John Clare is my favourite of the Romantic poets. When I read his nature poems, I feel that he writes as part of his beloved landscape around Helpston; he is too close, too involved, to take the role of mere observer. When the land enclosures came to his locale, they had a profound effect on his mental health and, when he talks of ‘green and more green hedges’ in his poem ‘Spring’, he is lamenting the loss of the open spaces that are now being fenced and hedged then turned over to pasture and crops. He consoles himself with the knowledge that it is still Spring and, no matter what, Spring will always come.
My favourite of all his poems, however, is ‘Winter Evening’. It feels extremely cosy, about a time of day when all the work is done, the animals have been fed, and, my favourite line, ‘whistling home to bed go weary boys’. I often have this poem in mind when writing about the countryside, or about dark, cold evenings.
The crib stock fothered, horses suppered up,
And cows in sheds all littered down in straw,
The threshers gone, the owls are left to whoop,
The ducks go waddling with distended craw
Through little hole made in the hen-roost door,
And geese with idle gabble never o`er
Bait careless hog until he tumbles down,
Insult provoking spite to noise the more;
While fowl high-perched blink with contemptuous frown
On all the noise and bother heard below;
Over the stable-ridge in crowds,the crow,
With jackdaws intermixed, known by their noise,
To the warm woods behind the village go;
And whistling home for bed go weary boys.
John Clare (1793-1864)