• John Clare’s ‘August’

John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) is a constant source of delight.  His eye for detail and linguistic turns of phrase constantly surprise.  I’m very fond of this episode from ‘August’, where ‘the bawling boy’ goes stealing fruit under the cover of darkness.  As I frequently walk home at night, with unexpected animal and bird noises and looming shapes on all sides, I can identify with the boy’s alarm!

When day declines and labour meets repose
The bawling boy his evening journey goes
At toils unwearied call the first and last
He drives his horses to their nights repast
In dewey close or meadow to sojourn
And often ventures on his still return
Oer garden pales or orchard walls to hie
When sleeps safe key hath locked up dangers eye
All but the mastiff watching in the dark
Who snufts and knows him and forbears to bark
With fearful haste he climbs each loaded tree
And picks for prizes which the ripest be
Pears plumbs or filberts covered oer in leams
While the pale moon creeps high in peaceful dreams
And oer his harvest theft in jealous light
Fills empty shadows with the power to fright
And owlet screaming as it bounces nigh
That from some barn hole pops and hurries bye
Scard the cat upon her nightly watch
For rats that come for dew upon the thatch
He hears the noise and trembling to escape
While every object grows a dismal shape
Drops from the tree in fancys swiftest dread
By ghosts pursued and scampers home to bed
Quick tumbling oer the mossy mouldering wall
And looses half his booty in the fall
Where soon as ere the morning opes its eyes
The restless hogs will happen on the prize
And crump adown the mellow and the green
And makes all seem as nothing ne’er had been


• Words

Whenever I find myself in need of a good dictionary – and this happens all too often – I remember that one of my favourite poets, Edward Thomas (1878-1917), wrote a poem with such a spring in its step that it never fails to remind me that sometimes I should let the right word instead ‘choose me’, as Thomas memorably puts it.  So here are the final eight lines of Words (1915), briefer than brief, but more eloquent than many a long verse:

Let me sometimes dance
With you,
Or climb
Or stand perchance
In ecstasy,
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
Like poets do.

After my current writing project I’m going to sequester myself with two books by and about Thomas that I’ve been really looking forward to reading: Thomas’s account of his journey through the English countryside in The South Country (1909, republished 2009) and Matthew Hollis’s just-released biography of Thomas’s last years, Now All Roads Lead to France.  By all accounts, Hollis brings his poet’s insight and a penetrating eye to this extraordinarily raw episode in English literature.

Paul Nash: Ruined Country (1918)

%d bloggers like this: