John Clare's Sonnets and the Northborough Fens

By White, Simon J. | John Clare Society Journal, July 2009 | Go to article overview

John Clare's Sonnets and the Northborough Fens


White, Simon J., John Clare Society Journal


It is a common critical perception that following John Clare's flit to the village of Northborough in the spring of 1832 he responded to the countryside in a new way. The argument that his sense of identity and belonging was unsettled by the move and that this is reflected in the poetry of the Northborough period has been repeated in different ways by several critics. John Barr ell's view is still influential: 'At about the time of his removal to Northborough Clare wrote three remarkable poems, which between them reflect the ambiguous feelings towards the move that are expressed in the letters to Taylor, and also suggest the way in which Clare's poetry was to change during the next few years at Northborough.'1 These 'remarkable' poems were 'The Flitting' and 'Decay', both of which were published in The Rural Muse (1835), and 'Remembrances' (written in 1832), and it is still a default position for many that they are the key to Clare's poetic response to Northborough. For Tim Chilcott, the 'accents sounded now strike a more urgent and insistent note, modulating into a sustained tenor of regret for the passing away of youth and joy [...] the poems are no less than litanies for the restoration of lost time.'2 Jonathan Bate's account of the move in his biography focuses on these three poems although he does suggest that 'To the Snipe' iwritten in 1832) represents Clare's attempt to 'embed himself in his new environment.'3 Paul Chirico's recent study implies that Clare's ability to respond to nature was adversely affected by his new environment. It focuses on poems written before 1832, but introduces a brief discussion of 'Decay' in the context of the move to Northborough. Chirico demonstrates that the manner of representation in 'Decay' is complex, but the reader is still left with the impression that the move provoked a transformation in Clare's response to the natural world: 'The demise of poetry here seems to relate more to the fading of "fancys visions" [Middle Period iIV), p. 114, 1. 2) than of nature itself, but the later references to the poet's belief that the flowers of his youth were "from Adams open gardens" [Middle Period (IV), 1. 66) suggests a Fall from ideal beauty.'4

'The Flitting', 'Decay' and 'Remembrances' all apparently bemoan the fact that the countryside around Northborough was not like Helpstone, but Clare did not imagine this difference.5 He explains it in a letter to John Taylor: 'there is neither wood nor heath furzebush molehill or oak tree about it' [Letters, p. 561). The countryside around Clare's birthplace consisted of hilly pastureland and woodland to the south west with flatter arable land to the north east. The area around Northborough (particularly to the north and east) was made up of flat and featureless fenland.6 There is much in these poems that supports the idea that Clare experienced a new sense of alienation from his immediate natural surroundings. But his feelings were grounded in the physical realities of Northborough. In other words while the alienation might have been real and profound, it should not automatically be linked to the simple fact of his having moved, but rather to his complex engagement with a new and very different place. It is also important to bear in mind that, as the editors of Northborough Sonnets point out, these three poems are 'crucial but probably uncharacteristic poems of [even the early] Northborough period'.7 As Bridget Keegan has demonstrated, Clare always admired the fens.8 But as she also acknowledges, it is in the short sonnet-like poems written at Northborough that he really comes to terms with the essence of the place.9 The editors of Northborough Sonnets rightly note that Clare's 'preference for shorter poetic forms' ip. ix) increased after the move to Northborough. He was at work on several sequences of his shorter sonnet-like poems, which in this essay will be called sonnets for convenience, at about the same time that he wrote 'The Flitting', Remembrances' and 'Decay'. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

John Clare's Sonnets and the Northborough Fens
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.