John Clare: The Critical Heritage

By Mark Storey | Go to book overview

so in another way is Clare, since he strips away certain current pretensions about verse-reading as an intellectual exercise and not a central experience, and since he demands discernment, in a situation not already mapped out and signposted.


143.

Clare as a lyric poet

1956

Naomi Lewis, from ‘The Green Man’ (a review of J. W. and Anne Tibble, John Clare: His Life and Poetry, 1956), New Statesman, 5 May 1956, n.s. 51, 492-3. This was reprinted in A Visit to Mrs. Wilcox, 1957, pp. 56-62.

The last thirty years of Clare’s life were spent in mental asylums, first in Epping, then at Northampton—enlightened places enough for their time—but still a forced uprooting from his home. Yet the shift in focus was to turn him from an innocently charming pastoral poet into a haunting and sometimes a brilliant one. The poetry of external nature had flashed into what we might now call the poetry of impressionism.

In the asylum years Clare identified himself with figures of social power and physical authority—Byron, Nelson, certain prize-fighters. Yet in his poetic life he never claimed to be anything but the countryman he was. The grass-green coat that was his choice in those few bright years of London fame and friends, the coat that Hood described as ‘shining verdantly out from the grave-coloured suits of the literati’, has, as we look back, a symbolic air. Unlike Wordsworth, unlike Edward Thomas even, Clare, the Green Man of poetry, was always the servant of the land and not its guest; he knew it at its coarsest and most harsh. Yet his love of nature never fell short of passion. Even the simplest descriptive poems have a touch of this fever—once the reader accepts that it is the observation itself that holds the intensity. His note on

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