John Clare: The Gipsy Camp + The Braggart

ZP_Julia and Bernie McDonagh_Irish Travellers_photographed by Alen MacWeeney in the 1960sZP_Julia and Bernie McDonagh_Irish Travellers_photographed by Alen MacWeeney in the 1960s

The Gipsy Camp


The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
‘Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.


.     .     .


The Braggart


With careful step to keep his balance up
He reels on warily along the street,
Slabbering at mouth and with a staggering stoop
Mutters an angry look at all he meets.
Bumptious and vain and proud he shoulders up
And would be something if he knew but how;
To any man on earth he will not stoop
But cracks of work, of horses and of plough.
Proud of the foolish talk, the ale he quaffs,
He never heeds the insult loud that laughs:
With rosy maid he tries to joke and play,–
Who shrugs and nettles deep his pomp and pride.
And calls him ‘drunken beast’ and runs away–
King to himself and fool to all beside.



*     *     *

John Clare (1793-1864) was an English poet active mainly

in the 1830s and ’40s.   Coming from a poor rural

family in Northamptonshire, he spent most of his life as

a field hand, hired labourer, and observant vagabond.

Except for one excursion to London, where briefly he

was flavour-of-the-season – “The Peasant Poet” –

(an inaccurate, sentimental moniker) – he stuck close

to his county, covering many miles on foot, even

wandering “back home”  from Northborough Asylum

where he would spend the last twenty years of his life.