1820
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Harvest Morning.

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

John Clare


Early work by John Clare, who in eight Spenserians describes the faces of rural labor. The last stanza of the poem promises more to come: "Pleas'd would I wander where these charms reside; | Of rural sports and beauties would I sing; | Those beauties, Wealth, which you in vain deride, | Beauties of richest bloom, superior to your pride" p. 96. Clare departs from the precedent set by the laboring poets Stephen Duck and Robert Bloomfield by adopting the Spenserian stanza, which in the wake of James Beattie's The Minstrel was by 1820 becoming firmly associated with untutored verse.

Literary Chronicle: "A peasant, snatching a few moments from the hard labour to which he is doomed for subsistence, writing poems on a scrap of paper on his hat with a pencil; — a poet digging the ground fro fourteen or eighteen pence a day. — Such is the condition of John Clare, the Northamptonshire Peasant, whose poems are now given to the public.... We trust that the public feeling will not be confined to a barren admiration of this poor peasant's genius, but that some effort will be made to rescue him from the wretched poverty in which he is plunged; lest, when age and infirmity comes on, he, like his father, will need that parochial relief at which his soul revolts" 2 (29 January 1820) 71-72.

Monthly Review: "In mentioning a peasant-poet, we immediately remember Burns: but Clare must not be ranked with him whose talents would bear a comparison with the noblest intellects of modern times, and whose compositions, though perpetually enriched with illustrations from the beauties of nature, were filled with the deepest and truest sentiment, or lightened up with the most brilliant wit. Clare, moreover, possesses but a small share of the acquirements of Burns, whose mind was well stored with much useful knowledge. — To extend judicious encouragement, however, to a man who has so laudably displayed the wish for advancement, and the powers and energies which distinguish the writer of these poems, is only an act of justice" NS 91 (March 1820) 300.

Will Wastle's Diary: "Smoothness of versification and simplicity of thought seem to be his chief merits; but alas! in these days these are not enough to command or to justify such a sounding of the trumpet. The Guardian takes by far the best view of this subject — Clare has exhibited powers tht not only justify but demand attention and kindness — but his generous and enlightened patrons ought to pause ere they advise him to become any thing else than a peasant — for a respectable peasant is a much more comfortable man, and always will be so, than a mediocre poet. Let them pause and think of the fate of the far more highly-gifted Burns, and beware alike of the foolish zeal and the sinful neglect of his countrymen" Blackwood's Magazine 7 (June 1820) 322.

Dwight Durling: "The breaking up of the elements of the descriptive poem into shorter forms, usually in stanzaic measures, was a tendency fairly constant among the minor poets of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. John Clare may stand as an example of this numerous class; many others described country scenes, country people, farm labors, village pastimes, the changes of the year. Anna Seward, Robert Galloway, Mrs. Barbauld, John Stagg, Alexander Balfour, James Scadlock, Ewen Machlachlan, and Richard Gall, are among their number. Leigh Hunt's Juvenilia (1801) shows this tendency, and the nineteenth century produced poets of a similar kind: William and Mary Howitt, James Crease, Robert Nicholl, Bernard Barton, William Barnes, Ebenezer Elliott, and many others. The poets who have best painted the country, down to our own time, owe a debt to the descriptive tradition in poetry and to the prose literature of country life which began to spring up late in the eighteenth century and early in the nineteenth" Georgic Tradition in English Poetry (1935) 187-88.

Rayner Unwin: "The youth and felicity of so much of his early verse owe much to [Alan] Cunningham, from whom Clare learnt to use a variety of stanzaic forms. Duck and Bloomfield seldom ventured beyond the heroic couplet, but Clare was never afraid to experiment" The Rural Muse (1954) 132.

A number of MS poems and fragments in Spenserians are collected in The Early Poems of John Clare: 1804-22. 2 Vols, ed. Eric Robinson (1989).



Cocks wake the early morn with many a crow;
Loud striking village clock has counted four;
The labouring rustic hears his restless foe;
And weary, of his pains complaining sore,
Hobbles to fetch his horses from the moor:
Some busy 'gin to teem the loaded corn,
Which night throng'd round the barn's becrowded door;
Such plenteous scenes the farmer's yard adorn,
Such noisy, busy toils now mark the Harvest Morn.

The bird-boy's pealing horn is loudly blow'd;
The waggons jostle on with rattling sound;
And hogs and geese now throng the dusty road,
Grunting, and gabbling, in contention, round
The barley ears that litter on the ground.
What printing traces mark the waggon's way;
What busy bustling wakens echo round;
How drive the sun's warm beams the mist away;
How labour sweats and toils, and dreads the sultry day!

His scythe the mower o'er his shoulder leans,
And whetting, jars with sharp and tinkling sound,
Then sweeps again 'mong corn and crackling beans,
And swath by swath flops lengthening o'er the ground;
While 'neath some friendly heap, snug shelter'd round
From spoiling sun, lies hid the heart's delight;
And hearty soaks oft hand the bottle round,
Their toils pursuing with redoubled might—
Great praise to him be due that brought its birth to light.

Upon the waggon now, with eager bound,
The lusty picker whirls the rustling sheaves;
Or, resting ponderous creaking fork aground,
Boastful at once whole shocks of barley heaves:
The loading boy revengeful inly grieves
To find his unmatch'd strength and power decay;
The barley horn his garments interweaves;
Smarting and sweating 'neath the sultry day,
With muttering curses stung, he mauls the heaps away.

A motley group the clearing field surround:
Sons of Humanity, oh ne'er deny
The humble gleaner entrance in your ground;
Winter's sad cold, and Poverty are nigh.
Grudge not from Providence the scant supply:
You'll never miss it from your ample store.
Who gives denial, — harden'd, hungry hound,—
May never blessings crowd his hated door!
But he shall never lack, that giveth to the poor.

Ah, lovely Emma! mingling with the rest,
Thy beauties blooming in low life unseen,
Thy rosy cheeks, thy sweetly swelling breast;
But ill it suits thee in the stubs to glean.
O Poverty! how basely you demean
The imprison'd worth your rigid fates confine;
Not fancied charms of an Arcadian queen,
So sweet as Emma's real beauties shine:
Had Fortune blest, sweet girl, this lot had ne'er been thine.

The sun's increasing heat now mounted high,
Refreshment must recruit exhausted power;
The waggon stops, the busy tool's thrown by,
And 'neath a shock's enjoy'd the bevering hour.
The bashful maid, sweet health's engaging flower,
Lingering behind, o'er rake still blushing bends;
And when to take the horn fond swain implore,
With feign'd excuses its dislike pretends.
So pass the bevering hours, so Harvest Morning ends.

O Rural Life! what charms thy meanness hide;
What sweet descriptions bards disdain to sing;
What loves, what graces on thy plains abide:
Oh, could I soar me on the Muse's wing,
What rifled charms should my researches bring!
Pleas'd would I wander where these charms reside;
Of rural sports and beauties would I sing;
Those beauties, Wealth, which you in vain deride,
Beauties of richest bloom, superior to your pride.

[pp. 92-96]