Week 52: From ‘Remembrances’ by John Clare

In this great lament Clare mourns a countryside transfigured by the Enclosure Acts of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that enclosed much of what had previously been open fields or common land and removed the rights of local people to carry out their accustomed activities on these. Jay Griffiths in her book ‘Kith’, which has a fine section on Clare, blames the Enclosure Acts for beginning that exile from the natural world that she sees as the tragedy of modern childhood, but I am not so sure: in the nineteen-fifties my friends and I still roamed the countryside of small fields and hedgerows that the Acts had created, making no great distinction in our minds between private and public land except when it came to people’s gardens, and if we were the last generation to do so I think television, computers and parental paranoia are more immediate causes than an ancient legislation. But there is no arguing with Clare’s rush of passionate regret for what he had known, and if his verse can sometimes seem a little gauche it is the gaucheness of a transcendent integrity.

From ‘Remembrances’

O I never call to mind
These pleasant names of places but I leave a sigh behind
While I see the little mouldiwarps hang sweeing to the wind
On the only aged willow that in all the field remains
And nature hides her face where they’re sweeing in their chains
And in a silent murmuring complains

Here was commons for their hills where they seek for freedom still
Though every common’s gone and though traps are set to kill
The little homeless miners – O it turns my bosom chill
When I think of old Sneap Green, Puddocks Nook and Hilly Snow
Where bramble bushes grew and the daisy gemmed in dew
And the hills of silken grass like to cushions to the view
When we threw the pismire crumbs when we’d nothing else to do
All levelled like a desert by the never weary plough
All vanished like the sun where that cloud is passing now
All settled here for ever on its brow

I never thought that joys would run away from boys
Or that boys would change their minds and forsake such summer joys
But alack I never dreamed that the world had other toys
To petrify first feelings like the fable into stone
Till I found the pleasure past and a winter come at last
Then the fields were sudden bare and the sky got overcast
And boyhood’s pleasing haunt like a blossom in the blast
Was shrivelled to a withered weed and trampled down and done
Till vanished was the morning spring and set that summer sun
And winter fought her battle strife and won

By Langley Bush I roam but the bush hath left its hill
On Cowper Green I stray tis a desert strange and chill
And Spreading Lea, Close Oak ere decay had penned its will
To the axe of the spoiler and self interest fell a prey
And Crossberry Way and old Round Oak’s narrow lane
With its hollow trees like pulpits I shall never see again
Enclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors – though the brook is running still
It runs a naked brook cold and chill.

John Clare


7 thoughts on “Week 52: From ‘Remembrances’ by John Clare

    • Yes. MOULDIWARP is a dialect word of Germanic origin with loads of different spellings; the literal meaning is ‘earth-thrower’.

  1. “When he [Clare] was 16, Parliament passed an Act for the Enclosure of Helpston and neighbouring parishes. For centuries the village had lain among huge fields, woods, heath, and wasteland whose talismanic names spot Clare’s prose and poems: Lolham Bridges, Oxey Woods, Woodcroft Field, Emmonsales Heath, Round Oak Spring, Swordy Well. Now barriers of all sorts enclosed the open common lands for private use, setting rectangular bounds on a world that once centred in Helpston and ranged out freely in the circle of a child’s roving.” – John Felstiner.

  2. Hi David, apparently Clare left punctuation (and spelling) to his editors. I’m not an editor but surely there should be full stops at the end of these lines: “And in a silent murmuring complains”, “All settled here for ever on its brow”, “And winter fought her battle strife and won”? Also, it looks to me that “Enclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain …” is a new sentence.

    • I am reluctant to go against what seems to be the editorial convention here, which is to respect Clare’s lack of punctuation, perhaps because it is seen as an aspect of his naive spontaneity. In the same way I would respect Emily Dickinson’s somewhat excessive use of the dash, or e.e.cummings’s preference for lower case, or William Barnes’s dialect spellings. Especially as I’m not an editor either!

      • Hi David, yes if the text you’ve got is exactly what Clare wrote, it’s not unreasonable to leave it exactly as it is.

  3. Many of the wild places that he knew as a boy have been “levelled like a desert by the never weary plough”. But there also seems to be an emotional distance from those “first feelings”? He’s no longer a boy. Boys themselves have grown up, changed their minds, and forsaken “such summer joys”.

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