Selected Poetry of John Clare by John Clare, edited by Jonathan Bate

It’s been a perrennial ambition of mine to read more poetry. Unlike last year when I fulfilled an aim to read Tolstoy’s War & Peace, poetry is much more of a struggle for me, and that pains me. I wonder whether that my aspergers and the way I ‘read’ things literally causes me an added problem with poetry where it is is, ‘all’ metaphor?

So why this volume of John Clare? And why now? I’ve been reading some nature writing recently, principally Melissa Harrison’s Autumn and found myself exposed to his work. I also work with Simon Kövesi – one of the leading experts on John Clare – an instigator in the biopic, By Ourselves and I have found myself drawn to find out more about the man and his poetry.

This volume, edited by Jonathan Bate, is an excellent primer to one of our finest working class, romantic poets. Obstensivly it’s just a collection of his poetry, but I found it to be so much more than that. In the way that it’s collected together it reads like an autobiography – an autobiography of verse and song. Starting with the innocence of the countryside and the village traditions, it moves through a period of ‘fame’ and into a more political phase, and then, a wayward abandom of directly critiquing society and the ruling classes, to a quiet reflection and introspection.

This is a volume of poetry that makes you realise how much we have lost of our heritage and our ways of doing things. Farming back then, was hard, backbreaking work but we were so more connected with nature and the natural rhythms of the seasons that we have lost by now. This makes me sad. At the same time, some of the most poignant of John Clare’s poetry succeeds in giving optomism for the future.

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