Clare, John

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Clare, John

John Clare, 1793–1864, English poet. A romantic poet who wrote shortly after the vogue for such verse, he had a profound and singular gift for capturing nature in exquisitely specific detail. The son of a farm laborer, Clare was dubbed "the peasant poet." He was probably the poorest major writer in English literature, and was sometimes reduced to writing on bark or making his own paper and ink. His Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820) brought him a short period of fame and briefly improved his finances. Subsequent volumes included The Village Minstrel (1821) and Rural Muse (1835). Throughout his life Clare suffered fits of melancholy, which were intensified by financial difficulties and bad health. In 1837 he was declared insane and committed to an asylum. During his first years there he wrote some of his most original and visionary poems. He was institutionalized for his last 26 years. Clare's work has influenced several contemporary poets, most notably John Ashbery.

See the edition of his poetry ed. by E. Robinson et al. (9 vol., 1964–2003); John Clare by Himself (2002), ed. by E. Robinson and D. Powell; I Am: The Selected Poetry of John Clare (2003), ed. by J. Bate; biographies by F. Martin (1865, repr. 1973), J. W. Tibble and A. Northgrave (2d ed. 1972), and J. Bate (2003); studies by M. Storey, ed. (1973) and J. M. Todd (1973).

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