The poetry of John Clare shows throughout its development the influence of three forces: the culture of his village and social class, nature, and the topographical and pastoral poetry of the eighteenth century. Clare’s view of human life as lived in close relationship with nature is presented in his poetry as a series of contrasts between the freer, socially more equal, open-field village of his childhood and the enclosed, agriculturally “improved,” and socially stratified village of his manhood; between the Eden of a wild nature untouched by human beings and the fallen nature of fences, uprooted landmarks, and vanished grazing rights; between the aesthetic response to nature that loves it for what it is and the scientific response that loves it for profit and social status. Further, as a self-educated poet in a land of illiterate laborers, Clare had difficulty resolving the tension between his temptation to idealize village life and his equally strong temptation to expose its squalid ignorance. One evidence of this is the fact that he wrote The Shepherd’s Calendar, a celebration of the beauty and activity of a village, in the same year that he wrote “The Parish,” a brutally frank attack on its ignorance and cultural isolation. In his best poetry, Clare is able to see each reality as only a part of the truth.
A typical Clare poem of his pre-asylum years will seek, above all, concreteness in its imagery...
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