In this installment, Barry Silesky reads “Song” [“I peeled bits of straws”] by John Clare. Silesky’s third book of poems, This Disease, will be out from Tampa University Press, Fall 2006. He is author of biographies of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and John Gardner, as well as editor of the literary journal ACM (Another Chicago Magazine). He teaches poetry at Loyola University-Chicago.
John Clare, "Song" ["I peeled bits of straws"]
I peeled bits of straws and I got switches too
From the grey peeling willow as idlers do,
And I switched at the flies as I sat all alone
Till my flesh, blood, and marrow was turned to dry bone.
My illness was love, though I knew not the smart,
But the beauty of love was the blood of my heart.
Crowded places, I shunned them as noises too rude
And fled to the silence of sweet solitude.
Where the flower in green darkness buds, blossoms, and fades,
Unseen of all shepherds and flower-loving maids--
The hermit bees find them but once and away.
There I'll bury alive and in silence decay.
I looked on the eyes of fair woman too long,
Till silence and shame stole the use of my tongue:
When I tried to speak to her I'd nothing to say,
So I turned myself round and she wandered away.
When she got too far off, why, I'd something to tell,
So I sent sighs behind her and walked to my cell.
Willow switches I broke and peeled bits of straws,
Ever lonely in crowds, in Nature's own laws--
My ball room the pasture, my music the bees,
My drink was the fountain, my church the tall trees.
Who ever would love or be tied to a wife
When it makes a man mad all the days of his life?