Sunday Poetry – John Clare

This will be the final John Clare poem in Sunday Poetry for a while. As well as the 1968 Penguin Book of Romantic Verse (where the last few week’s poems have come from) I also own a much newer & bigger anthology, The New Penguin Book of Romantic Verse. This 2001 anthology has impeccably Romantic credentials as it was edited by Jonathan Wordsworth (descended from the poet’s brother, Christopher) & his wife, Jessica. This anthology is organized by theme so I thought I would choose a few poems from each section & see how many favourites I can find, along with some new poems. This book has a much greater proportion of poems by women. Actually, that’s not such an achievement as there are no poems by women in the 1960s anthology which is sad but unsurprising.

This poem, An Invite, to Eternity, is reminiscent of old ballads like The Unquiet Grave, in which the dead speak to those left behind.

Wilt thou go with me, sweet maid,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through the valley-depths of shade,
Of night and dark obscurity;
Where the path has lost its way,
Where the sun forgets the day,
Where there’s nor life nor light to see,
Sweet maiden, wilt thou go with me!

Where stones will turn to flooding streams,
Where plains will rise like ocean waves,
Where life will fade like visioned dreams
And mountains darken into caves,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through this sad non-identity,
Where parents live and are forgot,
And sisters live and know us not!

Say, maiden; wilt thou go with me
In this strange death of life to be,
To live in death and be the same,
Without this life or home or name,
At once to be and not to be –
That was and is not -yet to see
Things pass like shadows, and the sky
Above, below, around us lie?

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