John Clare’s Poems About Swaddywell

John Clare wrote two poems about Swordy Well.

Whilst the first, I love thee Swordy Well, records Clare’s own delight in the flowers he could find there, the second is a lament about the destruction of the site, as Clare saw it, through over exploitation by man, as a direct result of enclosure.  Uniquely this poem is written in the first person, as if Swordy Well were a petitioner for alms.

I’ve Loved thee Swordy Well

I’ve loved thee Swordy Well and love thee still
Long was I with thee tending sheep and cow
In boyhood ramping up each steepy hill
To play at ‘roly poly’ down – and now
A man I trifle o’er thee cares to kill
Haunting thy mossy steeps to botanize
And hunt the orchis tribes where nature’s skill
Doth like my thoughts run into phantasys
Spider and Bee all mimicking at will
Displaying powers that fools the proudly wise
Showing the wonders of great nature’s plan
In trifles insignificant and small
Puzzling the power of that great trifle man
Who finds no reason to be proud at all.

The Lament of Swordy Well

Petitioners are full of prayers
To fall in pity’s way
But if her hand the gift forbears
They’ll sooner swear than pray
They’re not the worst to want who lurch
On plenty with complaints
No more then those who go to church
Are e’er the better saints

I hold no hat to beg a mite
Nor pick it up when thrown
Nor limping leg I hold in sight
But pray to keep my own
Where profit gets his clutches in
There’s little he will leave
Gain stooping for a single pin
Will stick it on his sleeve

For passers-by I never pin
No troubles to my breast
Nor carry round some names to win
More money from the rest
I’m Swordy Well a piece of land
That’s fell upon the town
Who worked me till I couldn’t stand
And crush me now I’m down

In parish bounds I well may wail
Reduced to every shift
Pity may grieve at trouble’s tale
But cunning shares the gift
Harvest with plenty on his brow
Leaves losses’ taunts with me
Yet gain comes yearly with the plough
And will not let me be

Alas dependence thou’rt a brute
Want only understands
His feelings wither branch and root
That falls in parish hands.
The muck that clouts the ploughman’s shoe
The moss that hides the stone,
Now I’m become the parish due,
Is more than I can own

Though I’m no man yet any wrong
Some sort of right may seek
And I am glad if e’en a song
Gives me room to speak
I’ve got among such grubbing geer
And such a hungry pack
If I brought harvests twice a year

They’d bring me nothing back
When war their tyrant-prices got
I trembled with alarms
They fell and saved my little spot
Or towns had turned to farms
Let profit keep a humble place
That gentry may be known
Let pedigrees their honours trace
And toil enjoy its own

The silver springs grown naked dykes
Scarce own a bunch of rushes
When grain got high the tasteless tykes
Grubbed up trees, banks, and bushes
And me, they turned me inside out
For sand and grit and stones
And turned my old green hills about
And pickt my very bones

These things that claim my own as theirs
Were born by yesterday
But ere I fell to town affairs
I were as proud as they
I kept my horses, cows, and sheep
And built the town below
Ere they had cat or dog to keep
And then to use me so

Parish allowance gaunt and dread
Had it the earth to keep
Would even pine the bees to dead
To save an extra keep
Pride’s workhouse is a place that yields
From poverty its gains
And mines a workhouse for the fields
A-starving the remains

The bees flye round in feeble rings
And find no blossom bye
Then thrum their almost weary wings
Upon the moss and die
Rabbits that find my hills turned o’er
Forsake my poor abode
They dread a workhouse like the poor
And nibble on the road

If with a clover bottle now
Spring dares to lift her head
The next day brings the hasty plough
And makes me misery’s bed
The butterflyes may wir and come
I cannot keep ’em now
Nor can they bear my parish home
That withers on my brow

No, now not e’en a stone can lie
I’m just what e’er they like
My hedges like the winter flye
And leave me but the dyke
My gates are thrown from off the hooks
The parish thoroughfare
Lord he that’s in the parish books
Has little wealth to spare

I couldn’t keep a dust of grit
Nor scarce a grain of sand
But bags and carts claimed every bit
And now they’ve got the land
I used to bring the summer’s life
To many a butterflye
But in oppression’s iron strife

Dead tussocks bow and sigh
I’ve scarce a nook to call my own
For things that creep or flye
The beetle hiding ‘neath a stone
Does well to hurry bye
Stock eats my struggles every day
As bare as any road
He’s sure to be in something’s way
If e’er he stirs abroad

I am no man to whine and beg
But fond of freedom still
I hang no lies on pity’s peg
To bring a grist to mill
On pity’s back I needn’t jump
My looks speak loud alone
My only tree they’ve left a stump
And nought remains my own

My mossy hills gain’s greedy hand
And more than greedy mind
Levels into a russet land
Nor leaves a bent behind
In summers gone I bloomed inpride
Folks came for miles to prize
My flowers that bloomed nowhere beside
And scarce believed their eyes

Yet worried with a greedy pack
They rend and delve and tear
The very grass from off my back
I’ve scarce a rag to wear
Gain takes my freedom all away
Since its dull suit I wore
And yet scorn vows I never pay
And hurts me more and more

And should the price of grain get high –
Lord help and keep it low –
I shan’t possess a single flye
Or get a weed to grow
I shan’t possess a yad of ground
To bid a mouse to thrive
For gain has put me in a pound
I scarce can keep alive

I own I’m poor like many more
But the the poor num live
And many came for miles before
For what I had to give
But since I fell upon the town
They pass me with a sigh
I’ve scarce the room to say ‘Sit down’
And so they wander bye

Though now I seem so full of clack
Yet when ye’re riding bye
The very birds upon my back
Are not more fain to flye
I feel so lorn in this disgrace
God send the grain to fall
I am the oldest in the place
And the worst-served of all

Lord bless ye I was kind to all
And poverty in me
Could always find a humble stall
A rest and lodging free
Poor bodys with an hungry ass
I welcomed many a day
And gave him tether-room and grass
And never said him nay

There was a time my bit of ground
Made freemen of the slave
The ass no pindar’d dare to pound
When I his supper gave
The gipsey’s camp was not affraid
I made his dwelling free
Till vile enclosure came and made
A parish slave of me

The gipseys further on sojourn
No parish bounds they like
No sticks I own and would earth burn
I shouldn’t own a dyke
I am no friend to lawless work
Nor would a rebel be
And why I call a Christian turk
Is they are turks to me

And if I could but find a friend
With no deceit to sham
Who’d send me some few sheep to tend
And leave me as I am
To keep my hills from cart and plough
And strife of mongrel men
And as a spring found me find me now
I should look up agen

And save his Lordship’s woods, that past
The day of danger dwell
Of all the fields I am the last
That my own face can tell
Yet what with stone pits’ delving holes
And strife to buy and sell
My name will quickly be the whole
That’s left of Swordy Well

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