This weekend my daughter and I visited family members in Northborough and attended the John Clare Festival in Helpston, Northamptonshire.
We thoroughly enjoyed sharing in the community celebrations of John Clare (1793-1864), their local poet.
JOHN CLARE was born in Helpston in 1793 and deeply loved the natural world. During his life he wrote both poetry and autobiographical prose celebrating rural life and scenery, yet he suffered a series of severe breakdowns in later life, and spent his last 20 years in an asylum in Northampton.
He is now recognized to be as great as his contemporaries Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Shelley and Blake.
Yet in his time, despite an early ‘false dawn’ when he enjoyed a brief fame and his first volume of poems outsold Wordsworth and Keats, Clare was marketed as ‘the peasant poet’ meaning ‘ill-educated and poor’, hinting that it was remarkable he could write poetry at all, let alone great poetry.
Now in his own community, The John Clare Society ensures he is celebrated, and I highly recommend John Clare Cottage in Helpston. A visit here to learn about the poet, his work and his life is fascinating.
As you enter the Dovehouse in the beautiful cottage garden, you listen to recordings of some Clare poems, recited by adults and by children. Many must be deeply touched by these words of Clare’s:
I am – yet what I am, none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes
They rise and vanish in oblivion’s host…
How comforted and reassured John Clare may have been if he could have looked into the future and seen not only his greatness as a poet fully recognized, but also his memory honoured in such a beautiful way today in his own community.
We listened as a choir of children from John Clare School sang to us, and watched as prizes were awarded to the winners of a poetry competition for a poem about the natural world, in the tradition of John Clare.
This event, together with others held during the John Clare Festival in Helpston, made an inspirational weekend; local bards and poets laureate competed in a poetry slapdown with poems that were not only very funny but also thought-provoking.
And I reflected, that in this life, sometimes people who live by their imagination, in order to inspire others, suffer as John Clare did, with lack of recognition, with social and class prejudice, with mental ill health; often the creative life can bring suffering. Yet creative people ultimately are driven forward by a deep love of their subject; so it was in the case of John Clare.
I for one cannot read his exquisite poetry about flowers,woodlands, open fields, birds, animals and insect, and then observe the very things he wrote about, without feeling this.