Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

A Response to John Lucas's Note

Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

A Response to John Lucas's Note

Article excerpt

In response to my essay 'John Clare and the End of Description' in last year's John Clare Society Journal, John Lucas takes issue with my reading of 'Mouses Nest', and especially its closing couplet, 'The water oer the pebbles scarce could run / & broad old sexpools glittered in the sun'. I understand his reservations, but find that I do not fully comprehend his own contentions regarding the poem.

Lucas and I agree that 'Mouses Nest' is a strange poem, and that it is hard to put one's finger on what makes it so wonderful. It seems odd to me, therefore, that Lucas accounts for this quality by claiming that the poem is like most other English nature poetry. If the poem is 'decidedly odd', it seems counter-intuitive to explain it by invoking a singularly familiar poetic tradition that goes from Shakespeare to Wordsworth, Keats and Frost. It is not clear what Lucas finds odd, unique or even original about the poem. He says that its closing lines tell us how 'after the temporary disturbance nature is once more settling back, is restored to due processes', and induce 'satisfaction'. Read thus, the sonnet sounds, as the invocations of Wordsworth and Frost suggest, like a typically scenic poem of harmonic nature.

This may still be a correct reading of the poem, of course. But I think not. My reading of the poem claims that Clare looks away from the nest to the pebbles and cesspools, emphasising a narrative of perceptions over a story of things. The poem is therefore inconclusive and fragmentary, according to my essay. As far as the couplet in question is concerned, in terms of the subject matter alone, there is very little 'due process' in the fact that 'The water oer the pebbles scarce could run'. Lucas describes the phenomenon as 'tranquil near- stillness', but for me it is the opposite, emphasising struggle, dissatisfaction and movement. The scene also feels unfinished formally: after the 12 lines allotted to the mouse's nest, the couplet is truncated. …

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