Sunday, August 31, 2008


Odi et Amo

In the First Line Index to the Poetry of John Clare, I count 54 poems that start with the words "I love..." In most of them, what Clare loves is some aspect of nature or some outdoor activity. In only a few does Clare mention a person whom he loves.

According to the Index, only two of Clare's poems start with the words "I hate...": "I hate the very noise of troublous man..." and "I hate to see mans strength employd..." Here is the latter:
I hate to see mans strength employd
To desolate the wood
To see a favourite tree destroyd
That has for ages stood
To see the stript oak stretchd its length
A mournful thought the scene attends
Those seem thats left still green in strength
To mourn their fallen friends
In an autobiographical sketch, Clare recalls some of his favorite trees that were destroyed:
I usd to be fondly attached to spots about the fields and there were 3 or 4 were I used to go visit on sundays    one of these was under an old Ivied Oak in Oxey wood were I twisted a sallow stoven into a harbour which grew into the cramped way in which I had made it    two others were under a broad oak in a field called the Barrows and Langley Bush and all my favourite places have met with misfortunes    the old ivied tree was cut down    when the wood was cut down and my bower was destroyed the woodmen fancied it a resort for robbers and some thought the crampd way in which the things grew were witch knotts and that the spot was a haunt were witches met    I never unriddeld the mystery and it is believd so still for I got there often to hide myself and was ashamed to acknowledge it—Lee Close Oak was cut down in the inclosure and Langley bush was broken up by some wanton fellows while kidding furze on the heath—the Carpenter that bought Lee Close oak hearing it was a favourite tree of mine made two rules and sent me and I prese[r]ved a piece of the old Ivy the thickest I have ever seen
A good article on Clare's fondness for trees is Eric Robinson,"'To an Oaken Stem': John Clare's Poem Recovered and Reconsidered," The Review of English Studies, n.s. 38.152 (Nov. 1987) 483-491, in which the passages quoted above and many others are discussed.

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