John Clare’s Poems

John Clare was a prolific writer. He wrote many poems and also left behind him a great legacy of notes and letters.  Whilst best known for his poems about nature and the countryside, Clare also wrote about village life, love and loss.

Peter Moyse, a resident of Helpston, and former secretary of the John Clare Society has recorded a number of Clare’s poems. You can listen to a selection of these recordings by clicking on the titles below.

Wood Pictures in Winter
Wood Pictures in Spring
Wood Pictures in Summer
Summer Moods
Field Thoughts
Sedgebird’s Nest
Spring Morning
Memory
Careless Rambles
Helpston

You can also read the following poems

The Fern Owl’s Nest
Home Pictures in May
Wild Bees
Hedge Sparrow
The Wren
Winter
The Woodman
The Village Boy
I’ve Loved Thee Swordy Well
The Lament of Swordy Well
Pleasant Places
Hares at Play

The Fern Owl’s Nest
The weary woodman rocking home beneath
His tightly banded faggot wonders oft
While crossing over the furze-crowded heath
To hear the fern owl’s cry that whews aloft
In circling whirls and often by his head
Wizzes as quick as thought and ill and rest
As through the rustling ling with heavy tread
He goes nor heeds he tramples near its nest
That underneath the furze or squatting thorn
Lies hidden on the ground and teasing round
That lonely spot she wakes her jarring noise
To the unheeding waste till mottled morn
Fills the red East with daylight’s coming sounds
And the heath’s echoes mocks the herding boys

Home Pictures in May
The sunshine bathes in clouds of many hues
And morning’s feet are gemmed with early dews
Warm daffodils about the garden beds
Peep through their pale slim leaves their golden heads
Sweet earthly suns of spring – the gosling broods
In coats of sunny green about the road
Waddle in extacy – and in rich moods
The old hen leads her flickering chicks abroad
Oft scuttling ‘neath her wings to see the kite
Hang wavering o’er them in the spring’s blue light
The sparrows round their new nests chirp with glee
And sweet the robin spring’s young luxury shares
Tuteling its song in feathery gooseberry tree
While watching worms the gardener’s spade unbars

Wild Bees
These children of the sun which summer brings
As pastoral minstrels in her merry train
Pipe rustic ballads upon busy wings
And glad the cotter’s quiet toils again
The white-nosed bee that bores its little hole
In mortared walls and pipes its symphonies
And never-absent cousin black as cole
That Indian-like bepaints its little thights
With white and red bedight for holiday
Right earlily a morn do pipe and play
And with their legs stroke slumber from their eyes
And aye so fond they of their singing seem
That in their holes abed at close of day
They still keep piping in their honey dreams
And larger ones that thrum on ruder pipe
Round the sweet-smelling closen and rich woods
Where tawney white and red-flushed clover buds
Shine bonnily and beanfields blossom rips
Shed dainty perfumes and give honey food
To these sweet poets of the summer field
Me much delighting as I stroll along
The narrow path that hay-laid meadow yields
Catching the windings of their wandering song
The black and yellow bumble first on wing
To buzz among the sallow’s early flowers
Hiding its nest in hoes from fickle spring
Who stints his rambles with her frequent showers
And one that may for wiser piper pass
In livery dress half sables and half red
Who laps a moss ball in the meadow grass
And hurds her stores when April showers have fled
And russet commoner who knows the face
Of every blossom that the meadow brings
Starting the traveller to a quicker pace
By threatening round his head in many rings
These sweeten summer in their happy glee
By giving for her honey melodie

Hedge Sparrow
The tame hedge-sparrow in its russet dress
Is half a robin for its gentle ways
And the bird-loving dame can do no less
Then throw it out a crumble on cold days
In early March it into gardens strays
And in the snug clipt box-tree green and round
It makes a nest of moss and hair and lays
When e’en the snow is lurking on the ground
Its eggs in number five of greenish blue
Bright beautiful and glossy shining shells
Much like the firetail’s but of brighter hue
Yet in her garden-home much danger dwells
Where skulking cat with mischief in its breast
Catches their young before they leave the nest

The Wren
Why is the cuckoo’s melody preferred
And nightingale’s rich song so fondly praised
In poet’s rhymes? Is there no other bird
Of nature’s minstrelsy that oft hath raised
One’s heart to extacy and mirth as well?
I judge not how another’s taste is caught:
With mine, there’s other birds that bear the bell
Whose song hath crowds of happy memories brought.
Such the wood-robin singing in the dell
And little wren that many a time hath sought
Shelter from showers in huts where I did dwell
In early spring the tennant of the plain
Tenting my sheep and still they come to tell
The happy stories of the past again.

Winter
Old January clad in crispy rime
Comes hirpling on and often makes a stand
The hasty snowstorm ne’er disturbs this time
He mends no pace but beats his dithering hand
And Febuery like a timid maid
Smiling and sorrowing follows in his train
Huddled in cloak, of mirey roads affraid,
She hastens on to greet her home again
Then March the prophetess by storms inspired
Gazes in rapture on the troubled sky
And then in headlong fury madly fired
She bids the hail-storm boil and hurry bye
Yet ‘neath the blackest cloud a sunbeam flings
Its cheering promise of returning spring

The Woodman
Now evening comes and from the new-laid hedge
The woodman rustles in his leathen guise
Hiding in dyke, ylined with brustling sedge,
His bill and mattock from theft’s meddling eyes
And in his wallets storing many a pledge
Of flowers and boughs from early sprouting trees
And painted pootys from the ivied hedge
About its mossy roots, his boys to please,
Who wait with merry joy his coming home
Anticipating presents such as these
Gained far afield where they nor night nor morn
Find no school leisure long enough to go
Where flowers but rarely from their stalks are torn
And birds scarce loose a nest the season through

The Village Boy
Free from the cottage corner see how wild
The village boy along the pastures hies
With every smell and sound and sight beguiled
That round the prospect meets his wondering eyes
Now stooping eager for the cowslip peeps
As though he’d get them all – now tired of these
Across the flaggy brook he eager leaps
For some new flower his happy rapture sees
Now tearing mid the bushes on his knees
Or woodland banks for bluebell flowers he creepts
And now while looking up among the trees
He spies a nest and down he throws his flowers
And up he climbs with new-fed extacies
The happiest object in the summer hours

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

Pleasant Places
Old stone pits with veined ivy overhung
Wild crooked brooks o’er which was rudely flung
A rail and plank that bends beneath the tread
Old narrow lanes where trees meet overhead
Path stiles on which a steeple we espy
Peeping and stretching in the distant sky
And heaths o’erspread with furze blooms’ sunny shine
Where wonder pauses to exclaim ‘divine’
Old ponds dim-shadowed with a broken tree –
These are the picturesque of taste to me
While paintings winds to make compleat the scene
In rich confusion mingles every green
Waving the sketching pencil in their hands
Shading the living scenes to fairey lands

Hares at Play
The birds are gone to bed the cows are still
And sheep lie panting on each old molehill
And underneath the willow’s grey-green bough
Like toil a-resting lies the fallow plough
The timid hares throw daylight fears away
On the lane road to dust and dance and play
Then dabble in the grain by nought deterred
To lick the dew-fall from the barley’s beard
Then out they sturt again and round the hill
Like happy thoughts – dance – squat – and loiter still
Till milking maidens in the early morn
Gingle their yokes and sturt them in the corn
Through well-known beaten pates each nimbling hare
Sturts quick as fear – and seeks its hidden lair

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