About John Clare

John Clare (1793-1864) was born on 13 July 1793 in Helpston, Northamptonshire. Dubbed the ‘Northamptonshire Peasant Poet,’ he wrote about his native landscape with the knowledge gained from working on the land as a labourer. Poems like ‘To the Snipe’ (composed before 1831) express a concern at the depletion of natural resources – then caused by the “Human foot” (l.6) of “Free booters” (l.65) – that seems magnified today in our contemporary climate of fracking.

‘To the Snipe’

Lover of swamps
The quagmire overgrown
With hassock-tufts of sedge — where fear encamps
Around thy home alone


The trembling grass
Quakes from the human foot
Nor bears the weight of man to let him pass
Where he alone and mute

Sittest at rest
In safety ‘neath the clump
Of huge flag-forest that thy haunts invest
Or some old sallow stump

Thriving on seams
That tiny islands swell.
Just hilling from the mud and rancid streams
Suiting thy nature well –

For here thy bill,
Suited by wisdom good
Of rude unseemly length, doth delve and drill
The gelid mass for food,

And here, mayhap,
When summer suns hath dressed
The moor’s rude, desolate and spongy lap,
May hide thy mystic nest –

Mystic indeed,
For isles that ocean make
Are scarcely more secure for birds to build
Than this flag-hidden lake.

Boys thread the woods
To their remotest shades,
But in these marshy flats these stagnant floods,
Security pervades

From year to year,
Places untrodden lye
Where man nor boy nor stock hath ventured near
– Nought gazed on but the sky

And fowl that dread
The very breath of man,
Hiding in spots that never knew his tread –
A wild and timid clan,

Widgeon and teal
And wild duck, restless lot
That from man’s dreaded sight will ever steal
To the most dreary spot.

Here tempests howl
Around each flaggy plot
Where they who dread man’s sight, the waterfowl,
Hide and are frighted not.

‘Tis power divine
That heartens them to brave
The roughest tempest and at ease recline
On marshes or the wave;

Yet instinct knows
Not safety’s bounds – to shun
The firmer ground where skulking fowler goes
With searching dogs and gun

By tepid springs
Scarcely one stride across:
Though brambles from its edge a shelter flings,
Thy safety is at loss.

And never choose
The little sinky foss
Streaking the moors whence spa-red water spews
From puddles fringed with moss:

Freebooters there,
Intent to kill and slay,
Startle with cracking guns the trepid air
And dogs thy haunts betray.

From danger’s reach
Here thou art safe to roam
Far as these washy flag-sown marshes stretch,
A still and quiet home.

In these thy haunts
I’ve gleaned habitual love;
From the vague world where pride and folly taunts
I muse and look above.

Thy solitudes
The unbounded heaven esteems
And here my heart warms into higher moods
And dignifying dreams.

I see the sky
Smile on the meanest spot,
Giving to all that creep or walk or fly
A calm and cordial lot.

Thine teaches me
Right feelings to employ:
That in the dreariest places peace will be
A dweller and a joy.

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