Grace WagnerMr. DaviesEnglish 10 honours7 December 2017The Pastoral Poet John Clare was born July 13, 1773, in Northamptonshire England. Clare was the son of a labourer, and at a young age of seven, he began working in the local farms. Raised in a poor family, Clare did not receive much of an education; this did not stop him from realizing that following in his dad’s footsteps was not what he was interested in, but poetry.
Clare’s family also owned a small store of folk ballads, this gave Clare partial access to books that helped nursed his poetic gift. Almost all of Clare’s ideas came from his personal experiences and surroundings. Like most of us growing up, Clare went through a horrible break up.
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This break up added to the misfortune and hardships Clare had already gone through as a child. As a result of the series of unfortunate events, he created and published his first work that reflected upon his life. Clare’s poems show pastoral romanticism. In 1820, when Clare was just twenty-seven years old, he published his first book of poems, Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. “His poems in Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820) brought a short period of celebrity, but later volumes, including The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) and The Rural Muse (1835), sold poorly.” (Clare 1).
Clare’s first book was primarily about the beauty of rural England and his sadness at its destruction. Of all the four books that John Clare published, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery was his biggest hit selling over three thousand copies in just one year. People were going crazy over the lucid language and vivid descriptions of nature in his book. Clare was not yet a well-known poet, and it took a few month to get his book noticed and it soon created a stir. Clare first started to experience fame and celebrity while on a trip to London for his first book. The feeling Clare got from something he had worked so hard on, which was being spread all around the country and loved by so many, made him want to do nothing more than just publish more books. Later that same year, on a trip to London, Clare meet Martha Turner, the daughter of a neighboring farmer that he would soon marry.
John and Martha had seven kids together. Unfortunately most of their kids died at a young age due to their infancy, and lived a horrible life in poverty. Needing to provide for their large family, plus his dependent father, Clare worked very hard to publish three other books. John Clair was the author of The Village Minstrel, The Shepherd’s Calendar, and The Rural Muse. Sadly, Clare’s next three books were not as much of a hit as their family hoped they would be. Although Clare’s books were praised by critics they were poorly sold and soon forgotten. A few months after Clair published his third book, The Shepherd’s Calendar, he realized that paying the bills was only going to get harder and harder, so he went to find a second job.
Clare soon became a field labour and a tenant farmer on the farms in his town to help supplement his income. Clare never stopped writing. After a few years in the field, Clare published his fourth and final book, The Rural Muse. Once again, it didn’t bring his family much more money. In 1835 Clare started to suffer from fears and delusions. He developed anxiety from his family’s poverty and that lead to mental problems and an alcohol addiction.
As the drinking got worse and his behavior got out of hand, Clare went crazy. Clare was quickly placed in a private asylum at High Beech where he would stay, far from his family, for four years. The longer Clare stayed in these insane asylums, the more his old friends seemed strange, the language they spoke seemed more like noise, and therefore, the crazier his poems got. As time passed, Clare’s health began to improve and he became homesick. In July, 1841, Clare escaped the private asylum, and walked over 80 miles, eating grass to feed his hunger, all the way to Northborough.
Unfortunately for Clare, while his health was improving, he was still crazy. Clare’s time back at home did not last very long. Close to the end of 1841, Clare was thrown into the St.Andrew’s Asylum where he spent the last 23 years of his life staring at a blank wall and writing poems. Ironically, these poems were some of his best works. John Clare died in prison on May 20, 1864, at the age seventy. “Though Clare lived to age seventy, the first third of his life is mostly silenced by poverty, and the last third by madness.
Clare did and said infinitely less than other Romantic poets who lived half as long” (Kirsch 1).His body was sent to Helpston to be buried in the St. Botolph’s churchyard. In memory of John Clare, the people of Helpston built the “John Clare School.” Every year the children attending the school parade through the village and place their “midsummer cushion” around his gravestone in honor of their most famous resident. Like all famous poets, writers, or artist, their works are always more well known and famous after they have died. John Clare’s poems are recognized and leaned in schools all over the world. It’s hard to know nowadays if what we are reading is what John Clare actually wrote.
A group of twentieth first century scholars have created a critical revaluation of Clare’s work. “The work left in manuscript-almost ten thousand crowded pages of poetry, letters, natural history notes, autobiographical sketches, and other prose writings-is mechanically and grammatically irregular, often all but illegible. Work published during the poet’s lifetime (four poetry books and numerous newspaper and magazine appearances of individual prose pieces as well as poems) had been censored, cut, corrected, and punctuated; and modern editors reading Clare for print still disagree about the desirable level of textual normalization (strong, mild, or none at all)” (Merrin 1).John Clare AnalysisAt the very beginning of John Clare’s poetry career, Clare published some of the most popular poems we read today. His most popular poem of all being “I Am”. In fact, most people familiar with John Clare’s poems would nickname “I Am” as “Clare’s best known poem.” “I Am” was written by Clare at some point in his life between Christmas 1841, and Christmas 1848. In the same years Clare wrote “I Am”, Clare was experiencing living in an insane asylum for the second time.
The insane asylum is the setting in which “I Am” was written. Two to seven years later on New Year’s Day, 1848, Clare’s poem,”I Am,” was finally published in the Bedford Times for everyone to read. John Clare expresses all of the emotions he goes through while in the insane asylum in a three stanza poem. The poem only being three stanzas long makes “I Am” seem diminutive compared to Clare’s other poems like “Badger”, “The Frightened Ploughman” and “Bird’s’ Lament”. However, it is full with just as many emotions. In the first two sentences of “I Am” the speaker expresses how deserted his friends make him feel.
The speaker feels forgotten and no longer cared about by the people he cares about most. The speaker then compares himself to a memory. A memory that has been lost from the minds of his closest friends. Leaving the speaker feeling like nothing more than a dead body. In the final four sentences of the first stanza the speaker explains in detail even more about his empty life.
Shadows are a symbol of his woes, which he suffers from alone. The “shadows” he experiences raise and vanish as time goes on in the asylum. They are painful, wild, and can not be prevented or stopped. The speaker then in the final line compares himself to vapor. The speaker compares himself to vapor because he feels as though he is nothing. Just like vapor which is lean, weak, and lacks actuality. At the beginning of the final line in the first stanza Clare repeats the title of this poem, “I Am,” using a simile. This is to remind us that even though the speaker compares himself to vapor he still has existence.
In lines seven and eight at the start of the second stanza, the speaker describes how the workers at the insane asylum are treating him and his experience in isolation. Clare uses “Into the” to start both line seven and eight to remind us again that he is like vapor. In line seven the speaker uses the words “scorn” and “noise” to describe his experience in the asylum.
“Noise” is used as a adjective because he feels that everything the workers are saying about him is fake talk that is just used to impress. The speaker then uses personification in line eight when he describes a dream and water coming to life. “Perhaps life is starting to look like a “living sea of waking dreams” because the speaker is starting to lose it mentally. Reality doesn’t seem “real” anymore.” (Clare 5). In lines nine and ten the speaker uses a “vast shipwreck” to explain how everything he has once enjoyed has now turned into dust . There is nothing left of his life esteems proving that even in the ” living sea” there is ruin. The last two lines of the second stanza the speaker describes the people dearest to him as strangers.
As if they have been removed from his life for a long enough time for the speaker to consider them as strangers. “The poem’s final stanza begins with the speaker longing for “scenes” where man has never been, and where women have never smiled or wept. (Clare 6).
” Although we do not know exactly what place the speaker is talking about we can infer it might be heaven considering he does mention that he wants to abide by God. The speaker has talked so much about dealing with deaths this far into the poem that he might have just wished for death itself upon him. By the speakers definition of living, one must be walking around with a smile on their face. Since the speaker is no longer happy and lives without a smile he is no longer living. In the final three lines of Clare’s poem he concludes “I Am” with a simile to tell us how he wants to “sleep.
” The speaker realizes that if he sleeps with his creator, like he once did in his childhood, it will become impossible for him to trouble anyone and for anyone to trouble him. It is very common to see gravestones with the words “rest in peace” written across it. Rest means sleep, so the speaker could also be inferring that his body is going to the grave to “rest” but his soul is going to meet his creator.Eleven to thirteen years after John Clare published his poem “I Am”, Clare began to write “Badger.” “Badger” was published sometime around 1836 when Clare was first beginning to suffer from anxiety and delusions. Since Clare got his idea for this poem from animal cruelty. Animal cruelty was a topic Clare care a lot about considering it is covered in many other poems by Clare.
Originally Clare wrote “Badger” excluding any punctuation. This gave “Badger” a spontaneous quality and a fast-paced poem to read. However, many editors have chosen to add punctuation to “Badger” to make it seem more “literary” and less natural than the original poem. The poem is written in three stanzas with fourteen lines in the first two stanzas and twelve lines in the third. “The abuse of animals as entertainment in the form of cockfighting, dog-fighting and badger baiting was widespread at the time, and Clare makes overt comment on this cruelty in the poem.” (Clare 2).In the first stanza of “Badger”, the speaker starts off by explaining the appearance of the badger. The speaker describes the badger as “old grunting”, which practically personifies the badger.
The personification is continued throughout the rest of the stanza when Clare uses “old fox” to describe the fox with the goose. Next, the speaker describes how they capture a badger using their tools and dogs. It’s obvious that the badger does not live in peace with the badger baiters and domestic animals. Based on the the badger baiters behaviour while hunting, it appears that they find what they do to the badger joyous. They badger baiters begin to laugh and shout as they bait the badger giving them a mob-like quality. “In fact their actions are so cruel as to make the predatory fox, drop his prey.”(Green 1).
The second stanza begins with the badger fighting back against the mastiffs. In this poem, Clare describes the mastiffs as heavy and savage like while emphasizing the puny structure of the badger. This is done to show that the size of the dogs compared to the badger does not alarm the badger one bit. The badger standing up against his bigger opponents, shows just how tenacious the badger actually is. In fact, the badger becomes the indimadating one and eventually turns away the dogs. This portrays the badger as a fearless warrior. Throughout the second stanza the badger baiters and mastiffs are characterized with negative connotations. The huge contrast between the personalities and appearance between the two characters really shows the courage of the outnumbered badger.
The last stanza in “Badger” picks up where the last one left off. The badger, mastiffs, and badger baiters are still at war with each other, but the battle becomes more ruthless. In fact the fight has become so violent that the children watching become frightened, and their mothers are forced to remove them from the seen. In the second line of “Badger” we have the recurrence of the hunters laughs and giggles as the badger suffers.
This reminds us of how cruel and apathetic the badger baiters personalities are. In lines three through seven the badger attempts to break free from the torture from the mastiffs and badger baiters. The human’s weapons are to powerful, and prevent the badger from escaping. We again witness the fearless warrior inside the badger as he continues to fight back through the mastiffs’ attacks and constant kicks from the boys and men. The badger fights till the last second before finally lying down to accept his death. The badger’s list of abuse he had to endure is so painful, it’s hard not to feel relieved that the badgers suffering is finally over. Romanticism is a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late eighteenth century.
Romanticism emphasized inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of an individual. John Clare incorporates romanticism in his poems by including nature, myth, emotion, symbols, and ideas about self and individualism. In John Clare’s poem, “I Am”, Clare incorporates romanticism by using shadows to symbolise his unhappiness. “I Am” also incorporates romanticism by explaining how he views his self worth while in the insane asylums. In John Clare’s poem ,”Badger”, Clare incorporates an element of romanticism into his poem by using a cultural tradition. Terrorizing animals in the mid 1800’s was a form of entertainment that families would attend very often. In poems other than “I Am” and “Badger”, Clare incorporates romanticism by talking about his childhood and his natural surroundings. “I Am” and “Badger” by John Clare are alike and unalike in a few ways.
Both poems express elements of romanticism throughout. At the end of “I Am”, the speaker explains how many difficulties he has gone through, and how he would rather be dead then suffer. Similar to how to badger felt after he was abused so many times. The two poems are unalike because they show suffering in two different forms. In the poem “I Am”, the speaker is suffering mentally from the thoughts and feelings he has about being forgotten and unloved. While in “Badger”, the badger is suffering physically from the pain the badger baiters and mastiffs are putting him through.Conclusion In conclusion, I feel John Clare lived a very sad and depressed life.
He tried hard to provide for his family by writing and publishing books. His misfortunes resulted in his family living in poverty, an alcohol addiction, and ultimately incarceration in an insane asylum. He was able to express himself through his poems, but it wasn’t until after his death that his writings were truly appreciated. Clare’s poems show pastoral romanticism.
Work Cited”Clare, John.” Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 2015.
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” Artform International. 01 Oct. 2003: 42. eLibrary. Web. 07 Dec. 2017.
Merrin, Jeredith. “John Clare for the twenty-First Century.” Southern Review.
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James, Lee. “Badger Analysis.” Enotes.
com, Enotes.com, 23 Sept. 2017, enotes.com/topics/badger/in-depth>”Badger – The Poem” Critical Guide to Poetry for Students Ed. Philip K. Jason. eNotes. com, Inc. 2002 eNotes.com 13 Jan, 2018 Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/HRC/Search/Details/36184?q=romanticism in john clare’s poems. Accessed 13 Jan. 2018.
enotes.com/topics/badger/in-depth>”Badger – The Poem” Critical Guide to Poetry for Students Ed. Philip K. Jason. eNotes.
com, Inc. 2002 eNotes.com 13 Jan, 2018
Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/HRC/Search/Details/36184?q=romanticism in john clare’s poems. Accessed 13 Jan.