In this installment, Sebastian Matthews reads “I Am” by John Clare. Matthews, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, teaches part-time at Warren Wilson College and edits Rivendell, a place-based literary journal. He is the author of the memoir, In My Father’s Footsteps, and co-editor, with Stanley Plumly of Search Party: Collected Poems of William Matthews. His poems have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, New England Review, Post Road, Seneca Review, and Tin House among others. Matthews was a recent Bernard De Voto Fellow in Nonfiction.
John Clare, “I Am “
I am! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest—that I loved the best—
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.
In this installment, Michael Collier reads “Emmonsail’s Health in Winter” by John Clare. Collier is a professor of English at the University of Maryland and director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Middlebury College.
John Clare, “Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter”
I love to see the old heath’s withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling,
While the old heron from the lonely lake
Starts slow and flaps his melancholy wing,
And oddling crow in idle motions swing
On the half rotten ashtree’s topmost twig,
Beside whose trunk the gipsy makes his bed.
Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread,
The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thorn
And for the awe round fields and closen rove,
And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again.
In this installment, Michael Collier reads “The Mouse’s Nest” by John Clare. Collier is a professor of English at the University of Maryland and director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Middlebury College.
John Clare, “The Mouse’s Nest”
I found a ball of grass among the hay
And proged it as I passed and went away
And when I looked I fancied something stirred
And turned again and hoped to catch the bird
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheat
With all her young ones hanging at her teats
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me
I ran and wondered what the thing could be
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood
When the mouse hurried from the crawling brood
The young ones squeaked and when I went away
She found her nest again among the hay.
The water o’er the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.
In this installment, Roger Fanning reads “Trespass” by John Clare. Fanning‘s first book of poems, The Island Itself, was a National Poetry Series selection. His second book, Homesick, was published in 2002, and he is currently at work on a third collection, tentatively titled Buoyancy Disorders.
John Clare, “Trespass”
I dreaded walking where there was no path
And pressed with cautious tread the meadow swath
And always turned to look with wary eye
And always feared the owner coming by;
Yet everything about where I had gone
Appeared so beautiful I ventured on
And when I gained the road where all are free
I fancied every stranger frowned at me
And every kinder look appeared to say
“You’ve been on trespass in your walk today.”
I’ve often thought, the day appeared so fine,
How beautiful if such a place were mine;
But, having naught, I never feel alone
And cannot use another’s as my own.
In this installment, Randall Couch reads “The Yellowhammer” by John Clare. Couch received a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship in poetry in 2000 and an MFA from Warren Wilson College in 2003. He teaches at Arcadia University and serves on the planning committee of Penn’s Kelly Writers House. He is a contributor to the critical anthology Gabriela Mistral: The Audacious Traveler, edited by Marjorie Agosín (Ohio University Press, 2003).
John Clare, “The Yellowhammer”
When shall I see the white thorn leaves agen
And yellowhammers gath’ring the dry bents
By the dyke side on stilly moor or fen
Feathered wi love and natures good intents
Rude is the tent this Architect invents
Rural the place wi cart ruts by dyke side
Dead grass, horse hair and downy headed bents
Tied to dead thistles she doth well provide
Close to a hill o’ ants where cowslips bloom
And shed o’er meadows far their sweet perfume
In early Spring when winds blow chilly cold
The yellowhammer trailing grass will come
To fix a place and choose an early home
With yellow breast and head of solid gold.