John Clare – The Fallen Elm
From Wikipedia: John Clare (13 July 1793 – 20 May 1864) was an English poet, the son of a farm labourer, who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside and his lamentation of its disruption.
His poetry underwent a major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is often now considered to be among the most important 19th-century poets.
His biographer Jonathan Bate states that Clare was “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.
Old elm that murmured in our chimney top
The sweetest anthem autumn ever made
And into mellow whispering calms would drop
When showers fell on thy many-coloured shade
And when dark tempests mimic thunder made
While darkness came as it would strangle light
With the black tempest of a winter night
That rocked thee like a cradle to thy root,
How did I love to hear the winds upbraid
Thy strength without–while all within was mute.
It seasoned comfort to our hearts’ desire,
We felt thy kind protection like a friend
And edged our chairs up closer to the fire,
Enjoying comforts that was never penned.
Old favourite tree, thou’st seen times changes lower,
Though change till now did never injure thee,
For time beheld thee as her sacred dower
And nature claimed thee her domestic tree;
Storms came and shook thee many a weary hour,
Yet steadfast to thy home thy roots hath been.
Summers of thirst parched round thy homely bower
Till earth grew iron–still thy leaves was green.
The children sought thee in thy summer shade
And made their playhouse rings of sticks and stone;
The mavis sang and felt himself alone
While in thy leaves his early nest was made
And I did feel his happiness mine own,
Nought heeding that our friendship was betrayed–
Friend not inanimate, though stocks and stones
There are and many formed of flesh and bones,
Thou owned a language by which hearts are stirred
Deeper than by a feeling clothed in words,
And speakest now what’s known of every tongue,
Language of pity and the force of wrong.
What cant assumes, what hypocrites will dare,
Speaks home to truth and shows it what they are.
I see a picture that thy fate displays
And learn a lesson from thy destiny:
Self-interest saw thee stand in freedom’s ways
So thy old shadow must a tyrant be;
Thou’st heard the knave abusing those in power,
Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free;
Thou’st sheltered hypocrites in many a shower
That when in power would never shelter thee;
Thou’st heard the knave supply his canting powers
With wrong’s illusions when he wanted friends,
That bawled for shelter when he lived in showers
And when clouds vanished made thy shade amends–
With axe at root he felled thee to the ground
And barked of freedom. O I hate the sound!
Time hears its visions speak and age sublime
Had made thee a disciple unto time.
It grows the cant term of enslaving tools
To wrong another by the name of right;
It grows the licence of o’erbearing fools
To cheat plain honesty by force of might.
Thus came enclosure–ruin was its guide
But freedom’s clapping hands enjoyed the sight
Though comfort’s cottage soon was thrust aside
And workhouse prisons raised upon the site.
E’en nature’s dwellings far away from men–
The common heath, became the spoilers’ prey:
The rabbit had not where to make his den
And labour’s only cow was drove away.
No matter–wrong was right and right was wrong
And freedom’s bawl was sanction to the song.
–Such was thy ruin, music-making elm:
The rights of freedom was to injure thine.
As thou wert served, so would they overwhelm
In freedom’s name the little that is mine.
And there are knaves that brawl for better laws
And cant of tyranny in stronger powers,
Who glut their vile unsatiated maws
And freedom’s birthright from the weak devours.
–John Clare (1793-1864)
Date: January 29, 2014
Categories: John Clare