Uploaded by Alvein Singh


How does Clare express his thoughts and feelings about the loss of a happy rural
life in his poems?
During his lifetime, John Clare was known as one of the Romantic Poets which wrote
about nature as a morally improving force, contrasting to the rapidly changing, manmade world which was gaining power at the time. Although Clare was from a
strongly agricultural background, his family working on the land for a living, he
himself has drifted from this rural life to find himself in limbo between the working
and middle classes due to his status as a poet. Using these literary skills, we are able
to gain a picture of his emotions regarding the fast-approaching Industrial Revolution.
Firstly, his poem ‘The Passing Traveller’ holds a lot of valuable imagery portraying
Clare’s feelings. He states ‘The church may stand within and not be seen’ which
appears to represent nature’s all-consuming power over things man-made, the church
used in this example. A sense of hope is evident here regarding his loss of a rural
lifestyle, that nature may come back to reclaim its reign over the land. From this point
of view, the church represents something very negative as something structuralised
and unnatural, similar to the ‘hourglass on the run’ mentioned in ‘What is Life?’ – ‘on
the run’ reinforces Clare’s desire to escape the new reality which is forming around
him. Furthermore, the ‘hourglass’ is a manmade object chosen to portray a very
restrictive image (sand in glass) which further suggests his feelings of being trapped
by the loss of his rural life. More literally, during this time period, the official time
system was introduced which contradicted the traditional ways of using nature as a
guide, and the hourglass is directly representative of this new unnatural restriction.
Alternatively, the church in ‘The Passing Traveller’ may represent religion in a purer
way which is protected by nature, rather than overridden. Clare’s appreciation for
religion can be seen widely across his poetry, which for example can be seen in
‘Summer Tints’, through the personification of the season – ‘Summer’s mellowing
paintbrush’, which portrays nature as somewhat Godlike, and the more obvious
imagery held by the shepherd in the same poem. The word ‘mellowing’ conveys a
calming, gentle atmosphere associated with Summer, and as the Earth is ultimately
created by God, the two could be seen as entwined as also suggested by ‘The Passing
Traveller’. This element of ambiguity is also evident in the use of the magpie in this
poem, which is a bird of contrasting black and white colouring. The magpie also has
superstitious connotations and may have been used as a ‘bad omen’, although it has
been mentioned in plural form (magpies’) which superstitiously would suggest hope,
rather than despair, according to tradition.
However, it also appears that Clare did not see nature as a wholly positive force. In
‘Winter Fields’, he expresses his desire to ‘cheat the sway of winter’ by means of a
book, which shows he might welcome the loss of his rural lifestyle to embrace a more
intellectual one, as represented by the book. Phrases such as ‘pudgy paths’, show a
less perfective side of nature which suggests a possible dislike for it. The use of
alliteration using the letter ‘p’ reinforces this sense of monotony and drudgery
associated with the season of winter, but might also suggests the solidarity of nature.
The rhyming structure of the poem is broken with the line ending ‘corner seat’ which
subliminally represents the disruption caused by the middle classes and the monarchy.
This shows Clare’s confusion regarding his torn position between two social classes.
The word ‘cheat’ is also especially negative and may be targeted instead at the middle
classes, describing their ability to cheat the ruling of nature yet again with a manmade
object. The fact that he has written a poem featuring the negative aspects of nature
itself suggests that he values all facets of it, and not just the beautiful ones as featured
in ‘Summer Tints’.
Finally, Clare incorporates a considerable level of aggressive imagery into his poetry
which blends with his more superficial descriptions – ‘The boy who stands and kills
the black-nosed bee’, presents a harsh juxtaposition using the violent word ‘kill’
against the concept of the ancient, peaceful trees. Again, alliteration utilises the blunt
‘b’ sound to accentuate the killing action being described, and may suggest Clare’s
personal anger towards what the boy may represent, perhaps again the middle classes
which would lead us to believe that the bee, as a small and insignificant creature,
would represent the working classes. This metaphorically portrays the cruelty which
the working classes had to endure, as disease and death was rife due to having to
migrate to the city and abandon their rural lives. Similarly, the ‘bearded corn like
armies on parade’ mixes natural imagery with something more sinister, in this case
the ‘armies’, and in ‘The Landrail’, Clare describes the bird’s sound to be ‘craiking’,
this use of onomatopoeia holding the ability to be interpreted literally as a bird’s call,
or as the piercing and uncomfortable sound of machinery being introduced during the
Industrial Revolution.
In conclusion, Clare appears to have mixed feelings towards his loss of a happy rural
lifestyle, probably influenced by his position between the two social classes and a
confusion regarding his own identity because of this. Overall, he appears to favour the
force of nature in spite of this, with most of his poetry suggesting an extensive
admiration for it. The threat of the loss of this lifestyle has instigated imagery of
restriction, disruption and discomfort for the most part, although the possibility of him
welcoming the lifestyle to replace his rural one is also evident. When taken into
account, Clare’s mental state which had declined over his lifetime could be used to
explain this sense of confusion, however.