Wednesday 13 July 2022

Wool sack clouds and mare blobs

 Born on this day in 1793 was John Clare, briefly famous in his day as a 'peasant poet', then forgotten about until the early 20th century, and now perhaps rather overpraised for poetry that is decidedly patchy, though at its best eloquent and moving. As a nature poet, he certainly had the advantage of close contact and deep-rooted knowledge, though he was not above a bit of high-toned waffling (no doubt what his early public wanted of him). His poetry is rich in (Northamptonshire) dialect words, and opens a window on a rural way of life that was, as Clare was all too painfully aware, already disappearing. Here, seasonally, is his joyful  'I love to see the summer', a kind of sonnet but written entirely in rhyming couplets –

I love to see the summer beaming forth

And white wool sack clouds sailing to the north

I love to see the wild flowers come again

And mare blobs stain with gold the meadow drain

And water lilies whiten on the floods

Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood

Where from her hiding place the Moor Hen pushes

And seeks her flag nest floating in bull rushes

I like the willow leaning half way o'er

The clear deep lake to stand upon its shore

I love the hay grass when the flower head swings

To summer winds and insects happy wings

That sport about the meadow the bright day

And see bright beetles in the clear lake play

'White wool sack clouds' for the woolly cumulus of summer is good (better than Hopkins's 'silk-sack clouds' in 'Hurrahing in Harvest'). 'Mare blobs' are the yellow, water-loving flowers we now call Marsh Marigolds. The 'insects happy wings' no doubt include those of butterflies, which Clare celebrated in verse more than once, though even he seems to have seen them largely in generic (and symbolic) terms, never mentioning or describing any particular species. 


  1. Cloud Appreciation Society

  2. Thanks Harmon – a fine organisation.