The sun slopes in the west

We’re coming to the end of July, and it’s a rather variable end… sunshine and showers – actually sunshine and a cloudburst today. We were at a lovely wedding on Monday, but it was cold and very windy; it didn’t spoil the celebrations but it would have been nice to have had blue skies above the very happy couple!

Here is an except from John Clare’s ‘Shepherd’s Calendar’ for July:

Loud is the summers busy song
The smallest breeze can find a tongue
Where insects of each tiney size
Grow teazing with their melodys
Till noon burns with its blistering breath
Around and day dyes still as death
The busy noise of man and brute
Is on a sudden lost and mute
The cuckoo singing as she flies
No more to mocking boy replys
Even the brook that leaps along
Seems weary of its bubbling song
And so soft its waters creep
Tired silence sinks in sounder sleep
The cricket on its banks is dumb
The very flies forget to hum
And save the waggon rocking round
The landscape sleeps without a sound

The breeze is stopt the lazy bough
Hath not a leaf that dances now
The totter grass upon the hill
And spiders threads are standing still
The feathers dropt from more hens wing
Which to the waters surface cling
Are stedfast and as heavy seem
As stones beneath them in the stream
Hawkweeds and Groundsells fanning downs
Unruffled keep their seedy crowns
And in the oven heated air
Not one light thing is floating there
-Save that to the earnest eye
The restless heat seems twittering bye
Noon swoons beneath the heat it made
And flowers een wither in the shade
Untill the sun slopes in the west
Like weary traveler glad to rest
On pillard clouds of many hues
Then natures voice its joy renews
And checkerd field and grassy plain
Hum with their summer songs again
A requiem to the days decline
Whose setting sun beams cooly shine
A welcome to days feeble powers
As evening dews on thirsty flowers

John Clare  1793 – 1864

Among the grassy woods

The Shepherd’s Calendar by John Clare was published in 1827 when John was twenty-four years old. You can visit John Clare’s Cottage not far from Peterborough which has connections to my own family.

The cottage website describes John’s Shepherd’s Calendar: “The poem provides a calendar of the country year, in which the various tasks performed by the farm labourer take their place: ploughing in February, lambing in March, and hay-making in June.  The countryman’s year is also punctuated by celebrations and festivals, such as May Day games, sheep-shearing feasts, Harvest Home, and Christmas. Rooted in popular culture, the poem has many vivid descriptions of the flowers, birds, and beasts of the hedgerow and field.”

Here is an extract from the verses about the month of July:

Others journying too and fro
Among the grassy woods below
Musing as if they felt and knew
The pleasant scenes they wandered thro
Where each bent round them seems to be
Hugh as a jiant timber tree
While pismires from their castles come
In crowds to seek the litterd crumb
Which he on purpose drops that they
May hawl the heavy loads away
Shaping the while their dark employs
To his own visionary joys
Picturing such a life as theirs
As free from summers sweating cares
And inly wishing that his own
Coud meet with joys so thickly sown
Sport seems the all that they pursue
And play the only work they do
The cowboy still cuts short the day
In mingling mischief with his play
Oft in the pond with weeds oer grown
Hurling quick the plashing stone
To cheat his dog who watching lies
And instant plunges for the prize
And tho each effort proves as vain
He shakes his coat and dives again
Till wearied with the fruitless play
Then drops his tail and sneaks away
Nor longer heeds the bawling boy
Who seeks new sports with added joy

John Clare

July the month of summers prime

I suppose because we missed the beginning of the year – far away around the other side of the world in January and February, the year seems very short and hardly believable that we have passed the halfway mark of the year.

However, it is July… not Quintus as the Romans called it before changing its name to honour Julius Caesar. According to statistics, it should be the warmest month of the year, which surprised me as I thought that would be August… however when I think back to being at school, it always seemed roasting hot when we were sitting in stuffy classrooms and halls doing our end of year exams.

Here, John Clare celebrates this month:

July the month of summers prime
Again resumes her busy time
Scythes tinkle in each grassy dell
Where solitude was wont to dwell
And meadows they are mad with noise
Of laughing maids and shouting boys
Making up the withering hay
With merry hearts as light as play
The very insects on the ground
So nimbly bustle all around
Among the grass or dusty soil
They seem partakers in the toil
The very landscape reels with life
While mid the busy stir and strife
Of industry the shepherd still
Enjoys his summer dreams at will
Bent oer his hook or listless laid
Beneath the pastures willow shade
Whose foliage shines so cool and grey
Amid the sultry hues of day
As if the mornings misty veil
Yet lingered in their shadows pale
Or lolling in a musing mood
On mounds where saxon castles stood
Upon whose deeply buried walls
The ivyed oaks dark shadow falls
Oft picking up with wondering gaze
Some little thing of other days
Saved from the wreck of time-as beads
Or broken pots among the weeds
Of curious shapes-and many a stone
Of roman pavements thickly sown
Oft hoping as he searches round
That buried riches may be found

John Clare (1793 – 1864)

The snipping of his harmless sheers

John Clare (1793 – 1864)  may have been poorly educated as the son of a poor agricultural labourer,  but he was such a wonderful poet, that his verses speak across the years so the scenes he describes leap vividly off the page.

In The Shepherd’s Calendar for June he describes the shepherds’ tasks… first of all, shearing the sheep:

The shepherds idle hours are over now
Nor longer leaves him neath the hedgrow bough
On shadow pillowd banks and lolling stile
Wilds looses now their summer friends awhile
Shrill whistles barking dogs and chiding scold
Drive bleating sheep each morn from fallow fold
To wash pits where the willow shadows lean
Dashing them in their fold staind coats to clean
Then turnd on sunning sward to dry agen
They drove them homeward to the clipping pen
In hurdles pent where elm or sycamore
Shut out the sun-or in some threshing floor
There they wi scraps of songs and laugh and tale
Lighten their anual toils while merry ale
Goes round and gladdens old mens hearts to praise
The thread bare customs of old farmers days
Who while the sturting sheep wi trembling fears
Lies neath the snipping of his harmless sheers
Recalls full many a thing by bards unsung
And pride forgot-that reignd when he was young

He goes on to describe the breakfasts that awaited the shearers or clippers – frumity (a kind of porridge) with sugar – brown sugar which streaked the creamy dish as it melted, and fruit – probably dried plums or prunes, and washed down with ‘nut brown beer’:

How the huge bowl was in the middle set
At breakfast time as clippers yearly met
Filld full of frumity where yearly swum
The streaking sugar and the spotting plumb
Which maids coud never to the table bring
Without one rising from the merry ring
To lend a hand who if twas taen amiss
Woud sell his kindness for a stolen kiss
The large stone pitcher in its homly trim
And clouded pint horn wi its copper rim
Oer which rude healths was drank in spirits high
From the best broach the cellar woud supply
While sung the ancient swains in homly ryhmes
Songs that were pictures of the good old times
When leathern bottles held the beer nut brown
That wakd the sun wi songs and sung him down

Yorkshire sheep


In sweet disorder run

More from John Clare, that poet who most perfectly captures rural England in yesteryear… he was born in 1793 in Helpston, in my home county of Cambridgeshire – no wonder the words are so redolent of my childhood, and the stories my parents told me of their childhoods.

Here is June, from the Shepherd’s Calendar:

‘Now summer is in flower and natures hum
Is never silent round her sultry bloom
Insects as small as dust are never done
Wi’ glittering dance and reeling in the sun
And green wood fly and blossom haunting bee
Are never weary of their melody
Round field hedge now flowers in full glory twine
Large bindweed bells wild hop and streakd woodbine
That lift athirst their slender throated flowers
Agape for dew falls and for honey showers
These round each bush in sweet disorder run
And spread their wild hues to the sultry sun.’

John Clare

The seasons beautys

April so far has been a lovely month, and although there is still a chill in the air, it’s lovely to walk round with bare arms and bare legs and in sandals and shorts. In our little village, the bluebell field is more glorious than ever, I can’t remember seeing it so blue, so very blue, with just a dappling of cowslips and late primroses. My featured photo is from last year, by the way!

It’s poetry month, so more from John Clare’s Shepherd’s Calendar:

The seasons beautys all are thine
That visit with the year
Beautys that poets think divine
And all delight to hear
Thy latter days a pleasure brings
That gladden every heart
Pleasures that come like lovley things
But like to shades depart

Thy opend leaves and ripend buds
The cuckoo makes his choice
And shepherds in thy greening woods
First hears the cheering voice
And to thy ripend blooming bowers
The nightingale belongs
And singing to thy parting hours
Keeps night awake with songs

With thee the swallow dares to come
And primes his sutty wings
And urgd to seek their yearly home
Thy suns the Martin brings
And lovley month be leisure mine
Thy yearly mate to be
Tho may day scenes may brighter shine
Their birth belongs to thee

And sky larks meet the sun

More from John Clare’s superb poem ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar, and the month of March… we only have a few more days, and the month is going out like a lamb!

And sky larks meet the sun

The driving boy glad when his steps can trace
The swelling edding as a resting place
Slings from his clotted shoes the dirt around
And feign woud rest him on the solid ground
And sings when he can meet the parting green
Of rushy balks that bend the lands between
While close behind em struts the nauntling crow
And daws whose heads seem powderd oer wi snow
To seek the worms-and rooks a noisey guest
That on the wind rockd elms prepares her nest
On the fresh furrow often drops to pull
The twitching roots and gathering sticks and wool
Neath trees whose dead twigs litter to the wind
And gaps where stray sheep left their coats behind
While ground larks on a sweeing clump of rushes
Or on the top twigs of the oddling bushes
Chirp their ‘cree creeing’ note that sounds of spring
And sky larks meet the sun wi flittering wing
Soon as the morning opes its brightning eye
Large clouds of sturnels blacken thro the sky

John Clare