The Old Year’s Gone Away To Nothingness And Night

Let us end the holiday season (mine, anyway) as we began it, with some verses from John Clare, together with a wish for a trouble-free New Year (faint hope!) to all our readers.


The Old Year

The Old Year’s gone away
To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
In either shade or sun:
The last year he’d a neighbour’s face,
In this he’s known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they’re here
And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
In every cot and hall –
A guest to every heart’s desire,
And now he’s nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
All things identified;
But times once torn away
No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year’s Day
Left the Old Year lost to all.


And to see the New Year in, a view of Leicestershire from one of its highest (and breeziest) points, the Iron Age hill fort at Borough Hill.  I popped up there this morning to sacrifice a goat.



What Ere Wi Time Has Sanction Found Is Welcome : A Christmas Message From John Clare


Cheer up, M'Duck - it's Christmas!

Once again, it’s that time of year on this blog where we wish a Happy Birthday to Carol Vordeman and a Merry Christmas and a New Year of your choice to all our readers.
I hope Christmas brings you at least some of the joys described in this extract from The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) – though you’ll be lucky (or unlucky) to get Morris Dancers.
Clare is remembering the pre-industrial Christmas that Dickens was hoping to revive in A Christmas Carol (1843).  Clare was admitted to the Northampton Asylum between Christmas and New Year in 1841.
This extract is quite long, but should give something to read if you’ve exhausted the Radio Times.
 Christmas is come and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now
E’en want will dry its tears in mirth
And crown him wi’ a holly bough
Tho tramping ‘neath a winters sky
O’er snow track paths and rhymey stiles
The huswife sets her spining bye
And bids him welcome wi’ her smiles
Each house is swept the day before
And windows stuck wi’ evergreens
The snow is beesom’d from the door
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes
Gilt holly wi’ its thorny pricks
And yew and box wi’ berrys small
These deck the unus’d candlesticks
And pictures hanging by the wall

Neighbours resume their anual cheer
Wishing wi smiles and spirits high
Clad christmass and a happy year
To every morning passer bye
Milk maids their christmass journeys go
Accompanyd wi favourd swain
And childern pace the crumping snow
To taste their grannys cake again

Hung wi the ivys veining bough
The ash trees round the cottage farm
Are often stript of branches now
The cotters christmass hearth to warm
He swings and twists his hazel band
And lops them off wi sharpend hook
And oft brings ivy in his hand
To decorate the chimney nook

Old winter whipes his ides bye
And warms his fingers till he smiles
Where cottage hearths are blazing high
And labour resteth from his toils
Wi merry mirth beguiling care
Old customs keeping wi the day
Friends meet their christmass cheer to share
And pass it in a harmless way

Old customs O I love the sound
However simple they may be
What ere wi time has sanction found
Is welcome and is dear to me
Pride grows above simplicity
And spurns it from her haughty mind
And soon the poets song will be
The only refuge they can find

The shepherd now no more afraid
Since custom doth the chance bestow
Starts up to kiss the giggling maid
Beneath the branch of mizzletoe
That neath each cottage beam is seen
Wi pearl-like-berrys shining gay
The shadow still of what hath been
Which fashion yearly fades away

And singers too a merry throng
At early morn wi simple skill
Yet imitate the angels song
And chant their christmass ditty still
And mid the storm that dies and swells
By fits-in humings softly steals
The music of the village bells
Ringing round their merry peals

And when its past a merry crew
Bedeckt in masks and ribbons gay
The ‘Morrice danse’ their sports renew
And act their winter evening play
The clown-turnd-kings for penny praise
Storm wi the actors strut and swell
And harlequin a laugh to raise
Wears his hump back and tinkling bell

And oft for pence and spicy ale
Wi winter nosgays pind before
The wassail singer tells her tale
And drawls her christmass carrols oer
The prentice boy wi ruddy face
And ryhme bepowderd dancing locks
From door to door wi happy pace
Runs round to claim his ‘christmass box’

The block behind the fire is put
To sanction customs old desires
And many a faggots bands are cut
For the old farmers christmass fires
Where loud tongd gladness joins the throng
And winter meets the warmth of may
Feeling by times the heat too strong
And rubs his shins and draws away

While snows the window panes bedim
The fire curls up a sunny charm
Where creaming oer the pitchers rim
The flowering ale is set to warm
Mirth full of joy as summer bees
Sits there its pleasures to impart
While childern tween their parents knees
Sing scraps of carrols oer by heart

And some to view the winter weathers
Climb up the window seat wi glee
Likening the snow to falling feathers
In fancys infant extacy
Laughing wi superstitious love
Oer visions wild that youth supplyes
Of people pulling geese above
And keeping christmass in the skyes

As tho the homstead trees were drest
In lieu of snow wi dancing leaves
As. tho the sundryd martins nest
Instead of ides hung the eaves
The childern hail the happy day
As if the snow was april grass
And pleasd as neath the warmth of may
Sport oer the water froze to glass

Thou day of happy sound and mirth
That long wi childish memory stays
How blest around the cottage hearth
I met thee in my boyish days
Harping wi raptures dreaming joys
On presents that thy coming found
The welcome sight of little toys
The christmass gifts of comers round

‘The wooden horse wi arching head
Drawn upon wheels around the room
The gilded coach of ginger bread
And many colord sugar plumb
Gilt coverd books for pictures sought
Or storys childhood loves to tell
Wi many a urgent promise bought
To get tomorrows lesson well

And many a thing a minutes sport
Left broken on the sanded floor
When we woud leave our play and court
Our parents promises for more
Tho manhood bids such raptures dye
And throws such toys away as vain
Yet memory loves to turn her eye
And talk such pleasures oer again

Around the glowing hearth at night
The harmless laugh and winter tale
Goes round-while parting friends delight
To toast each other oer their ale
The cotter oft wi quiet zeal
Will musing oer his bible lean
While in the dark the lovers steal
To kiss and toy behind the screen

The yule cake dotted thick wi plumbs
Is on each supper table found
And cats look up for falling crumbs
Which greedy childern litter round
And huswifes sage stuffd seasond chine
Long hung in chimney nook to drye
And boiling eldern berry wine
To drink the christmas eves ‘good bye’.

Summer Pleasures They Are Gone …

A little later than usual, a poem for September. 

This rather chose itself.  When I was at the Chesterfield Festival the other week, fielding in front of me on the boundary was Jon Clare, the promising Burnley-born Derbyshire all-rounder.  In September’s issue of The Cricketer, which I happened to be reading at the time, there was an article about Frank Foster, based on the recently published biography by Robert Brooke, entitled The Fields Were Sudden Bare (a line from Remembrances, by John Clare).

Foster captained Warwickshire to their first Championship victory in 1911, but later succumbed to mental illness and died in St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, where, in its previous guise as the County General Lunatic Asylum, Clare had also spent his last years.

This is the first verse of the poem (which is mainly concerned with mourning the consequences of the enclosure of common land, and nothing to do with cricket at all).



Summer pleasures they are gone like to visions every one
And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on
I tried to call them back but unbidden they are gone
Far away from heart and eye and for ever far away
Dear heart and can it be that such raptures meet decay
I thought them all eternal when by Langley Bush I lay
I thought them joys eternal when I used to shout and play
On its bank at ‘clink and bandy’ ‘chock’ and ‘taw’ and
ducking stone
Where silence sitteth now on the wild heath as her own
Like a ruin of the past all alone.


As an illustration of summer pleasures going and almost gone like to visions, here are two snaps of the closing stages of last Sunday’s County Cup final at Grace Road, between Market Harborough and Loughborough (the match of the season, really) …

The first shows Harborough’s Nick O’Donnell facing the last ball from Leicestershire Academy man Tom Wells (as the shadows lengthen), needing 2 to tie the scores and win on the basis of one fewer wicket lost …


and, shortly afterwards, two leg byes having been scrambled, the presentation ceremony …


Christmas Greetings from the John Clare Lounge, Northampton


In Northampton today.  I dropped briefly into All Saints’ Church, where I observed that John Clare (see above and below) is getting (or being got) into the Christmas spirit.  When Clare was being treated in the Northampton General Asylum he was “allowed a good deal of freedom, often walked into town and was a familiar figure to the townspeople sitting in the porch of All Saints’ Church”*.  In memory of this, All Saints’ have established the John Clare Lounge.  I suppose, if he were alive today, he could have dropped in to the Lounge for a nice cup of tea, rather than having to sit in the porch.

He doesn’t look desperately jolly though, does he?

*(From Eric Robinson’s introduction to an Oxford edition of Clare’s poems).

The Winter’s Come, by John Clare

Meanwhile, back in the Midlands, some seasonal verse from John Clare:



The Winter’s Come

Sweet chestnuts brown like soleing-leather turn,

The larch trees, like the colour of the sun

That paled sky in the Autumn seem’d to burn.

What a strange scene before us now does run

Red, brown, and yellow, russet, black and dun,

Whitethorn, wild cherry, and the poplar bare,

The sycamore all withered in the sun,

No leaves are now upon the birch-tree there,

All now is stript to the cold wintry air.


See, not one tree but what has lost its leaves,

And yet the landscape wears a pleasing hue,

The winter chill on his cold bed receives

Foliage which once hung o’er the waters blue,

Naked, and bare, the leafless trees repose,

Blue-headed titmouse now seeks maggots rare,

Sluggish and dull the leaf-strewn river flows,

That is not green, which was so through the year,

Dark chill November draweth to a close.


‘Tis winter and I love to read in-doors,

When the moon hangs her crescent up on high

While on the window-shutters the wind roars

And storms like furies pass remorseless by,

How pleasant on a feather-bed to lie,

Or sitting by the fire in fancy soar,

With Milton or with Dante to regions high,

Or read fresh volumes we’ve not seen before,

Or o’er old Burton’s ‘Melancholy’ pore.


Clare wrote this when he was in the Northampton Asylum (in about 1850)  Presumably some of it was written from memory, though the regime in the Asylum was enlightened enough for him to be allowed a liberal supply of books, and to spend much of his time in town.

(I’m not sure that, if I were thinking of buying a book as a Christmas present for a friend who was a bit down in the dumps, I would necessarily go for Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.  Perhaps our friend the the Meerkat might be a safer bet.)    

Dog-roses : trifles – foolish things

Blogging-time limited this weekend, I’m afraid.  Amongst other things I’m off to see my first 20/20 match this afternoon.  Will I have some Damascene moment at Grace Road?  Will the scales fall from my eyes?  We shall see.  Perhaps I shall see. 

That being so, I shall have to summon the aid of one of my familiars – John Clare.  Perhaps this is only in my imagination, but we do seem to have a wonderful crop of wild flowers this year, particularly dog-roses.  I walked down the Brampton Valley Way last Sunday and snapped a few, like so – (white in honour of Yorkshire, our opponents this afternoon, though their white rose is, I think, a cultivated one) 

Northamptonshire Dog-Roses


The dog-rose makes many appearances in the poetry of Clare, but here I’ve opted for a selection from The Village Minstrel.  Clare dreaded the arrival of the railway in Northamptonshire ; I mourn its passing.  He might have been pleased to see the old railway track turned into a footpath, with some opportunities for the solitudes he sought, though I think he would have been less pleased if he had seen what had superseded the railway.  Perhaps one day the A14 (or whatever it’s called) will have returned to nature too, and our descendents will stroll along it of a Sunday afternoon, admiring the dog roses. 


O SIMPLE Nature, how I do delight
To pause upon thy trifles -foolish things,
As some would call them. -On the summer night,
Tracing the lane-path where the dog-rose hings
With dew-drops seeth’d, while chick’ring cricket sings;
My eye can’t help but glance upon its leaves,
Where love’s warm beauty steals her sweetest blush,
When, soft the while, the Even silent heaves
Her pausing breath just trembling thro’ the bush,
And then again dies calm, and all is hush.
O how I feel, just as I pluck the flower
And stick it to my breast -words can’t reveal;
But there are souls that in this lovely hour
Know all I mean, and feel whate’er I feel.



Young Spring Lambs, by John Clare (and some older sheep in Little Bowden)

One of the traditional things we associate with Spring – and you may remember that, we had it last week – that I haven’t seen this year so far is lambs.  Not one.  Being an optimistic sort I’d like to think that this is co-incidence, rather than that sheep are becoming extinct.  Here, however, is a snap of another sight I see every morning on my way to the station – a field of sheep.  There used to be two of these, but one of them has been built over to make way for an exclusive development of four to six bedroom houses.  On the whole, I must say I preferred the sheep.

Sheep, early morning, Little Bowden

Their eyes don’t really look like this, incidentally, it’s a clever piece of trick photography on my part.

And here is a poem about Spring lambs by John Clare.  I think it is still a surprising and jarring poem – by the end – and must have seemed very much more so to his contemporaries, used to poems on similar subjects by Collins, Gray or even Wordsworth.  No elevating moral, no conclusion, no overt meaning even.  Just a record of something that he had seen and felt, that felt meaningful at the time to him.

Young Spring Lambs

by John Clare


The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two—till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe,
And then another, sheltered from the wind,
Lies all his length as dead—and lets me go
Close bye and never stirs but baking lies,
With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.


Snowstorm – John Clare

I came across a very useful volume yesterday in a charity shop – Where’s that poem? by Helen Morris.  Published in 1967, it was intended as an aid for English teachers, and consists of a list of poems suitable for children between the ages of 8 and 15, arranged by topic.  I can also see it coming in very handy for those of us whose poor old brains are frozen up and can’t quite think of an appropriate poem to post on our blogs.

So, looking up (and what made me think of this I don’t know) Snow we find references to 17 poems, with a further two for Snowflakes and one for Snowmen.  The poets include Hardy (2 poems), Robert Frost (2), Walter de la Mare (4), Andrew Young (3) and Edward Thomas – an excellent selection, I’d say.  In fact it’s a pity that this volume is (I imagine) no longer in use in today’s schools.

Here is another of her suggestions, by someone who Waterstone’s could just about describe as a Local Author!!! – John Clare.  He seems to have belonged to the pro-snow faction, though, characteristically, he found the time to remember the plight of the birds, who have a particularly hard time of it in these conditions.

John Clare (1793 – 1864)


What a night! The wind howls, hisses, and but stops
To howl more loud, while the snow volley keeps
Incessant batter at the window-pane,
Making our comforts feel as sweet again;
And in the morning, when the tempest drops,
At every cottage door mountainous heaps
Of snow lie drifted, that all entrance stops
Until the besom and the shovel gain
The path, and leave a wall on either side.
The shepherd, rambling valleys white and wide,
With new sensations his old memory fills,
When hedges left at night, no more descried,
Are turned to one white sweep of curving hills,
And trees turned bushes half their bodies hide.


The boy that goes to fodder with surprise
Walks o’er the gate he opened yesternight.
The hedges all have vanished from his eyes;
E’en some tree-tops the sheep could reach to bite.
The novel scene engenders new delight,
And, though with cautious steps his sports begin.
He bolder shuffles the huge hills of snow,
Till down he drops and plunges to the chin,
And struggles much and oft escape to win–
Then turns and laughs but dare not further go;
For deep the grass and bushes lie below,
Where little birds that soon at eve went in
With heads tucked in their wings now pine for day
And little feel boys o’er their heads can stray.