1820
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Ruins of Pickworth.

Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. By John Clare, a Northamptonshire Peasant.

John Clare


Fifteen quatrains composed in 1818: clearing the rubble of a desolate village, the laboring-poet John Clare ruminates on the ephemerality of human concerns: "There's not a rood of land demands our toil, | There's not a foot of ground we daily tread, | But gains increase from time's devouring spoil, | But holds some fragment of the human dead" p. 67. In this early poem Clare imitates two of the most popular poems among autodidact writers, Goldsmith's The Deserted Village and Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. Of particular note is the way his concluding stanza handles the autobiographical turn in Gray's Elegy: "Like yours, awaits for me that common lot; | 'Tis mine to be of every hope bereft: | A few more years and I shall be forgot, | And not a vestige of my memory left" p. 68.

John Taylor: "The Elegy on the Ruins of PIckworth [was composed] in 1818.... In a note on this poem, Clare says, 'The Elegy on the Ruins of Pickworth was written one Sunday morning, after I had been helping to dig the hole for a lime-kiln, where the many fragments of mortality end perished ruins inspired me with thoughts of other times, and warmed me into song'" Introduction, p. xvii.

Monthly Magazine: "The reputation of Burns and Bloomfield was not granted to them in consideration of their humble station in society, but to their superior excellence as poets. Though Mr. C.'s poems are not devoid of merit, they will not stand the test of a trial by themselves" 49 (March 1820) 164.

London Magazine: "An intense feeling for the scenery of the country, a heart susceptible to the quietest and least glaring beauties of nature, a fine discrimination and close observation of the distinguishing features of particular rural seasons and situations, and, a melancholy sense of the poet's own, heavy, — and as he has had too much reason to consider it, — hopeless lot; — such are the qualities of character most prominent in these poems, and which shed over them a sweet and touching charm, in spite of some inaccuracies and incoherencies in their language and arrangement. The sentiment is every where true, and often deep" 1 (March 1820) 325.

Anti-Jacobin Review: "This little volume is the production of a second Burns; a poet in humble life, whose genius has burst through the fetters with which his situation had surrounded it; and astonished the neighbouring villages with the brilliancy of his song. Amidst all the privations attendant on the life of the labouring peasant, this genuine child of poesy has written a volume, many noble articles in which would reflect no disgrace upon a far greater name, and we are glad, that a public-spirited individual has snatched them from obscurity; we rejoice, that they are not doomed 'To blow unseen, | And waste their sweetness on the desert air'" 58 (June 1820) 348.

E. P.: "In the Ruins of Pickworth, the measured and solemn flow of numbers happily illustrate the melancholy tinge of sentiment and of feeling which seems to animate the author, and swells his soul to something like sublimity. Although to the reader, impressed with classic veneration for names hallowed by the high suffrage of criticism, it may appear bold to mention him in connection with Gray, justice will not refuse to acknowledge that there is, in the general flow of sentiment and style which pervades this Elegy, much that forcibly reminds us of the sublime and impassioned moral painting which characterizes the 'Church-yard'" Gentleman's Magazine 91 (April 1821) 309.



These buried ruins, now in dust forgot,
These heaps of stone the only remnants seen,—
"The Old Foundations" still they call the spot,
Which plainly tells inquiry what has been—

A time was once, though now the nettle grows
In triumph o'er each heap that swells the ground,
When they, in buildings pil'd, a Village rose,
With here a cot, and there a garden crown'd.

And here while Grandeur, with unequal share,
Perhaps maintain'd its idleness and pride
Industry's cottage rose contented there,
With scarce so much as wants of life supplied.

Mysterious cause! still more mysterious plann'd;
(Although undoubtedly the will of Heaven:)
To think what careless and unequal hand
Metes out each portion that to man is given.

While vain Extravagance, for one alone,
Claims half the land his grandeur to maintain;
What thousands, not a rood to call their own,
Like me but labour for support in vain!

Here we see Luxury surfeit with excess;
There Want, bewailing, beg from door to door,
Still meeting sorrow where he meets success,
By lengthening Life that liv'd in vain before.

Almighty Power! — but why do I repine,
Or vainly live thy goodness to distrust?
Since Reason rules each provident design,
Whatever is must certainly be just.

Ye scenes of desolation spread around,
Prosperity to you did once belong;
And, doubtless, where these brambles claim the ground,
The glass once flow'd to hail the ranting song.

The ale-house here might stand, each hamlet's boast,
And here, where elder rich from ruin grows,
The tempting sign — but what was once is lost;
Who would be proud of what this world bestows?

How Contemplation mourns their lost decay,
To view their pride laid level with the ground;
To see, where Labour clears the soil away,
What fragments of mortality abound.

There's not a rood of land demands our toil,
There's not a foot of ground we daily tread,
But gains increase from time's devouring spoil,
But holds some fragment of the human dead.

The very Food, which for support we crave,
Claims for its share an equal portion too;
The dust of many a long-forgotten grave
Serves to manure the soil from whence it grew.

Since first these ruins fell, how chang'd the scene!
What busy, bustling mortals, now unknown,
Have come and gone, as tho' there nought had been,
Since first Oblivion call'd the spot her own.

Ye busy, bustling mortals, known before,
Of what you've done, where went, or what you see,
Of what your hopes attain'd to, (now no more,)
For everlasting lies a mystery.

Like yours, awaits for me that common lot;
'Tis mine to be of every hope bereft:
A few more years and I shall be forgot,
And not a vestige of my memory left.

[pp. 65-68]