John Clare was born on the 13th July 1793, the son of a farm labourer, and an illiterate mother. Like his father, he worked on the land. His journey to adulthood came at the time of enclosures, and he is a voice for how impacts on the landscape become impacts on the inner landscapes of those living in a place. A poet who writes in detail about the land, loss, grief and beauty, he speaks to me. So much of what he had to say more than 200 years ago seems all too pertinent now.
In honour of Clare’s birthday, I have recorded one of his poems. You can watch here – although mostly it’s a ‘listen’ – nothing exciting visually happens in this film.
It’s been suggested that John Clare should have a place in English culture comparable to the place Robert Burns holds for the Scottish. As a peasant poet and voice for the land, I think John Clare is someone we could do with hearing. He’s not got the same cheerful, lecherous swing of Burns, he doesn’t fit into any stories the English might have or want about national identity, but that’s all the more reason to celebrate him. I’ll be up on a hill tonight with other likeminded people, sharing Clare’s poems, and then raising a glass to him in the pub.