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Unpublished Poetry Series: The Thunder-Spirit

  The Thunder-Spirit Night time--the orange Clouds withhold oncoming rain; Afar the thunder Lingers to oblivion: Restless are the ways That fulfill unspoken dreams Their lives amongst us, As time that summons passing As a startled bird To wake us in the moonlight Of a winter sleep. Douglas Thornton

Lost Poet Series: John Clare



If ever he were consoled by his own voice, even through loneliness of heart and failure of spirit, John Clare merits the attention of those who, not through pity, but of genuine desire, seek the inner motivations of man. His poetry, strange and wonderful, still remains intimate to those with a solitary moment to spare and his descriptions of the countryside offer a reason to escape.

Born on July 13th, 1793 at a time when men could still gain livings by titles such as 'wandering fiddler', of which Clare's grandfather was one, or 'wrestler and corn thrasher' as was his father, our poet grew up. Often said to be dreamy and shy--for one day he had gone off to search for the horizon--yet the boy gained from leisurely entertainment a scanty upbringing in poetry while listening 'to a curious old lady called Granny Baines' recite folk songs and ballads. Among the countryside he roamed much, but desiring in those early years to write verse, he was said to sit on his mother's sugar bags with a stack of pencils and turn out rhymes.

His first book of poems, published in London by the same man who brought out Keats' work, caused a minor stir and brought him a poor man's annuity, enough to which he could sustain himself. Other volumes followed, of which contained better poetry, but they were fairly passed over.

He married in 1820 Martha Turner and by her had seven children, adding to his annuity with odd jobs and gardening. He visited London a few times, making the acquaintance of Charles Lamb and others, but ultimately resigned himself to a cottage in Northborough. While there, his mind took a strange turn, in which he claimed friendship with Shakespeare and accused Wordsworth of stealing his poems. He was committed to an insane asylum and grew somewhat better over time, but remained convinced throughout the rest of his life of a rather haunting experience. He believed himself to have married his childhood love, Mary Joyce. This vision somewhat estranged his real wife--though she and their children still visited him--yet after four years absence, he escaped from his asylum, walked 80 miles back to their cottage, while suffering through starvation, only to ask her where his 'Mary' was. The narrative of this adventure, written by his own hand, remains addressed to 'Mary Clare'. 

The last 23 years of his life were spent in St. Andrew's Asylum, growing better or worse as the days went, and died on May 20th, 1864. Left at this gloomy abode were many of his striking lyrics, since published under the name of 'Asylum Poems'. The myths and fables of lost gods were at one time true of John Clare, for an eerie reputation arose over him after his death, but of that no more than his poetry will speak.

Douglas Thornton


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