John Clare

The poet

John Clare
RE | Issue 1 | 2011

 

 

 

A Scene

 

 

The landscapes stretching view that opens wide

With dribbling brooks and rivers wider floods

And hills and vales and darksome lowering woods

With grains of varied hues and grasses pied

The low brown cottage in the shelter'd nook

The steeple peeping just above the trees

Whose dangling leaves keep rustling in the breeze

And thoughtful shepherd bending oer his hook

And maidens stript haymaking too apear

And hodge a wistling at his fallow plough

And herdsman hallooing to intruding cow

All these with hundreds more far off and near

Approach my sight — and please to such excess

That language fails the pleasure to express

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandra Howe on John Clare (1793–1864)

This poem by John Clare A Scene is a painting, a panorama.

 

There is a luxurious expansiveness in the opening “stretching view”, evoked by the choice of words  “wide…wider”  and by the lack of punctuation, which causes lines to elide in a stream of consciousness. Then, details come crowding in: “rustling” leaves, vividly conveyed in the sibilant “trees…leaves…breeze” rhyme; a whistling “hodge” or labourer; richly coloured grasses. The language is natural and colloquial; the sense is of a speaker so absorbed in the landscape that his very being is constituted by, and indivisible from, this moment of perception.

 

But at this time Enclosure was under way: common land previously available for all was being fenced off into fields for intense cultivation, with devastating effects on the cultural and economic life of the rural poor. In this context, Clare’s quiet voice from the English countryside provides a poignant elegy on a scene about to be damaged beyond repair.