Nature’s steady hand Its season’s sure permanence Gives respite from doubt
As the dawn broke In the pregnant East And beams of burgeoning day Stretched across the yellowed sky The songbirds’ treetop threnody Broke into my dream
Sleep giving way And all too soon replaced In that initial gentle awareness Of life renewed once more Its promise and its worries Suddenly looming large Within my newly unlocked consciousness Potently recalling life’s commitments Compelling acknowledgement Of my obligations And accompanied by the knowledge Of decisions to be made Promises to be met Expectations to be fulfilled
Only the guarantee of Nature’s steady hand Of each day’s new dawn, Of the cycle of each recurring season Promising a prospect of its permanence Thus bestowing respite from our doubts
John Clare (1793 – 1864) was an English poet. Born in Northamptonshire, he was the son of a farm labourer, who became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and for regularly expressing sorrows at its disruption. His poetry underwent major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is now often seen as one of the important 19th-century poets. His biographer, Jonathan Bate, states that Clare was “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self.” Many of his poems are filled with a joy he experienced in nature and the countryside. Sadly, however, for the last 25 years of his life Clare suffered from mental illness and was incarcerated in a mental institution. In this wistful soul-searching poem, described by some as “one of the greatest poems of sheer despair ever written”, Clare spills out his desolation and detachment from a life which he would dearly love to have lived . . .
‘I AM’ . . . by John Clare
I AM! yet what I am who cares, or knows? My friends forsake me, like a memory lost. I am the self-consumer of my woes, They rise and vanish, an oblivious host, Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost. 5 And yet I am—I live—though I am toss’d. Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, Into the living sea of waking dream, Where there is neither sense of life, nor joys, But the huge shipwreck of my own esteem 10 And all that’s dear. Even those I loved the best Are strange—nay, they are stranger than the rest. I long for scenes where man has never trod— For scenes where woman never smiled or wept— There to abide with my Creator, God, 15 And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept, Full of high thoughts, unborn. So let me lie, The grass below; above, the vaulted sky.
A brief meditation on Macbeth’s predicament, following a reading of a book review on ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker (Pub. Allen Lane) – December 2017 …
‘Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.’ Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 2,
‘Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more… Macbeth does murder sleep! – – The innocent sleep.” ‘ Macbeth: Act 2, scene 2.
Sleep, being dead What life is left to live But one unfitted to the name Rest denied is constant woe No respite from dread No safe house from fear Unnourished now What hope can ever be Even contrition Affording no escape Confession no solace Macbeth’s endowment To the innocent But afflicted soul
Day dawns and life now reasserts its sway;
Sleep ends and dreams now slowly fade away,
Leaving behind the gains which I thought real.
Reality and the sun the truth reveal, That time has shattered youth and brought old age.
Shall I depart midst over-arching rage, Those aspirations which I held most dear,
Abandoned now as hope gives way to fear? Now that I’m hurt, unheard and unfulfilled,
Can I refute those truths my life distilled,
And face what unmapped seas fate holds in store,
Without a faith to bear me to the shore?