Meet John Clare.
August 11, 2002 7:40 PM   Subscribe

Meet John Clare. In 1832, he wrote to John Taylor, saying:

'in spite of every difficulty rhyme will come to the end of my pen -- when I am in trouble I go on & it gives me pleasure by resting my feelings of every burthen & when I am pleased it gives me extra gratification & so in spite of myself I rhyme on.'*

And John Clare knew difficulty. Born to dirt poor farmers in 1793, he wrote his first poem at 13 and published his first book of poetry at 27. Yet he found himself committed to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum by the age of 48. Why? It was determined that he suffered from too many "years addicted to poetical prosings."

A poet of the sonnet form, he has suffered from a lack of academic attention until just recently. He does, however, have a society in his name, and a John Clare conference will be held in North America next year.
posted by grabbingsand (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
as one who has personally been afflicted by too many "years addicted to Homer Simpson's prosings" i feel clare's pain.
posted by quonsar at 7:43 PM on August 11, 2002

I like Clare; I've always felt that you can sense the man in the poems, that he put more of himself into his verse than most. His verse is sometimes a bit rough around the edges, but that's part of its charm somehow. A sweet man, indeed.
posted by sennoma at 1:10 AM on August 12, 2002

Another vote for Clare. His nature poems are far grittier than, say, Wordsworth's--he's very attuned to pain & labor as well as to the picturesque. The later poems can be rather eerie:

Say maiden wilt thou go with me
In this strange death of life to be
To live in death and be the same
Without this life, or home, or name
At once to be, and not to be
That was, and is not--yet to see
Things pass like shadows--and the sky
Above, below, around us lie

("An Invite to Eternity," stanza 3)
posted by thomas j wise at 4:51 AM on August 12, 2002

I first heard of Clare through a poem by Theodore Roethke, in which, as I recall, Roethke takes solace his struggle with mental illness by recollecting that Christopher Smart and Clare had been in inside the walls of asylums as well.

TJ Wise or anyone else know which Roethke text I'm talking about? I can't find it or an excerpt online.
posted by BT at 7:28 AM on August 12, 2002

"Heard in a Violent Ward"

In heaven, too,
You'd be institutionalized.
But thats all right,-
If they let you eat and swear
With the likes of Blake,
And Christopher Smart,
And that sweet man John Clare.

posted by clavdivs at 7:43 AM on August 12, 2002

John Clare's work is wonderful, thanks for reminding me of him. I used to have his complete works but a quick hunt confirms my suspicion that I loaned it to someone and never got it back. What sticks in my mind is his uncanny mastery of verbal imagery. I can still picture a mist shrouded moor at sun-up that he realistically depicts in one of his sonnets.

Wasn't he committed to the asylum because of his infatuation with a married woman who broke his heart when he was younger..? I think her name might have been Rose, and I even recall something like she died and he continued to be infatuated with her, refusing to admit she was dead. Can anyone confirm?
posted by sonicgeeza at 8:16 AM on August 12, 2002

He was admitted to High Beech Asylum in 1837. After five years, he walked home from the hospital. 80 miles. He ate the grass along the side of the road to sustain himself. Upon arriving, he was told that Mary Joyce, likely the apple of his eye since first meeting her at age 10, was dead. This he did not believe, protesting she was still alive up until his 1841 committal, and likely long after.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:34 AM on August 12, 2002

Ah, thanks clavdivs. That's what I was talking about, but I couldn't remember the text or find it on the net.

Sonicgeeza: I remember a similar story, but I think he'd had a breakdown and been committed before she died. Grabbingsand's second link (find and click on "chronology") agrees with me, and says that the lady's name was Mary Joyce, and that she wasn't married.
posted by sennoma at 8:45 AM on August 12, 2002

Ah, thanks clavdivs. That's what I was talking about, but I couldn't remember the text or find it on the net.

I'd missed your "sweet man" ref, sennoma, or I would have noted that that was the phrase I'd remembered as well.

Fast work, clav.
posted by BT at 9:29 AM on August 12, 2002

Thanks everyone! Now it is starting to trickle back to me. Must go to my local bookstore and pick up a new copy of his collected works. Mmmmmm, refreshing.
posted by sonicgeeza at 6:10 AM on August 13, 2002

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