New Poems Inspired by John Clare

This section contains new poems written about or inspired by John Clare. These may have won prizes around the world. 

Over time this will grow to show the variety of different poetry. If you have any poems that you would like to submit for display on the website please contact David Dykes at the John Clare Cottage.

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

  • Where the Sunlight Falls


    Where the Sunlight falls, across the hills, songbirds in a tree top sing, the wind blows on its path across the fields of Barley, they gently bow their heads to their host, my soul always alive in that scene. A moment to treasure, a time of the pure flow that holds my thoughts that reach up into the sunlit beams that draws a man home to his roots.

    For there it has ever been, among the Hedgerow thorns the Cowslip, the Wild Rose and Nettle, the Bluebells and vibrant Gorse, a man's spirit is sown and yet scattered to all he surveys. For the Sun boldens and enlightens the gift of life every waking day never the same scene set a changing paradise of the seasons. Wisher on the wind, never knowing where it should be carried.

    You may find me as I walk those humble trails, under the bough of an old Oak tree and I will beckon you to hold for a while, that nature gives her blessings to those who hear her callings, where the sunlight falls, among the canopy of leaves that sing softly while swaying in the breeze there lays my Oaken heart, softened only by the music of life that seeps through the land and through this humble body...

    For the land knows her children well, knows this mind well, as this cup overflows in the dreams and life that is given reason and passions risen a heart beating in unison within his field of dreams. I give my love freely as one in unison I wander on till that setting sun shall cast his rays no more and onward  still those horizons cast and shadows set once more and graced in darkness till once more should come the rising dawn.

    Tim lives in Brixworth, originally from Spratton and has spent his life in the area. His family in Spratton goes back to 1780.

    His writing comes from his love of the land, most of his ancestors in his father's side were farmers up until his grandfather selling the old dairy. But his love of Northamptonshire is in the blood and his spirituality ( he follows a Druidic/Shamanic Spirituality )and very much loves the land. 

    John Clare. From Hertford to Helpston


    He walked for three days,
    returning from High Beach,
    is said to have eaten grass.
    We drove in ninety minutes
    and found a place of peace,
    understood that for all of us
    life brings doubts, fears, hurts
    but here is healing,
    the song of the blackbird,
    ants in a woodpile,
    the fragrance of flowers
    in his garden
    and even in our age of chatter
    there is time to read,
    to watch and to listen.

    Robert Wilson is a member of a poetry group based in Hertford. The group visited the Clare Cottage in June 2017.

    Stranger than the Rest


    Distanced from your parents by literacy
    Separated from the girl you loved by class
    Patronised in London as your poems were feted
    Alienated from villagers on your return
    Estranged from the land you loved by enclosure
    Exiled from hope and Helpston in your Northborough cottage
    Enclosed in the asylum in Northampton
    Isolated, unvisited by your family.

    Identified with the earth in St Boltoph’s graveyard
    Hailed as one of the great English poets
    Celebrated by many in your homely cottage.

    Margaret Coupe lives in the Peak District.  She taught English in comprehensive schools for nearly forty years.  Before the advent of the National Curriculum, when teachers had more freedom to choose what they taught, she introduced her students to John Clare and they really responded.

    This prose-poem was inspired by a long-awaited and most enjoyable visit to John Clare Cottage.  Her husband, Laurence, lectured in English at Manchester Metropolitan University.

    He has written extensively about literature and ecology.  If you visit his website, you will find an article ‘The Green World’, which refers to Clare:

    John Clare of Helpston


    Our modern pressures of celebrity
    He also felt two hundred years ago.
    Born in obscurity and poverty
    At Fenland's edge where seasons' pace is slow.
    In tune with all the rhythms of the life
    That in the fields and woods and streams abounds;
    In village home, he captured joys and strife
    Of shepherds' lot, and traced the daily rounds
    Of toil at plough, in dairy and at mill.
    But though his verse earned riches and brought fame,
    The "ploughman poet" loved the village still,
    Until the fickle crowds forgot his name.
    Tossed him aside in search of newer prey
    And madness claimed him till his dying day.

    Janet Dowse, born in Liverpool now lives in Bourne, Lincolnshire.Janet was Head of English at Bourne Grammar School for nearly 30 years and wrote this sonnet after a visit to the John Clare Cottage.

  • Clare


    All it takes is three days
    and one dogged step after another:
    all it takes is three nights
    sleeping in ditches, grass for his dinner
    supper and breakfast. This is John Clare
    making his way from High Beach
    his sights fixed square on the one direction.

    He puts me in mind of our own
    desperate boy driven to tramp
    the hillsides at night when all he wants
    is to close his eyes and find himself
    in the right dream. But he can’t rest,
    or eat or sleep, his feet are blistered
    from walking so long off kilter and blind
    out in the cold with the stars clouded over.

    Like any of those lost to themselves
    he doesn’t know when to turn
    left or right, if the wind on his skin blows
    west or east – but he keeps coming back
    to the one place – and he’d sleep
    if he could in a ditch or field
    at the edge of a wood where the owl floats
    its question into the trees.

    While Clare knows he’s reached
    striking distance of Helpston
    when the earth starts to breathe
    under his feet and the hair to lift
    at the back of his neck
    as Glinton spire glimmers out of the mist
    that still hangs thick on the fields

    and I think of our boy on the phone
    from the hospital ward – his voice
    as he said I think I’ll come home
    And I dreamt him asleep, knees pulled
    to his chest, his feet exposed,
    a summer night with the moon daisies out
    and the moths spinning white over his head.

    On the road are scattered his drawings, books
    scribbled notes, the clothes he’d given
    or swapped or lost, like the trail
    the children left for themselves

    As for Clare he’s reached Swordy Well
    to find it clogged with bottles and cans.
    A rusty car’s upturned in a bush,
    the road he’ll tread again
    and again is choked with rubble
    and grass; but he stops,
    to scratch his name in the limestone

    JO HASLAM is 65 and lives in Huddersfield. She works as a bibliotherapist and has had two collections published by Smith/Doorstop: The Sign for Water and Lunar Moths. She spends 15 hours a week writing, although sometimes the day job intrudes. Her garden is both a help and a hindrance to her writing, but extensive reading is only ever an aid. She likes to write at night, in the kitchen and is so addicted to coffee that she often takes her mug with her to the bus-stop. 

  • Give Me Back My Land


    Like gypsies but without their history
    We find ourselves encamped within this wood
    Uncertain who will chase us from its shade.
    We tattered squatters - we, the dispossessed
    Like Clare's old friends, his 'quiet pilfering race'
    We now shall learn that charity stops at home
    While we from homes are driven without a thought
    By those who, having much, would have much more.

    'Improvements!' say the gentry 'Greater yields!'
    Corn ricks grow many, but the labourers, few.
    Bent under debt, still paying for a war
    With someone overseas we never saw,
    The country shouts for corn, the hedges fall
    And 'Profit!' cry the fence posts by our path.
    Injustice stalks the farms and takes our wage.
    I've heard brave souls protest and argue change
    But slow as honey dripping from a spoon
    The lawyers talk their talk and dip their pens.

    I dreamt last night, as rain dripped on our heads
    Of all my family harvesting the fields
    The gleanings taken home to make our bread,
    The rich and tasty stew of coney meat
    Filling our bellies, wife and children too!
    And then, to darken all the golden glow
    Of that, our village life so safe and snug
    Came whirling arms of metal, moving fast,
    Ripping the corn from out our calloused grip.
    Bare, all the fields, and closed the farming tracks
    No place for people now, machines do all.

    And then I woke and knew a sharp despair
    To see my children hungry, wife in fear.
    Enclosure like a subtle greedy tide
    Has washed farm labourers out of history
    And I who walked a village-worth of acres
    Am plodding, homeless, down a strange highway
    To put my wife into - as good as prison -
    My children I shall see but once a week.
    I grew a country's food, by invitation
    And now am destitute - wake up, great nation!

    After the Napoleonic Wars Britain had a National Debt twice the size of its GDP.  Landowners were enclosing any available land to grow corn for export and profit, at the same time using new machinery like the threshing machine to till and harvest larger fields. The Poor Laws were being changed to stem the tide of unemployed seeking help.

    Vivien lives in Peterborough and is a member of more than one poetry group including Poets United.  This local group, for more than a decade, has furnished Peterborough with its Poets Laureate.  It also provides performance poets who read their own work at events such as the Heritage Festival, the Whittlesey Straw Bear celebrations and commemorative events at the Museum and local schools.  Vivien writes tongue-in-cheek observations on modern life, poems inspired by fantasy themes or historical events.  One day she will succeed at writing a sestina, if she can unplug the phone and the internet.

Walking In The Shoes Of The Green Man


Generations change and your countryside more
But your words live on as I walk the same shaded summer lanes
As you did then, slowly  time fades taking me back to how it was before
And I marvel at the beauty in your life, and the pains.

Over by the fields to Glinton I imagine you at school, there when you could
On days devoid of labour even as a child  you lay in grasses deep and watched larks soar
By the crumbling stone bridge I felt longing and a shadow where you and faithful Mary stood
Both of you young and unaware that generations change and your countryside more.

They closed it in and broke your heart gentle man – money over nature as it is now
You would laugh at the hedgerow endangered now while insect and flower still remains
People looked at you in scorn with more mouths to feed than just writing would allow
But your words live on as I walk the same shaded summer lanes.

Fleetingly your poems were quaint but the city didn’t see Green Man’s rural sense as wealth
Their life took your eye off home awhile despite Keats’ scoff at your unromantic Nymph-less lore
You returned to obscurity and  lost your home, little wonder followed decline and ill health
Sadly I inhale the Green Man’s view as you did then, slowly time taking me back to how it was before.

Past bulging fields with daises, wild heads held high contrasting drooping petaled poppies bleeding red
Gently singing ‘ Clock a Clay’ as your big sky clouds, day darkens and summons summer rains
I grieve for your sensitivity and that time was short,  with open path often not yours to tread
But still in the wet and cold your words remain and I marvel at the beauty in your life, and the pains.

Maggie Barker lives in north Peterborough and regularly walk with my dog around Clare country. Her passion for John Clare’s work started as a teenager 380 miles away in Scotland, singing ‘Clock-a-Clay ’ in school competition and studying the glorious ‘ I am ’ for O-Grade English. Consequently the sheer delight of walking in his footsteps never escapes her.

Maggie is new to poetry writing –her first encounter with this genre came recently when I attended a fantastic poetry workshop at John Clare Cottage run by Peter Cox. A big thank you to all concerned for putting this wonderful event on.

  • John Clare of Helpston

    Janet Dowse

    Our modern pressures of celebrity
    He also felt two hundred years ago.
    Born in obscurity and poverty
    At Fenland's edge where seasons' pace is slow.
    In tune with all the rhythms of the life
    That in the fields and woods and streams abounds;
    In village home, he captured joys and strife
    Of shepherds' lot, and traced the daily rounds
    Of toil at plough, in dairy and at mill.
    But though his verse earned riches and brought fame,
    The "ploughman poet" loved the village still,
    Until the fickle crowds forgot his name.
    Tossed him aside in search of newer prey
    And madness claimed him till his dying day.

    Janet Dowse, born in Liverpool now lives in Bourne, Lincolnshire. Janet was Head of English at Bourne Grammar School for nearly 30 years and wrote this sonnet after a visit to the John Clare Cottage.

  • One Lilac Egg

    Noel Connor

    By a sedgy pond
    near Langley Bush
    a  yellowhammer’s nest,
    tufted and progged,
    rooted in a tangle
    of tall dried grass
    A single lilac egg
    cupped in sunshine,
    the alabaster shell
    traced and trailed
    in rich brown ink.

    Nature flourished
    in your scribbled hand,
    bedded on a thatch
    of rush and crimpled reed,
    a poem about to hatch.

  • John Clare, His Early Poems


    He wrote on scraps of paper his mother craved
    For her own purposes, tedious, domestic,
    Practical. He hid his drafts away;
    Practice in penmanship or arithmetic,
    He’d lie straight-faced if any such were found.
    He spoke one once. He claimed it.  The room went round
    With laughter. Later, he found a stratagem
    That suited his desire be heard
    Unmocked. He’d read his poems and say he’d found them
    In an almanac. Then they thought them fine,
    Though as he grew more deft, more sure in verse,
    He found he liked best those that they thought worst.

    And yet they cared and prayed. His mother talked
    Of service, her highest hope for him, in livery
    To a lord. He nodded as a horse will, balked
    and bridled, pawed and stood his ground, quivered,
    Feigned stupidity. Feckless and disheveled
    He wrote to tell the truth and shame the devil.

    Jordan Smith is the Edward E. Hale Jr. Professor of English at Union College in Schenectady, New York. These poems are excerpted from Clare’s Empire published by The Hydroelectric Press

  • John Clare at School with the Gypsies


    Were it not for dread of winter cold,
    He might have gone with them, whose talk
    Was horses, lasses, dogs, who were less bold
    Than rumor claimed and cannier, who balked
    When questioned closely about God, or why
    Their men had a crooked finger (sly,

    They broke them to avoid the king’s levy
    Of soldiers that would not claim a crippled man).
    Their thefts were petty, their arts were mummery–
    Beguiling, fortune telling. They could mend pans,
    But not their slandered, squalid reputations.
    One reverend judge suggested extirpation,

    Hardly needed once the groves were cut,
    The fields fenced, paths gated, commons turned
    To private profit. They dwindle now like June
    Flowers in a storm or ash trees burned to ash.
    He should have gone too. His sadness was a riddle
    They might have answered. They taught him how to fiddle.

    Jordan Smith is the Edward E. Hale Jr. Professor of English at Union College in Schenectady, New York. These poems are excerpted from Clare’s Empire published by The Hydroelectric Press

For John Clare


I am a wiser, better man for reading you;
For words that showed me all the beauty brought
In summer’s light and autumn’s quiet gloom;
For meaning, I’ve so often wrongly sought
In fancy things that flicker out
And leave me grasping, holding on to nought.

Your loneliness is shared through time
And passed through words I’ve soaked into my pores
And through your pain, you’ve softened mine;
My self-consuming woes and aching sores,
Eased by rhymes and soothed by stanzas sweet,
From those you wrote to others incomplete.

I hope you passed in gentle thoughts and prayers;
I hope you rest below the vaulted sky in death;
I hope your skin can feel the summer air
And nose can smell the meadow’s sighing breath.
And though you’re gone, I do not feel deprived;
You’re on my shelves and still alive.

Harry Husbands lives in Peterborough. He is a writer and poet. John Clare is one of his primary influences. His affinity for the natural world is something I feel a deep connection with.

Harry's poema can be read on his blog at

  • First Alphabet

    Noel Connor

    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.

    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.



    Village children found them first
    budding on the narrow verge
    by the edge of the schoolyard,
    strange flowers, emerging
    shyly in the spring sunshine.
    One girl picked a tiny posy
    for her astonished teacher,
    left speechless at the sight,
    a splay of fine parchment petals
    riddled in lines of your poetry.

  • Scraps


    You called them scraps
    these flawed fragments, unfinished efforts
    captured on anything you had to hand,
    a tatter of torn labels or printed bills,
    splices of birch bark scrawled in spidery lines,
    old envelopes pieced and stitched
    as a crude notebook, creased wrapping
    hoarded for the hard days, the weeks
    when you couldn’t afford fine paper.

    Thin skinned testaments, bleeding through,
    a flurry of words written this way and that,
    corner to corner, covered back and front
    and slewing sideways down the margins.
    Penned in poor man’s homemade ink
    ground oak galls and green coppurs,
    a tannic concoction stewed in rainwater,
    its bitter cantankerous brew
    a recipe for disaster in years to come.

    Today I gently turn the pages
    of your humble archive,
    coded folders of acid free paper,
    expensive conservation tapes and tissue
    protecting these remnants of poems
    delicate as pressed harebells
    or wisps of dried sweet woodruff.
    This catalogue of waifs and strays,
    frayed oddments mottled and holed
    by hurtful ink, leaf bitten lines
    nibbled to the vein by pooties and caterpillars
    feeding on your wounded words.

    (on viewing the John Clare archive)

  • Bird Whispers

    Liz Davies

    I walk under the willows, and
    My feet hardly touch the shadows,
    But my silent passing sets up
    From among the silver leaves
    A great whispering of frantic feathers.
    A whistling, panicked battle
    Of soft curved wings batters
    Against the cage of twigs and leaves,
    That gently hold the frightened bird,
    Slow the flight with slender tips,
    And a great pearly woodpigeon,
    Eyes bulging in delicate head on arching neck
    Fights free through the enveloping
    Tree and escapes into the sky.

    Liz Davies lives in Fenstanton

  • Summer on the Fens


    The alien patches of bright yellow fade once more
    Into English green, and the hedges, the wide trees
    Heave up lush to a dark Wedgwood sky, heavy
    With unfallen rain, swinging low, and white birds wade
    Through the thickly wet air. Old lace elderflowers,
    Hawthorn arching Hockney-deep in clotted cream,
    And wild light parsley floats in misty drifts
    Across the ridged green of the fields. Dark woods
    Set sail over the brow of the hill, with bow waves
    Of daisies before, willow leaves along the water
    Ripple, turning to silver in the breeze, and look -
    A whole ballet corps of chestnut flowers leaps up
    In arabesques, tutus flecked with pink and yellow,
    The River Great Ouse rises, imperceptibly slow,
    Adorned with blooming swans a-cruise on silver,
    Cataracts of pink roses pause in their plummet,
    Thick vegetation leans into the country roads,
    Almost obscuring our way, reminding us still
    That England ever belongs to the green, the roots,
    To the springs, the branch, the leaf and the flower.