Monday, July 18, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Clock-O'-Clay, by John Clare


In the cowslip pips I lie,
Hidden from the buzzing fly,
While green grass beneath me lies,
Pearled with dew like fishes' eyes,
Here I lie, a clock-o'-clay,
Waiting for the time o' day.

While the forest quakes surprise,
And the wild wind sobs and sighs,
My home rocks as like to fall,
On its pillar green and tall;
When the pattering rain drives by
Clock-o'-clay keeps warm and dry.

Day by day and night by night,
All the week I hide from sight;
In the cowslip pips I lie,
In the rain still warm and dry;
Day and night, and night and day,
Red, black-spotted clock-o'-clay.

My home shakes in wind and showers,
Pale green pillar topped with flowers,
Bending at the wild wind's breath,
Till I touch the grass beneath;
Here I live, lone clock-o'-clay,
Watching for the time of day.

John Clare (1793-1864)


A year or so back I read Adam Foulds' novel The Quickening Maze - or is it a novel? It reads as one, but focuses on real people - the poets John Clare and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and the doctor who treated both John Clare and Tennyson's brother Septimus. How much is truth and how much fiction I am not sure, but it is a compelling book.

John Clare was known as "the peasant poet". He was feted for a time, but never really fit in with the literati of the day, or with the rural society into which he was born. He spent the last part of his life in an asylum, gradually losing his grasp on reality.

Somehow his poems are ones I missed out on when studying 19th century English poets at high school. Reading the novel led me to seek them out. This one rather appealed to me, even before a google search led me to the meaning of "clock o'clay" which is, apparently, 19th century Northamptonshire dialect for a ladybird.


Vespersparrow said...

Thank you for posting this, Catherine. Poor mad John Clare. Lovely confused soul. Adam Fould's book is compelling reading.. Such a hearbreajking story.

Mary McCallum said...

This poem feels strangely modern! I was surprised to find it was much older than that... thanks for the revelation Catherine.