1822 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Clare

Charles Abraham Elton, "Epistle to John Clare" 1822 ca.; Boyhood and other Poems (1835) 96-103.



So loth, friend John! to quit the town?
'Twas in the dales thou won'st renown;'
I would not, John! for half-a-crown
Have left thee there;
Taking my lonely journey down
To rural air.

The pavement flat of endless street
Is all unsuited to thy feet;
The fog-wet smoke is all unmeet
For such as thou;
Who thought'st the meadow-verdure sweet,
But think'st not now.

"Time's hoarse unfeather'd nightingales"
Inspire not like birds of vales;
I know their haunt in river-dales
On many a tree,
And thy reserve their sweetest tales,
John Clare! for thee.

I would not have thee come, to sing
Long odes to that eternal spring;
On which young bards their changes ring,
With buds and flowers:
I look for many a better thing,
Than brooks and bowers.

'Tis true thou paintest to the eye
The straw-thatch'd roof, with elm-trees nigh;
But thou hast wisdom to descry
What lurks below;
The springing tear, the melting sigh,
The cheek's heart-glow.

The poets all, alive and dead,
Up! Clare — and drive them from thy head;
Forget whatever thou hast read
Of phrase or rhyme;
For he must lead and not be led,
Who lives through time.

What thou hast been the world may see,
But guess not what thou still may'st be;
Some in thy lines a Goldsmith see,
Or Dyer's tone;
They praise thy worst; the best of thee
Is still unknown.

Some grievously suspect thee, Clare!
They want to know thy form of prayer;
Thou dost not cant, and so they stare,
And hint free-thinking;
They bid thee of the devil beware,
And vote thee sinking.

With smile sedate and patient eye,
Thou mark'st the zealots pass thee by;
To rave, and raise a hue and cry
Against each other;
Thou seest a father up on high,
In man a brother.

I would not have a mind like thine,
Its artless childhood tastes resign,
Jostle in mobs, or sup and dine
Its powers away;
And after noisy pleasures pine,
Some distant day.

And John! though you may mildly scoff,
That curst, confounded, church-yard cough
Give pretty plain advice — be off!
While yet you can;
It is not time yet, John! to doff
Your outward man.

Drugs? — can the balm of Gilead yield
Health, like the cowslip-yellow'd field?
Come, sail down Avon, and be heal'd,
Thou cockney, Clare;
My recipe is soon reveal'd,—
Sun, sea, and air.

What glue has fasten'd thus thy brains
To kennel odours and brick lanes?
Or is it intellect detains?
For 'faith I'll own,
The provinces must take some pains
To match the town.

Does Agnus [Charles Lamb] fling his crotchets wild,
"In wit a man," in heart a child?
Has Lepus' [Julius Hare] sense thine ear beguiled
With easy strain?
Or hast thou nodded blithe, and smiled
At Janus' vein?

Does Nalla [Allan Cunningham], that mild giant, bow
His dark and melancholy brow?
Or are his lips distending now
With roaring glee;
That tells the heart is in a glow,
The spirit free?

Or does the opium-eater [Thomas De Quincy] quell
Thy wondering sprite with witching spell?
Read'st thou the dreams of murkiest hell
In that mild mien?
Or dost thou doubt, (yet fear to tell)
Such ere have been?

And while around the board the wine
Lights up the glancing eye-ball's shine,
Seest thou in elbow'd thought recline
The poet true [Bryan Waller Procter],
Who in Colonna seems divine
To me and you?

But Clare! the birds will soon be flown;
Our Cambridge wit resumes his gown;
Our English Petrarch [Charles Strong] trundles down
To Devon's valley;
Why, when our MAGA'S out of town,
Stand shilly-shally?

The table-talk of London still
Shall serve for chat by rock and rill;
And you again may have your fill
Of season'd mirth,
But not if spade your chamber drill
Six fit in earth.

Come then; thou never saw'st an oak
Much bigger than a waggon-spoke:
Thou only could'st the muse invoke
On treeless fen;
Then come, and aim a higher stroke,
My man of men!

The whell and oar by gurgling steam
Shall waft thee down the wood-brow'd stream,
And the red channel's broadening gleam
Dilate thy gaze;
And thou shalt conjure up a theme
For future lays.

And thou shalt have a jocund cup,
To wind thy spirits gently up,
A stoop of hock or claret sup
Once in a way;
And we'll take notes from Mistress Gupp
That same glad day.

And Rip Van Winkel [Edward Villiers Rippingille] shall awake
From his loved idlesse for thy sake;
In earnest stretch himself, and take
Pallet on thumb;
Nor now his brains for subjects rake,
John Clare is come.

His touch will, hue by hue, combine
The thoughtful eyes that steady shine,
The temples of Shakesperian line,
The quiet smile;
The sense and shrewdness which are thine,
Withouten guile.