Clare’s Journey – CC6013
£9.99 – £23.99
“Those keen to explore the worthwhile byways of contemporary British music would do well to investigate this finely performed and exceptionally well recorded issue”
John Clare was a nineteenth century poet whose poetry expressed, in clear and vivid detail, his love for and sensitive awareness of the natural world around him, in which he observed the lives of birds, plants and animals through the seasons.
‘Clare’s Journey’ traces John Clare’s story from the point where, for a short while, he became a fashionable poet favoured by London Society. Indeed, the peasant poet. But London society was fickle and soon his poetry was forgotten. This probably played a part in the bout of depression which led to his being admitted to High Beach Asylum at Epping Forest, under the care of Dr. Allen. Clare was allowed to take walks in the local countryside and it was whilst doing so that he decided to escape and to try to make his way on foot back to his beloved home village of Helpston, a distance of some twenty miles. Whilst undertaking this exhausting journey, Clare’s sense of inner isolation became even greater, through his encounters with various characters, all of whom in their different ways treated him unkindly. First he met up with a band of gypsies who feigned friendship, hoping to get money from him, but who disappeared once they realised he has no coins. Then he came across some cattle drovers who, instead of attempting to help him, took the opportunity to mock him. Later he met up with a jovial character who is himself a traveller, but having offered hospitality to Clare, realized he was about to miss his coach and instead rushed away. During the evening Clare came to an inn, but since he had no money, couldn’t afford to enter it and so could only watch from outside the warmth and companionship within, ‘The Windowpanes Glow’.
At last, John was sighted by a villager as he approached Helpston and was collected by Patty his wife. However, due to his very confused state of mind he did not recognise her, but believed he was married instead to Mary, a childhood sweetheart who had since died in a fire. Clare idealised
his relationship with Mary, even though there was no possibility of their marrying as Mary was from a higher class. Sadly things went badly when he was together with Patty and Clare eventually began to become violent towards her. Finally Clare was admitted to the lunatic asylum at Northampton where he was to remain for twenty three years until his death from a heart attack at the age of 71 in 1864.
‘Clare’s Journey’ is based on Clare’s own detailed account of his journey, given in his journal.
‘Clare’s Journey’ is dedicated to Peter Moyse, Hon. Vice President of The John Clare Society, in appreciation of his encouragement over many years and his suggestion that planted the seed from which ‘Clare’s Journey’ has grown.
My sincere thanks to Carry Akroyd for painting ‘Woodland Jay’ for the Clare’s Journey cover picture.
Thanks are are due to Preston House for the authentic ‘bell’s, Church Farm & Stud, Ripe for the horse & Steve Hook at Hook and Sons dairy farm for the ‘sound’ of his cows…
© Terence Deadman.
Review – Musical Opinion Magazine
This is a fascinating dramatic cantata with words by Trevor Harvey telling the story of John Clare’s 90-mile countryside walking ‘journey’ to seek his home-town of Helpston whilst in a somewhat confused state of mind, which worsened as his journey continued until he was recognised and eventually rescued. It is an intriguing and original concept, and the result is a work that impresses through the composer’s creative honesty and manifest sympathy with the subject. This would be an ideal work for any self-respecting choral society to mount, perhaps putting it in a programme which includes Malcolm Arnold’s John Clare Cantata for chorus and piano duet – more so in this year, the bicentenary of the poet’s birth. Those keen to explore the worthwhile byways of contemporary British music would do well to investigate this finely performed and exceptionally well recorded issue.
Poet Daljit Nagra revisits the BBC’s radio poetry archive and chooses The Lament of Swordy Well in which Paul Farley explores ecology, Englishness and `home’ through John Clare’s landmark poem.
‘My name will quickly be the whole
That’s left of Swordy Well.’
So wrote John Clare in the 1830s, before he was committed to the asylum, in one of his most moving and proto-ecological poems. Swordy Well, a tract of limestone heath near Clare’s home in Northamptonshire, is not just the subject though – astonishingly it’s also the narrator. Through Clare, the place gained a voice – a rarity even today in English poetry.
The site – now Swaddywell – is presently one of scientific interest, and has been preserved for its wildlife and habitat. However following Clare’s time – and his poem’s catalogue of the place’s neglect and abuse following enclosure – the area found itself being used as a racetrack for stock cars, a site for illegal raves and parties, and even became a fly tipping eyesore.
Poet Paul Farley, who has edited John Clare’s poems, goes back to the original location and takes the poem back to its source too, meeting with fellow writers, conservationists and locals who remember the partying and racing in Swordy Well. How would the place speak now, nearly two centuries after enclosure?
Responding with a new poem of Paul Farley’s, and with a vivid soundscape, The Lament of Swordy Well reflects on the nature of location, ecology, `home’ and voice in the English landscape poem.
Producer: Aasiya Lodhi
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2008.
Poetry Now BBC Radio 4 Extra 17:00 22/March/2020