"I Am": The Selected Poetry of John Clare

by John Clare
     
 

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Hail, humble Helpstone ...
Where dawning genius never met the day,
Where useless ignorance slumbers life away
Unknown nor heeded, where low genius tries
Above the vulgar and the vain to rise.
--from "Helpstone"

"I Am": The Selected Poetry of John Clare is the first anthology of the great "peasant poet

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Overview

Hail, humble Helpstone ...
Where dawning genius never met the day,
Where useless ignorance slumbers life away
Unknown nor heeded, where low genius tries
Above the vulgar and the vain to rise.
--from "Helpstone"

"I Am": The Selected Poetry of John Clare is the first anthology of the great "peasant poet"'s remarkable verse that makes available the full range of his accomplishments. Here are the different Clares that have beguiled readers for two centuries: the tender chronicler of nature and childhood; the champion of folkways in the face of oppression; the passionate, sweet-tongued love-poet; and the lonely visionary confined, in old age and senility, to asylums.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"What distinguishes Clare is an unspectacular joy and a love for the inexorable one-thing-after-anotherness of the world." --Seamus Heaney

"Clare grabs hold of you--no, he doesn't grab hold of you, he is already there, talking to you before you've arrived on the scene, telling you about himself, about the things that are closest and dearest to him, and it would no more occur to him to do otherwise than it would occur to Whitman to stop singing you his song of himself."--John Ashbery

Seamus Heaney

What distinguishes Clare is an unspectacular joy and a love for the inexorable one-thing-after-anotherness of the world.
John Ashbery

Clare grabs hold of you--no, he doesn't grab hold of you, he is already there, talking to you before you've arrived on the scene, telling you about himself, about the things that are closest and dearest to him, and it would no more occur to him to do otherwise than it would occur to Whitman to stop singing you his song of himself.
Publishers Weekly
Though he has steadily furnished anthology pieces, and has been cited repeatedly by John Ashbery as an influence, only recently have scholars and critics, often inspired by Clare's stands on behalf of the poor and by his "green" perspectives on forests and fields, tried to launch him as a major poet. A passionate observer of rural England, and a poet of visionary, even hallucinatory, extremes, Clare (1793-1864) emerged from village poverty to modest success as a "peasant poet" before mental illness confined him to asylums, where he produced works for which there are few points of comparison. Distinguished British academic Bate (whose Clare biography will be published along with this edition) presents the first recent American edition of Clare aimed at nonacademic readers. He draws liberally from Clare's large oeuvre-from long poems, from Clare's most famous prose piece (a record of an eighty-mile foot journey)-and, in a controversial intervention, adds the punctuation, line-breaks and other emendations that Clare had explicitly expected to be part of his printed texts. The results are impressive, though a shorter selection might have made a better case for Clare's greatness: Clare's poems of the 1820s and '30s (the only ones published in books during his lifetime) follow their 18th-century models too closely, and often repeat themselves. Clare's asylum poems, however, sound like nothing else on earth. These include tightly wound cries against isolation and lost love; rigorously attentive descriptions of vulnerable badgers, fragile birds and displaced people; and even energetic long poems that Clare wrote as Lord Byron. Sort through the less-inspired couplets and discover a voice neglected in his lifetime, but impossible to forget once heard. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Best remembered for his descriptive nature writings and considered by many "the poet's poet," John Clare (1793-1864) never received recognition as a major Romantic poet. In his lengthy scholarly biography, well-known Shakespeare scholar Bate (The Genius of Shakespeare) draws on letters, journals, poems, and previous biographical accounts to reconstruct the life of this enigmatic working-class English poet. Focusing primarily on Clare's career as a published poet from 1819 to 1835, Bate closely examines Clare's long-term relationship with editor John Taylor, whose heavy hand was instrumental in deciphering Clare's handwriting and correcting his grammar. As Bate reveals, even with the sales of four volumes of poetry and regular financial support from friends and patrons, Clare and his family lived in poverty all their lives. His unhappy marriage, desire to please his politically correct patrons, and drive to produce successful publications caused him immense mental strain. He continued to write poetry during his descent into depression and throughout the 20-plus years he spent in asylums. Bate masterfully points out where data are lacking or misleading. Although some details of the poet's relationship with his wife and children are somewhat glossed over, this long-awaited literary biography effectively fills a void. Appropriate for all academic libraries. "Small joy to him were childhood's tempting tricks,/ Which schoolboys look for in their vacant hours;/ With other boys he little cared to mix;/ Joy left him lonely in his hawthorn bowers." These lines from Clare's largely autobiographical poem, "The Village Minstrel," included in a new collection edited by Bate, reveal not only the protagonist's isolation but Clare's as well. Released this fall simultaneously with Bate's biography of the poet, the collection focuses on Clare's descriptions of rural life, with a few selections on childhood, love, and philosophy. Out of the mass of writing Clare produced during his lifetime, Bate has carefully selected poems from each of his published volumes for this short but concise offering. Included are writings from Clare's earliest days all the way through poems and prose written at the asylums. Clare celebrated nature in most of his writings, as in the poems about bird nesting and in the poem "The Shepherd's Calendar," which chronicles nature's changes during each month of the year. But as this collection discloses, Clare also used his poetry to criticize the wealthy. An excellent introduction to Clare's work, this is appropriate for all libraries.-Jaime Anderson, Henrico Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374528690
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
11/15/2003
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
344
Sales rank:
923,550
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.77(d)

Meet the Author

John Clare (1793-1864) lived all his life in rural Northamptonshire. He is widely celebrated as one of England's great nature and folklife writers.

Jonathan Bate is the author of Shakespeare and Ovid (1993) and The Genius of Shakespeare (1997). He is Leverhulme Research Professor and King Alfred Professor of English at the University of Warwick.

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