Love so sudden and so sweet

I had scheduled this post for another time, but it seems so appropriate today, Leonard Cohen changed my life…

I came across this poem by John Clare; he lived from 1793 to 1864, and yet the emotions he expresses in this poem are felt as much today as they were for him two hundred years ago – and for other people probably for as long as there have been people!

This poem is timeless, and although it suggests youth, in fact love can strike like this at any age!

First love

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 as 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’s 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

Here is a true story I have shared before, but it shows how modern experience is the same, exactly as that age old emotion.

Love so sudden and so sweet

It was July and Kate had finished her A-levels and was staying for two weeks in the summer with her aunty who lived in Plymouth where she had used to live. Kate had great fun with all her friends from when she’d lived there – some of them were working and could only get together with her in the evenings, but others were a similar age and either on holiday from university, or waiting to go as Kate was.

One evening they were down wandering round the harbour and stopped at one of the many pubs. Kate was standing with her friends, when she noticed Philip talking to a tall blond young man she didn’t know. The man looked across at her and their eyes met. Minutes later they were talking to each other, as if they had known each other for ever. He wasn’t English but she couldn’t place his accent, Australian, maybe? But no, he was Norwegian and he was here in Plymouth for two weeks to improve his impeccable English at a language school. His name was Óli, he was two years older than her,  and he came from Bergen. Unfortunately he had already been in Plymouth for a week and then he was returning to Bergen.

Kate and Óli spent the evening together, wandering round with the others, and they agreed to met the next day when he had finished his classes. He had a car, which was great because they could drive out of the city and go to little pubs nearby. They spent the next week together, when he wasn’t at the language school; one afternoon when it was not very nice weather, they just went to the room in the house where he was lodging and listened to music… yes, it really was as innocent as that. He was captivated by an American singer  Philip had introduced him to, Leonard Cohen.

Leonard sounded as if he was singing a dirge to Kate, but his lyrics were interesting and witty… and in actual fact, when the LP was played for about the third time – Óli only had one LP and that was Leonard, Kate began to actually quite like the songs. That was the last afternoon Kate was with Óli. He returned to Bergen and she returned home to her family, and to a place at University. Óli and Kate wrote to each other, but they both began to meet new friends at their respective universities in Norway and England. Óli visited her, but it wasn’t a success. He had come over for a friend’s wedding in Plymouth, and Kate had gone down to meet him… but somehow things weren’t right. The following summer he came again, and they went away for a few days together, but he seemed annoyed for some reason. Kate meanwhile had met other friends, not boyfriends although they were boys…

Life took its course and soon it was merely a card at Christmas, until suddenly, one July Kate received a letter telling her that not only was Óli married, but he and his new wife had a baby. Kate wasn’t sure how she felt… she had fallen in love with someone else – not a successful or reciprocal relationship, and she had moved on from her feelings for Óli, but even so it was somehow a shock.

Years passed… there was no internet, no mobile phones, no texting or messaging or emailing until the 90’s. How different things might have been if there had been that instant way to stay in touch. These days if a young woman meets a young man, even if he lives halfway round the world from her they can stay in constant touch with each other. For Kate and Óli they just had to rely on the postman.

Now, whenever Kate hears Leonard Cohen, she is taken back to that wonderful sunny week in Plymouth, so long ago.

Squirrel dreams

Continuing John Clare’s October month from his cycle of poems, The Shepherd’s Calendar:

The cotter journying wi his noisev swine
Along the wood side where the brambles twine
Shaking from dinted cups the acorns brown
And from the hedges red awes dashing down
And nutters rustling in the yellow woods
Scaring from their snug lairs the pheasant broods
And squirrels secret toils oer winter dreams
Picking the brown nuts from the yellow beams
And hunters from the thickets avenue
In scarlet jackets startling on the view
Skiming a moment oer the russet plain
Then hiding in the colord woods again
The ploping guns sharp momentary shock
Which eccho bustles from her cave to mock
The sticking groups in many a ragged set
Brushing the woods their harmless loads to get
And gipseys camps in some snug shelterd nook
Where old lane hedges like the pasture brook
Run crooking as they will by wood and dell.

John Clare  1793 – 1864

Some pleasing objects for his praise delay

October has arrived and I feel that as well as turning over a new page on the calendar (I never even look until the first of the month so I have a little surprise!) I can also look again at John Clare’s Shepherd’s Calendar. Even though this was written nearly two hundred years ago many of the scenes he describes can still be seen today – especially in a rural area like our county of Somerset. Autumn is covering the right colours of summer, changing them to rich browns and golds, fields are full of stubble – with or without horses, and there are plenty of farm animals still in fields nearby – although no shepherd boys any more!


Nature now spreads around in dreary hue
A pall to cover all that summer knew
Yet in the poets solitary way
Some pleasing objects for his praise delay
Somthing that makes him pause and turn again
As every trifle will his eye detain
The free horse rustling through the stubble land
And bawling herd boy with his motly band
Of hogs and sheep and cows who feed their fill
Oer cleard fields rambling where so ere they will
The geese flock gabbling in the splashy fields
And quaking ducks in pondweeds half conseald
Or seeking worms along the homclose sward
Right glad of freedom from the prison yard
While every cart rut dribbles its low tide
And every hollow splashing sports provide
The hedger stopping gaps wi pointed bough
Made by intruding horse and blundering cow
The milk maid tripping on her morning way
And fodderers oft tho early cutting hay
Dropping the littering forkfulls from his back
Side where the thorn fence circles round the stack
The cotter journying wi his noisey swine
Along the wood side where the brambles twine
Shaking from dinted cups the acorns brown.

John Clare  1793 – 1864

Then comes the harvest supper

Here is the last part of John Clare’s September poem in his Shepherd’s Calendar; this is the time of year when hedgerow fruits will be preserved, and apples turned to cider. The harvest supper is still celebrated in villages around here, a great evening of eating, drinking and dancing!

Then comes the harvest supper night
Which rustics welcome with delight
When merry game and tiresome tale
And songs increasing with the ale
Their mingled uproar interpose
To crown the harvests happy close
While rural mirth that there abides
Laughs till she almost cracks her sides

Now harvests busy hum declines
And labour half its help resigns
Boys glad at heart to play return
The shepherds to their peace sojourn
Rush-bosomed solitudes among
Which busy toil disturbed so long
The gossip happy all is oer
Visits again her neighbours door
For scandals idle tales to dwell
Which harvest had no time to tell
And on each bench at even tide
Which trailing vine leaves nearly hide
And free from all its sultry strife
Enjoy once more their idle life
A few whom waning toil reprieves
Thread the forests sea of leaves
Where the pheasant loves to hide
And the darkest glooms abide
Beneath the old oaks mossd and grey
Whose shadows seem as old as they
Where time hath many seasons won
Since aught beneath them saw the sun.
Within these brambly solitudes
The ragged noisy boy intrudes
To gather nuts that ripe and brown
As soon as shook will patter down
Thus harvest ends its busy reign
And leaves the fields their peace again
Where autumns shadows idly muse
And tinge the trees with many hues
Amid whose scenes I’m feign to dwell
And sing of what I love so well
But hollow winds and tumbling floods
And humming showers and moaning woods
All startle into sudden strife
And wake a mighty lay to life
Making amid their strains divine
All songs in vain so mean as mine

The bees their teazing music hum

September has been a mixture – summer and autumn, and yesterday had an almost wintry feel! All is restored and it’s warm and mild today, blue skies and sunshine!

Here is a little more from John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar:

Where the holly oak so tall
Far oer tops the garden wall
That latest blooms for bees provide
Hived on stone benches close beside
The bees their teazing music hum
And threaten war to all that come
Save the old dame whose jealous care
Places a trapping bottle there
Filled with mock sweets in whose disguise
The honey loving hornet dies

Upon the dovecoats mossy slates
The piegons coo around their mates
Where morns sunbeams early fall
By the barn or stable wall
Basking hens in playfull rout
Flap the smoaking dust about
In the barn hole sits the cat
Watching within the thirsty rat
Who oft at morn its dwelling leaves
To drink the moisture from the eves
The redbreast with his nimble eye
Dare scarcely stop to catch the flye
That tangled in the spiders snare
Mourns in vain for freedom there
The dog beside the threshold lyes
Mocking sleep with half shut eyes
With head crouched down upon his feet
Till strangers pass his sunny seat
Then quick he pricks his ears to hark
And bustles up to growl and bark
While boys in fear stop short their song
And sneak on hurrys fears along
And beggar creeping like a snail
To make his hungry hopes prevail
Oer the warm heart of charity
Leaves his lame halt and hastens bye

The fields are all alive

More from John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar… here are further verses from August…

The fields are all alive with busy noise
Of labours sounds and insects humming joys
Some oer the glittering sickle sweating stoop
Startling full oft the partridge coveys up
Some oer the rustling scythe go bending on
And shockers follow where their toils have gone
First turning swaths to wither in the sun
Where mice from terrors dangers nimbly run
Leaving their tender young in fears alarm
Lapt up in nests of chimbled grasses warm
And oft themselves for safty search in vain
From the rude boy or churlish hearted swain
Who beat their stone chinkd forks about the groun(
And spread an instant murder all around
Tho oft the anxious maidens tender prayer
Urges the clown their little lives to spare
Who sighs while trailing the long rake along
At scenes so cruel and forgets her song
And stays wi love his murder aiming hand
Some ted the puffing winnow down the land
And others following roll them up in heaps
While cleanly as a barn door beesome sweeps
The hawling drag wi gathering weeds entwind
And singing rakers end the toils behind

John Clare 1793 – 1864

Harvest approaches with its bustling day

We have had a lovely couple of days;warm sun, washing drying on the line – yes, there was a bit of a chilly wind, but we can ignore that! It’s not rained! We’ve had blue sky! The windows are open! More rain and cool weather is forecast, but we’ve had a bit of summer!

I wonder how the farmers have been managing their harvests? As I was reading John Clare’s poem on August in his Shepherd’s calendar, it seemed as if the summers of bygone times were idyllic… maybe they were. The Shepherd’s Calendar was published in 1827 – I don’t know when exactly it was written, probably over quite a period of time, but maybe Clare was thinking of the summer of 1826 which was the hottest on record (until the 1976 summer)

Here is the first part of his verses for August:

Harvest approaches with its bustling day
The wheat tans brown and barley bleaches grey
In yellow garb the oat land intervenes
And tawney glooms the valley thronged with beans
Silent the village grows, wood wandering dreams
Seem not so lovely as its quiet seems
Doors are shut up as on a winters day
And not a child about them lies at play
The dust that winnows neath the breezes feet
Is all that stirs about the silent street
Fancy might think that desert spreading fear
Had whisperd terrors into quiets ear
Or plundering armys past the place had come
And drove the lost inhabitants from home
The fields now claim them where a motley crew
Of old and young their daily tasks pursue
The barleys beard is grey and wheat is brown
And wakens toil betimes to leave the town
The reapers leave their beds before the sun
And gleaners follow when home toils are done
To pick the littered ear the reaper leaves
And glean in open fields among the sheaves

The ruddy child nursed in the lap of care
In toils rude ways to do its little share
Beside its mother poddles oer the land
Sun burnt and stooping with a weary hand
Picking its tiney glean of corn or wheat
While crackling stubbles wound its legs and feet
Full glad it often is to sit awhile
Upon a smooth green baulk to ease its toil
And feign would spend an idle hour to play
With insects strangers to the moiling day
Creeping about each rush and grassy stem

John Clare 1793 –  1864