just words to me until I found pictures of them. Gorse is another name for furze, and here is picture from Wikipedia of dwarf gorse:

As the picture shows, furze flowers can survive in at least some snow. Pictures like this make Clare's poem Emmonsails Heath in Winter more vivid to me:
I love to see the old heaths withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling
While the old Heron from the lonely lake
Starts slow and flaps his melancholly wing
And oddling crow in idle motions swing
On the half rotten ash trees topmost twig
Beside whose trunk the gipsey makes his bed
Up flies the bouncing wood cock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread
The field fare chatters 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
A couple of the verb forms in this poem puzzle me. Clare says crow ... swing (not crow ... swings, which would destroy the rhyme). Perhaps here one could supply the opening words of the poem and understand "I love to see the oddling (solitary) crow swing..." Towards the end of the poem we read the field fare chatters ... and ... rove, where chatters is singular and rove is plural. It would be easy to emend to the field fares chatter ... and ... rove, but probably unfair to Clare, who chafed at the constraints of grammar and spelling and punctuation. He once wrote (Major Works, p. 480):
A man who learns enough of grammer to write sufficiently plain so as to be understood by others as well as to understand his own consceptions himself and trys out the way to make his consceptions correct thinkings rather than the correct placing of particles and stops and other trifling with which every writer on grammar seems to be at loggerheads about with each other -- such an attainment will get the possessor an enlightened and liberal mind and if he attain not with this broad principle an excellence in composition the niceties of intricate Lectures on grammer with its utmost perfection will not attain it for him

There has been more words used and study uselessly expended in the settlement of what is grammar and what should be grammer in the argument of opinions urged and in the explanation of opinions refuted then there has been arguments and refutations hustled up in the matters of politics or even in opinions of religion

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