• John Clare’s ‘August’

John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) is a constant source of delight.  His eye for detail and linguistic turns of phrase constantly surprise.  I’m very fond of this episode from ‘August’, where ‘the bawling boy’ goes stealing fruit under the cover of darkness.  As I frequently walk home at night, with unexpected animal and bird noises and looming shapes on all sides, I can identify with the boy’s alarm!

When day declines and labour meets repose
The bawling boy his evening journey goes
At toils unwearied call the first and last
He drives his horses to their nights repast
In dewey close or meadow to sojourn
And often ventures on his still return
Oer garden pales or orchard walls to hie
When sleeps safe key hath locked up dangers eye
All but the mastiff watching in the dark
Who snufts and knows him and forbears to bark
With fearful haste he climbs each loaded tree
And picks for prizes which the ripest be
Pears plumbs or filberts covered oer in leams
While the pale moon creeps high in peaceful dreams
And oer his harvest theft in jealous light
Fills empty shadows with the power to fright
And owlet screaming as it bounces nigh
That from some barn hole pops and hurries bye
Scard the cat upon her nightly watch
For rats that come for dew upon the thatch
He hears the noise and trembling to escape
While every object grows a dismal shape
Drops from the tree in fancys swiftest dread
By ghosts pursued and scampers home to bed
Quick tumbling oer the mossy mouldering wall
And looses half his booty in the fall
Where soon as ere the morning opes its eyes
The restless hogs will happen on the prize
And crump adown the mellow and the green
And makes all seem as nothing ne’er had been

 

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