The Gypsy and the Poet

The Gypsy and the Poet

by David Morley

Inspired by a real-life encounter between the poet John Clare and a gypsy named Wisdom Smith, The Gypsy and the Poet is a sequence of sonnets about friendship and madness. In this exciting new collection, poet, critic, and teacher David Morley presents an imagined account of this meeting through poems infused with stories of Romani folklore and heritage.


Inspired by a real-life encounter between the poet John Clare and a gypsy named Wisdom Smith, The Gypsy and the Poet is a sequence of sonnets about friendship and madness. In this exciting new collection, poet, critic, and teacher David Morley presents an imagined account of this meeting through poems infused with stories of Romani folklore and heritage.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Morley has not so much created a new universe as uncovered one . . . [he] brings Romany vocabulary fizzing and crackling into our consciousness.”  —Guardian

Enchantment by David Morley is a linguistic feast.”  —Jonathan Bate, Sunday Telegraph

Product Details

Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Gypsy and the Poet

By David Morley1

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2013 David Morley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-273-2


    Wisdom Smith Pitches his Bender on Emmonsales Heath, 1819

    When yeck's tardrad yeck' beti ten oprey,
    kair'd yeck's beti yag anglo the wuddur,
    ta nash'd yeck's kekauvi by the kekauviskey saster.

    Wisdom leans against an ash tree, shouldering his violin,
    slipping the bow to stroke the strings that stay silent
    at distance. All John Clare hears is a heron's cranking
    and the frozen bog creaking beneath his tread
    until that ash tree bows with fieldfares and redwings
    and the birds' tunes rise up and twine with Wisdom's.
    The men gossip an hour and John Clare writes down
    the tune 'Highland Mary' and the Gypsy's given names.
    Once Clare is gone the birds refasten to the ash-crown.
    Wisdom hacks and stamps the heather beneath his tent,
    claps a blanket on springy furze to serve as mattress
    and hooks a nodding kettle to the kettle-iron.
    He hangs his head, listens, and shoulders the violin.
    By practice and by pricking to mind he will master this.

    The Ditch

    I usd to drop down behind a hedge bush or dyke and write down
    my things upon the crown of my hat

    As John Clare rises from the ditch where he writes,
    frogs bob up through duckweed and roll their eyelids.
    The poet's coat and hat, they thought, were rain-clouds.
    The scribbling pen and riffling paper: they were the rain.
    The cloud and rain have moved like lovers out of sight.
    Woodlice wake under bark. Nests nudge from within.
    Buds are easter-hedged with eggs.
A world unwinds
    unwinding a world: hedges are easter-egged with buds;
    woodlice wake under nests; bark nudges from within;
    the lovers and rain move like clouds out of sight;
    a scribbling paper and riffling rain: they are the pen;
    a thought's hat and coat and rain-cloud: they are poets;
    frogs roll up through duckweed and bob their eyelids.
    And John Clare settles down by a ditch, where he writes.

    John Clare's Notes

    Tute has shoon'd the lav pazorrus.
    Dovodoy is so is kored gorgikonaes 'Trusted'.

    'Pazorrus'. A password. Wisdom Smith taught his nags
    in Romani. He made them shine and stamp in brass rigs.
    The Gypsy wanted riid of debt full stop. A farmer harrying
    him for money for meat bills, well, he couldn't stopsmirking
    as Wisdom's beasts flounced and flashed. 'This mare for your debt.
    That light-tailed foal for forty guineas flat.' The agreement was spat.
    Wisdom's horses didn't speak Farmer and came clopping back.
    The Gypsy bought them half-price and trotted home in the black:
    'Two thousand sleeves as there are tricks. Two thousand
    Traveller words holding another card behind the hand.'
    Sure as a stallion Wisdom had the triciest part of the trick
    and told his daughter Salome who told her granddaughter Lettice
    who passed it on to a poet who wrote down a word, 'pazorrus'.
    It is what the Gentiles call 'trusted', that is, in their debt.


    When Gorgio mushe's merripen and Romany Chal's merripen
    wells kettaney, kek kost merripen see.

    'This atrosious tribe of wandering vagabonds ought
    to be made outlaws and exterminated from the earth' –
    A Clergyman Writes. John Clare strides to Emmonsales Heath
    with the poisonous passage. Wisdom lights his pipe with it.
    'Spark one up for yourself, brother, but don't scorch a sonnet
    by mistake.' (Clare is scribbling lines on the brim of his hat,
    his paper riffling in the breeze.) 'My dad said all along:
    when the Gentile way of living and the Gypsy way of living
    come together, well, that is anything but a good way of living;
    except for riming and your botanising and your good pie, poet ...'
    Two jabbing magpies strut about the camp on a pin-prick search.
    'Take those twin piebald preachers begging for our bread.
    They would pick out our eyes and hearts were we lying dead.
    All that holds them off is life. The grave is an empty church.'

    A Walk

    Kekkeno jinava mande ne burreder denne chavo.

    John Clare has cider; Wisdom Smith has loaves and cheddar.
    They both have good legs. Nine miles of heath and heather
    to heaven and nine miles home. By noon they are soaked
    and sheltering under one of Wisdom's sprung willow benders.
    'You say you want leaving alone to get on with riming,
    that you need a house for the task, with British oaks
    for a roof and the best of slate on that.' John is writing.
    'That light-tailed foal there. See how she lolls in wet grass.
    Blue-bottles and horse-flies let her be to roll or doze
    she not smelling of fear or love or any such daftnesses.'
    But John cannot warm to April squalls under canvas.
    He pockets his poem. 'I know no more than a child, John,
    but I know what to know and this is home.' Clare bows
    to the Gypsy; the Gypsy to Clare. 'Where is my home, Wisdom?'

    The Gamekeeper

    Kek koskipen si to jal roddring after Romany chals.
    When tute came to dick lende nestist to latch yeck o o' lende.

    John Clare nestles on the gravel beach of a rivulet,
    doffs his hat to write poetry and nods off in the heat.
    He wakes to the stink of a hound and gamekeeper.
    How to explain? 'I was only poaching your rimes, sir!'
    when up pops Wisdom's cap bouncing along a hedgerow
    followed by the Gypsy's tilting head, frame and pony:
    'The might of noon to you, big man.' He sweeps his cap slyly.
    The gamekeeper grins, the dog grins, gaping for his story.
    After three hours gawping and cackling, the gamekeeper
    strides home. Clare steals like a crake from the sedge,
    Wisdom handing him his hat. 'No use seeking Gypsies, John.
    When you want us, we make it impossible to find one.
    When you're took up with other matters, we're everywhere.'
    The river runs free and crooking among furze and reed-beds.


    they pertended to great skill both by cards and plants and by the
    lines in the hand and moles and interpretations of dreams

    'I envy your free-roving,' John Clare sighs to Wisdom Smith.
    'To have the wide world as road and the sky and stars as your roof.'
    'That bread in your mouth, brother,' butts in the Gypsy, 'is ours
    because I bought it with my muscles and calluses this morning.
    Man, the day gads off to market with the dawn and everything
    sells itself under the sun: woods, trees, wildflowers and men.'
    The Gypsy snicks a kettle from its crook: 'Do we not sell the hours
    of our souls that we might be suffered to depart from them?'
    Clare gazes at the fire. Wisdom cradles the poet's cup and stirs
    and stares at the tea leaves: 'Our lives are whin upon this heath
    whose growing makes one half of heaven and one half earth.
    You desire an earthly heaven, John, and will find it in Helpston.
    The leaves also say you are welcome to my fire – and to this cup.'
    'You read a world from so little,' thinks Clare. And the Gypsy looks up.

    The Gypsy's Evening Blaze

    As soon as I got here the Smiths gang of gipseys came and
encampd near the town and as I began to be a desent scraper
we had a desent round of merriment for a fortnight

    John Clare picks at Wisdom's tobacco pouch:
    'Kindness flows like water in Christendom.
    Wait –' the poet writes 'while I pen a sketch.'
    'I am no fit subject, friend,' warns Wisdom.
    'To me, friend, this scene is wild and pleasing.'
    'To you – friend – whose nose is nibbed with teasing.'
    'To me – friend – so strong the scene prevades:
    Grant me this life – thou spirit of the shades!'
    'This is clishmaclaver. Cease feigning, John.'
    The friends sit, hushed. Their pipes glare in the dark.
    'Take my baccy but do not write me down.
    Gifts given and ungiven are like words
    forgiven and unforgiven. Word for word
    they leave signs. I will not leave one boot mark.'

    The Magic Stone

    I became so initiated in their ways and habits that I was often
    tempted to join them

    Ramsons, sorrel and nettles gossip in a pot as Wisdom Smith
    tells John Clare the tale of Stone Stew. 'A half-starved Gypsy
    squats by his blaze. A gent idles up: "What broils here, young man?"
    "This, Sir, is Stone Stew. Just boiling water and my magical stone.
    It could taste angelic – given an onion." The gent offers an onion.
    "Tatties, Sir, would saint the tang of it." The gent fetches a sackful.
    The young man sips the soup. "A side of mutton would be heaven-sent."
    And so on! – the gent brings lamb, loaves, butter, beer, and the broth
    bubbles faster and fatter. "And, now Sir, taste of my enchantment!"
    The Gypsy draws a ladle and loads a brimming bowl for the gentleman.
    "Oh, this is the Lord of Stews," gasps the gent. "With one mineral
    you have made alchemy. You must try some yourself." The bald stone
    clatters in the drained pot as the gentleman heads home. The Gypsy
    flings the rock' – Wisdom passes Clare a bowl – 'back on to the heath.'

    Wisdom Smith Shows John Clare the Right Notes and the Wrong

        If foky kek jins bute,
        Mà sal at lende;
        For sore mush jins chomany
        That tute kek jins.

    John Clare hails Wisdom Smith. The campfire leaps and licks
    around a pot of hare stew. 'Timing again, poet,' notes Wisdom.
    Afterwards, with quids of tobacco turning in their cheeks
    the Gypsy lilts and spills notes on his fiddle. 'There are some –,'
    begins Wisdom, 'some that shall stay – nameless for shame –
    who think our – music degraded when, in fact – it is the Deepest
    of the Deep.' And the Gypsy slides his bow like a single scissored
    screech to drive the point. Clare wakes up with a jolt and a jest,
    'And there are plenty who say that about my poetry, Wisdom.
    Why are the wrongest notes nearly always the rightest?'
    Then Wisdom Smith plays him a melody no one alive has heard
    not even the player, and Clare's mind clambers through crevasses
    and canopies with only the Gypsy's fingertip holds for a guide.
    'It is not deep, John,' says Wisdom finally, 'it is all surfaces.'

    First Love

    I met th[r]ee full stops or three professions of sincerity – my first
was a school affection – Mary J____ I am ashamed to go on with
the name

    'You were saying, friend, you were children together,
    larking with this girlfriend Mary in the church yard?'
    John Clare flushes, 'We were playing at being birds,
    fetching seeds and rosehips for our hidden brood.
    I threw a walnut that struck Mary in the eye.
    She wept and I hid my sorrow and my fancy
    together under the shame of not showing regret
    lest others might laugh it into love.' The Gypsy
    stands, stretches and sets down another basket.
    His palms and fingers bleed. 'This is the art of it.
    If only we had craft like this for love, brother.'
    Wisdom Smith squats in his nest of willow baskets,
    each basket a perfect wicker creel. He twists and frets
    the wands, not once glancing at the weeping poet.


    Chichi nanéi dova toot. Jaw adré o shushenghi hevyaw.
    Maur lendi ta hol lendi ti kokero. Porder ti pur ajàw.

    Wisdom Smith smiles into his steaming bowl: 'March Hares
    grow spooked in their bouts, so tranced by their boxing,
    you can pluck them into a sack by the wands of their ears!'
    John Clare hungers. He hugs his bowl and starts writing
    on the surface of the stew with a spoon. 'Let the hare cool
    on the night wind,' urges the Gypsy, 'Sip him but do not speak.'
    The moon uncovers her face; the men slumber with minds awake –
    for the stew has another mind and unpours the bowls into the pot,
    shivering to stillness on a dying blaze until the broth is springwater
    and hanks, ribs and lanky legs that dress themselves in bloody fur;
    then a living hare leaps from the pot, dancing around Gypsy and poet
    who, for this moment before morning, are asleep in the great spell
    and who dream of striding backwards to Emmonsales Heath
    to where mad hares spar and clash over the surface of the earth.


    The lil to lel oprey the kekkeno mushe's puvior and to keir the
choveno foky mer of buklipen and shillipen, is wusted abri the
Raioriskey rokkaring ker.

    'Your language, Gypsy,' mocks John Clare, 'is borrowed goods
    or burglary. You smash up English to be hardly understood
    then dispart under the drowk of your dark tongue's dossities.'
    'And you?' smiles Wisdom, 'Folks say you dine on dictionaries
    yet you remain a blank child, as foal-minded as any of my ponies –
    tethered by a line, you still nose and slurp at flowers and clovers.'
    But his friend is no longer listening to him: he dythers in miracles –
    glimpt hedges are freshing with roosting starnels; a whirlipuff reels
    as if something danced in it, and tazzles the grasses, ruffs the corn
    where its wands are ramping, strows and stirtles the sprotes upon
    the spirey blaze as the Gypsy progs it, forcing sparks with a stickle
    to twinkle from the flaze. 'Gently now, brother,' urges the Gypsy,
    'Warm your mind before you write of the things you see or hear.
    They might not be of this world.' 'But my words are,' breathes Clare.

    The Invisible Fair

    let a gipsey drink out of her pail
    To tell her her fortune

    'Where do you stray, Wisdom, when you ride out?'
    'Do you not see that foal? Horse-fairs, poet.'
    'It moves with you wherever you are found?'
    'Or follows – as a horse will nose the ground.'
    'And where do you stay, friend, when you ride out?'
    'See that foal rolling there? Horse-fairs, poet.'
    'The art of travelling stirs in her step.'
    'Arts of lightness – and knowing when to stop.'
    'I heard some fair is nearing us tonight.'
    'Some fair? – we are that fair. This is our site.'
    'What might you sell to the Gentile people?'
    'I sell them the moon trembling in a pail
    or skim them fortune from a mirrored moon;
    but would that cream savour of night or noon?'


    I usd to lye down under a tree in the Park and fall a sleep and in
    the Autumn nights the rhyme usd to fall and cover me

    'The rime used to cover me, Wisdom,' crows John Clare,
    'there was no escaping its poetry – it was everywhere.
    It looked to me for life, were it a skeleton leaf in a trough
    or a twig struck sidelong by the strivings of a tiny stream.
    I would stare at them for hours – time was never enough.'
    The Gypsy has not eaten for days; the poet is eating time.
    'But the best of it, brother,' continues Clare, 'is the poetry
    of what you have shown me, in the song-strings of the birds
    or in the taut tongue of that bow,' Wisdom Smith rumbles,
    making an O of his mouth and pressing it against his fingers.
    'No, I am not yawning, John. I find if I hold my breath hard
    I might devour the thin air. I have heard somewhere, brother,
    that poets are like lizards and that you feed on light and air
    whereas I would gladly,' the Gypsy eyes the poet, 'feast on lizards.'

    The Hedgehog

    I've seen it in their camps – they call it sweet
    Though black and bitter and unsavoury meat.

    John Clare is in a brown huff. Wisdom Smith is boxing the air,
    prancing about him like a stoat. 'Poets are prickly creatures,'
    jabs Wisdom, 'for all your talk of not having a second skin.'
    'So Gypsies are whey-eyed, one-faced simpletons?' sulks Clare,
    'Never an enigmatic word! Hearts fairly leaping off their sleeves!'
    'I should skin you alive for that,' scowls the Gypsy, 'Slit your throat,
    singe, gut and truss you like a pullet; wrap your poet's spiky pelt
    in thumb-thick clay and plumb you into a fire-pit. Pluck clay
    from your roasted trunk and serve up the dish called poetry:
    all heart and squashy muscles.' Clare bunches himself into a ball:
    'I would bind myself so tight, brother, I would never unroll.'
    'If a hedgehog will not uncurl we pop him in a pot of hot water.'
    The Gypsy springs at the poet. The poet rabbit-punches him in the gut.
    Wisdom is winded and laughing. Clare grabs the kettle and runs for it.


Excerpted from The Gypsy and the Poet by David Morley1. Copyright © 2013 David Morley. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

David Morley is the cofounder of the writing program in the department of English and comparative literary studies at the University of Warwick. He is the author of The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing and the poetry collections Enchantment, The Invisible Kings, and Scientific Papers. He has written for the Guardian and Poetry Review and is a recipient of the Templar Poetry Prize, an Arts Council of England Writers Award, an Eric Gregory Award, the Raymond Williams Prize, and a Hawthornden Fellowship.

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