John Clare and Robert Burns, who preceded him, are comparable in several ways. They are "ploughman poets": Both wrote beautiful poems of country scenes and rural life; both were born poor and struggled all their lives; both were inspired by women they loved.
Clare lived to age 70 but spent the last 23 years of his life in an insane asylum. To the end, poetic lines came to him naturally as though dictated from on high.
Compare the lines in Burns’ “A Rosebud by My Early Walk” and Clare’s “The Morning Walk”.
The linnet sat upon its nest,
By gales of morning softly prest,
He green wing and his greener breast
Were damp with dews of morning:
The dog-rose near the oaktree grew,
Blush’d swelling ‘neath a veil of dew,
A pink’s nest to its prickles grew,
Right early in the morning.
The sunshine glittered gold, the while
A country maiden clomb the stile;
Her straw hat couldn’t hide the smile
That blushed like early morning.
The lark, with feathers all wet through,
Looked up above the glassy dew,
And to the neighbouring corn-field flew,
Fanning the gales of morning.
In every bush was heard a song,
On each grass blade, the whole way long,
A silver shining drop there hung,
The milky dew of morning.
Where stepping-stones stride o’er the brook
The rosy maid I overtook.
How ruddy was her healthy look,
So early in the morning!
I took her by the well-turned arm,
And led her over field and farm,
And kissed her tender cheek so warm,
A rose in early morning.
The spiders’ lace-work shone like glass,
Tied up to flowers and cat-tail grass;
The dew-drops bounced before the lass,
Sprinkling the early morning.
Her dark curls fanned among the gales,
The skylark whistled o’er the vales,
I told her love’s delightful tales
Among the dews of morning.
She crept a flower, shook off the dew,
And on her breast the wild rose grew;
She blushed as fair, as lovely, too,
The living rose of morning.
Love lives beyond
The tomb, the earth, which fades like dew-
I love the fond,
The faithful, and the true.
Love lies in sleep,
The happiness of healthy dreams,
Eve's dews may weep,
But love delightful seems.
'Tis seen in flowers,
And in the even's pearly dew
On earth's green hours,
And in the heaven's eternal blue.
'Tis heard in spring
When light and sunbeams, warm and kind,
On angels wing
Bring love and music to the wind.
And where is voice
So young, so beautiful, so sweet
As nature's choice,
Where spring and lovers meet?
Love lies beyond
The tomb, the earth, the flowers, and dew.
I love the fond,
The faithful, young, and true.
He could not die when trees were green,
For he loved the time too well.
His little hands, when flowers were seen,
Were held for the bluebell,
As he was carried o'er the green.
His eye glanced at the white-nosed bee;
He knew those children of the spring:
When he was well and on the lea
He held one in his hands to sing,
Which filled his heart with glee.
Infants, the children of the spring!
- How can an infant die
- When butterflies are on the wing,
- Green grass, and such a sky?
- How can they die at spring?
- He held his hands for daisies white,
- And then for violets blue,
- And took them all to bed at night
- That in the green fields grew,
- As childhood's sweet delight.
- And then he shut his little eyes,
- And flowers would notice not;
- Birds' nests and eggs caused no surprise,
- He now no blossoms got;
- They met with plaintive sighs.
- When winter came and blasts did sigh,
- And bare were plain and tree,
- As he for ease in bed did lie
- His soul seemed with the free,
- He died so quietly.
I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.
I ne'er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet.
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale, a deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked what could I ail
My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away.
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start.
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter's choice
Is love's bed always snow
She seemed to hear my silent voice
Not love appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.
I hid my love when young while I
Couldn't bear the buzzing of a fly
I hid my love to my despite
Till I could not bear to look at light
I dare not gaze upon her face
But left her memory in each place
Where ere I saw a wild flower lie
I kissed and bade my love goodbye
I met her in the greenest dells
Where dew drops pearl the wood bluebells
The lost breeze kissed her bright blue eye
The bee kissed and went singing by
A sunbeam found a passage there
A gold chain round her neck so fair
As secret as the wild bee's song
She lay there all the summer long
I hid my love in field and town
Till e'en the breeze would knock me down
The bees seemed singing ballads l'er
The fly's buss turned a Lion's roar
And even silence found a tongue
To haunt me all the summer long
The riddle nature could not prove
Was nothing else but secret love