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John Clare and the Place of Poetry

John Clare and the Place of Poetry

Volume: 54
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    John Clare and the Place of Poetry
    Book Description:

    Traditional accounts of Romantic and nineteenth-century poetry, have depicted John Clare as a peripheral figure, an ‘original genius’ whose talents set him apart from the mainstream of contemporary literary culture. But in recent years there has been a major shift of direction in Clare studies. Jonathan Bate, Zachary Leader and others have helped to show that Clare, far from being an isolated genius, was deeply involved in the rich cultural life both of his village and the metropolis. This study takes impetus from this new critical direction, offering an account of his poems as they relate to the literary culture of his day, and to literary history as it was being constructed in the early nineteenth century. Gorji defines a literary historical context in which Clare’s poetry can best be understood, paying particular attention to questions of language and style. Rather than situating Clare in relation to Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley, John Clare and the Place of Poetry considers his poetry in relation to eighteenth-century traditions as they persisted and developed in the Romantic period. This timely book is for scholars and students of Clare and eighteenth and nineteenth century poetry, but it should also appeal to the expanding audience for John Clare’s work in the UK and USA.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-538-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    ‘The Nightingale’s Nest’ is about a bird and its dwelling place, but it is also about the poet’s place and the hiding place of poetry. Hidden ‘snug’ inside the nest are five ‘curious eggs… / Of deadened green, or rather olive brown’.¹ This mixture of intimacy and documentary accuracy is one of Clare’s distinctive excellences.² The nest, hidden in an ‘old prickly thorn bush’, is also described in intimate detail:

    … no other bird

    Uses such loose materials, or weaves

    Its dwelling in such spots: dead oaken leaves

    Are placed without, and velvet moss within,

    And little scraps of grass,...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Artfully Artles
    (pp. 15-31)

    From his first appearance in print, Clare was known as the ‘Northamptonshire peasant’. This title, which appeared underneath his name on the title-page of his first published volume,Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery(1820), located him geographically and in terms of social rank. It also placed him in a long line of ‘peasant poets’, which included the thresher poet Stephen Duck, the milkmaid poet Anne Yearsley, Mary Collier, a servant as well as a poet, the thresher turned shoemaker Robert Bloomfield and, most famous of all, the Ayrshire ploughman Robert Burns.¹ And yet whilst these humble writers recognised...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Uncouth Rhymes
    (pp. 32-56)

    Mindful that seeming to be unlettered was part of his appeal, Clare could camouflage his allusions artfully. One of the works to which he returned most frequently and creatively in his own poetry was Gray’sElegy Written in a Country Churchyard. First published as a seven-page pamphlet in February 1751, the poem achieved immediate fame: more than fifty separate editions appeared in the fifty years after its first publication, and it was frequently reproduced in newspapers and anthologies throughout the nineteenth century. An 1809 edition of Gray’s verse was among Clare’s earliest books.¹ According to Samuel Johnson, theElegyspoke...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Village Minstrel
    (pp. 57-76)

    Clare’s early reputation rested on truthfulness. An anonymous reviewer ofPoems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery(1820) in theMonthly Magazinenoted that they ‘contain true and minute delineations of external nature, drawn fromactualobservation’. This faithfulness to matters of fact, he explained, was a consequence of Clare’s ‘every-day occupation’: as a rural labourer, he had both time and opportunity ‘to contemplate the objects which he represents’.¹ And yet, as we have seen, Clare’s poems were not simply representative: he drew on his own experiences as a rural labourer, but he also engaged with a number of literary...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Rustic Spenserian
    (pp. 77-96)

    In August 1823 Taylor wrote to Clare suggesting ‘a good Title’ for a new work, ‘“The Shepherd’s Calendar” – a Name which Spenser took for a Poem or rather Collection of Poems’.¹ Clare was familiar with the poem, and with its reputation. He owned an 1819 Cooke’s edition of Spenser’sWorksin whichThe Shepheardes Calenderwas reprinted, along with a brief account of its reception. Spenser’s muse had already been invoked on the title page of Clare’s second volume,The Village Minstrel(1821). The following lines from Spenser’sShepheardes Calender(from ‘June’, ll. 70–72) appeared as an epigraph:...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Place of Poetry
    (pp. 97-121)

    Clare’s poetry has been described as ‘the record of his search for a home in the world’.¹ He depicts the homely details of village life, but also celebrates the sanctuary offered by wild and desolate places: the shelter of hollow trees, the comfort of solitary fens, the fragile security of a bird’s nest hidden in a prickly thorn bush, or in the moor’s ‘rude desolate and spungy lap’.² It is in such a dreary swampy place that the snipe makes her nest.

    ‘To the Snipe’ (1832) is one of Clare’s finest and most searching poems about home and homelessness. The...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 122-126)

    Keats thought he would be numbered ‘among the English Poets’ after his death; Clare’s ambitions were more modest and particular: ‘all I aspire to is that I may win a nitch among the minor bards in the memory of my country’.¹ For Clare, and for the Ayrshire-born poet James Montgomery, to whom these comments were addressed, ‘nitch’ was a local word, a dialect term for ‘a slight break, notch, or incision’.² As such it forms a bond between them, establishing a kind of intimacy; it also registers Clare’s humble ambitions in relation to a wider literary community.

    If local words...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 127-155)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 156-171)
  14. Index
    (pp. 172-177)