Alexander Best: Five Poems Inspired by John ClarePosted: September 30, 2011
INSPIRED BY JOHN CLARE
The beggar keeps his coarse hair in a braid:
A bell-rope length of several colours made.
and grey or sunburnt are his torso’s hues,
and lady’s sandals make the soundest shoes.
In season’s heat he trails around a coat
Of winter’s weight; he’s pungent as a goat.
His voice is dumb, his body fairly hums;
He’s like a monk, avoids the other bums.
His fingers tabulate a host of fears;
He quivers with the ringing in his ears.
The patient few observe him after dark
and see he takes old cig’rette butts apart;
and twists them up into a grimy page
and sucks upon the thing a pleasant age.
Beggar he is, though never asks a penny.
About his life are strange opinions many.
. . .
As summer’s end progresses, so do they:
The Great-Lakes Dragonflies at duty play.
By hundreds in tall grass they mate and sun
and shimmer in the sex act till it’s done.
and some are luminescent, slim as pins;
Enamel drops of life poise at their ends.
and male and female grip — the shape’s a heart;
As if to silk the frankness of this earth.
Though Love in Nature’s not one minor role
— it’s breadth: orchestral movement of the whole.
and in the list’ning heat they do their thing;
They reproduce their kind, to grasses cling.
and mower’s blade ne’er touched this place all year;
T’was man’s neglect brought gorgeous insects here.
He lives for life’s caprice and easy mood,
Constructing selves that seem of solid good.
and when he lands a job, works hard enough,
and loves the toiling group, the hearty laugh.
Then shirks his people, culprits “buddy”, vents;
and frigs off, scores, and does whate’er he wants.
Is slow to answer mother overwrought
and quick to anger, should the lover doubt.
Invents some fine excuse — a reg’lar fiend;
Can always trust the trusting, stupid friend.
He squanders all his gifts; the wallet takes;
Then shrills his hurt when later brung to task.
Discov’ry of his stealth’s a stunning sting,
Oh, loveliness and charm — his very being.
The tether’s end he’ll reach — a noose, ere long?
and lies and cheats and still he carries on…
. . .
I always fear they’re vanquished till I hear them…
Then, halting in my tracks, I know I love them.
For several frozen months their voice is silent
— it’s tough, you see, for they’re my psychic pilot.
In winter’s final days they start their talking
And by their dialogues is summer’s clocking.
At first their “caw” is bluntest proclamation:
We are the overseers of tarnation.
Come warm spring afternoons and much of summer,
They speak like castanets and make me slumber.
With comic delicacy they “clippety-clack”
And always keep their distance, handsome-black.
If crows came close, would people in pursuit…
With rocks and pellet-guns and steel-toe boot.
What is it ’bout this bird inspires hate?
The proud and practised crows, black-handsome, great,
Stand highest up of buildings, stroll and call
Then something puts them silent in the Fall.
. . .
There’s solace in the knowledge: I am here;
This open-air “enclosure” gives me scare.
Who hacked these limbs, who hid the foot-shaped paths?
I crane my neck, I scratch and spit; swear oaths.
A satchel’s on the ground, inside’s a blade;
My Heart is wild, a poison’s in the blood.
I’ve clutched at straws and thatch, fistfuls of grass;
Will weeds apply to choke the gap and gush.
And slow my ’motions, feelings hot run cold.
( I hardened all my hopes as best I could. )
And sorrow is the marrow of my being;
Tomorrow is a narrow road I’m steering.
My love’s a Way that now is lost to me;
At last, the poet swallowed by his theme…
. . . . .
In these poems I have tried to look upon Man and Nature
in 21st-century urban life with the same keen eye and
sensitivity as John Clare’s poems of rural life did in the 1830s
“Enclosure”, while here representing the confusing state of
doomed or hopeless love, is also a reference to the fencing-in
of common pastures (The Enclosures), the removal of
ancient paths and the felling of old tree-groves – upheavals in
England’s countryside during The Industrial Revolution –
traumatic for Clare, who felt a deep communion with the land.