‘Careless Rambles’ By John Clare

9781582437859The title comes from one of the poems in the collection, but it should be noted that Clare’s rambles are far from careless. They are animated by a reverent, careful naturalist’s eye, even if only an amateur one.

A gifted, if unadventurous poet, it is easy to see why he holds a patriotic place of pride in the English canon. He is the supreme, naïve chronicler of the rural England that Tolkien mourned for.

There are three longer poems in the collection: A Morning Walk, The Eternity of Nature, and The Holiday Walk. The first one drags, the second indulges in a Wordsworthian philosophical fantast that Clare is ill-equipped to pull off, but the last one is a fine encapsulation of Clare’s view (though it is not the finest poem in the collection). In The Holiday Walk, schoolchildren go on a supervised expedition into nature. A kindly schoolmaster provides some small education gobbets and also chides them against injuring insects via admonitions to love all nature, from beetles to beech-trees. The attention to insects is especially telling as an example of Clare’s deep love of the natural world and a commitment to observe, without interfering (a nineteenth century ‘Prime Directive’).

Clare shines best in the smaller poems, which, at their best, focus on small aspect of the countryside. A particular tree, an insect, a small animal’s nest, a small bird. He then chronicles the small, mundane beauty within it. And it is beauty he seeks. Not metaphor nor meaning, but the unforced beauty of small things viewed simply and honestly.

The book is illustrated by watercolors by Tom Pohrt which are good but, meh. I could take ’em or leave ’em. The introduction, though, by Rober Hass (an excellent poet himself), is worth reading, though.

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