First Alphabet by Noel Connor

for John Clare

Little oddling, always late,
a solitary wide-eyed boy
dawdling by the fields edge
on his slow saunter to school.

Still bewildered by learning,
a timid figure, gawping high
beyond the trees and hedgerows,
trying to read the fenland sky.

That sudden shock of geese
flying low over Glinton spire
a noisy flock of letterforms,
silhouettes folding and flapping.

A garbled alphabet of wings
above his tousled head,
a formation of words in full flight,
his first sight of poetry.

Poem by Noel Connor


In his autobiographical sketches John Clare recalled
that as a child he watched wild geese scudding through
the sky and saw in their formations
all the letters of the Alphabet’.

He revisited the memory in the poem March, from his collection, The Shepherds Calender.

He marks the figured forms in which they fly
And pausing follows in a wondering eye
Likening their curious march in curves and rows
To every letter which his memory knows.