Walking With John Clare

The asylum towers made him feel small
As if peering up to a teacher
The ivy climbed over the crumbling wall
And appeared to him a strange, green creature.

The afternoon sun did nothing to calm
The turmoil inside his head
He stared at the sun beetle held  in his palm
And wished he could go to bed.

Escape! …was tonight or never
The forgotten ladder left by the garden wall
He was about to sever
The line between nothing….or all!

Only the full moon saw his flight
As the bracken deadened his fall
One more poor soul into the night
One less soul at morning call.

He stole past the iron gates
Encased by the red-bricked posts
If only he  could shake off the weights
That left him prey to the ghosts.

The forest was uninviting
As he weaved between the trees
The black of night was blighting
He fell crying to his knees.
The lights were on in the tower
Was his midnight dash discovered?
Was this to be the hour
His homeward quest was smothered.

It was a false alarm
His understudy  had  worked well
The stuffed suit;  like a scarecrow on a farm
Had fooled the warning bell.

He rose to his feet and looked around
And  stared into the dark
The girl of his dreams must be found
That first love that made its mark.

The moon was covered by clouds
How he longed for the sunrise
That would wake him and diminish the funeral shrouds
And his children’s stoney eyes.

He came upon a cornfield
A restful sea of gold
Whose harvest would never be milled
Unless his heart was sold.

Crossing the fields he sneered
At the damned fences
Every day he neared
The thirst that never quenches.

He arrived at his  hamlet by dawn
After his nighttime rove
Exhausted, clothes well worn
For his first love,  he strove.

He hammered on the oak door
‘I want my white breasted dove’
‘I can’t stand it anymore
I want my long lost love.’

The frightened farmer pulled him inside
Bloody footprints on the farmhouse floor
‘Is that you,  John Clare;  I can’t decide
Have you survived some terrible war?

‘I have come for Mary Joyce
She needs me now I know
But I cannot hear her voice
Bring her to me and I’ll go.’

‘John, John;  she was lost in a fire
Only three years ago
She was your hearts’ desire
And you’re the last to know.’

‘Then there’s nothing left for me
Even my lifetime love has gone
A prisoner; never to be free
I’m like a drying river where dwells a dying swan.’

‘They’ve taken the pastures; they’ve taken the fields
For their wealth expansion
Who knows what the land yields
From their manorial  mansion.’

The farmer sat him down to rest
And offered bread and  ham
‘Are you really John Clare or do you jest.
‘No!  John Clare; I am.

Gary Soden


Gary was inspired by John Clare's walk from High Beech in Epping Forest back to Northborough in 1841.