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Featured Poem: Sonnet by John Clare

Written by Rachael Norris, 25th May 2020

This week in our special series of poems to help us through the testing times ahead, Suvi Dogra, The Reader's London Development Manager, shares her thoughts on Sonnet by John Clare.

 

The very first line of this sonnet immediately draws you in for we all know the joy that summer brings. I adore the use of ‘beaming’ here, it works on so many levels - the beaming sun, the long bright days or even a beaming smile. I think John Clare is one of those poets who can really bring out the feelings that nature can evoke in us. In this sonnet he describes a summer scene full of life and I was transported from my desk at home to the summery outdoors. There is affirmation that things happen in cycles, like the seasons. We saw the wild flowers last year but here they are back again, giving us joy.

There is also a sense that nature has a mind and rhythm of its own. It doesn’t always do what we expect. For instance, Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood. The reeds imitate the woods, not what one would imagine until it surprises us by acting differently and we are left wondering. There is also a sense of frantic activity with the Moor Hen looking for her nest, but also harmony and peaceful coexistence as exemplified by the leaning willow tree on the lake shore.

The image of flowers swaying and insects flying about in the hay grass add to the atmosphere of a summer’s day. The final lines accentuate that feeling by alluding to the brightness once again, 'bright day' and 'bright beetles.' I find the idea of insects sporting about the meadow an intriguing one. I had never envisioned that the insects buzzing about could perhaps be indulging in a playful activity, enjoying the summer sun just as we do or the bright beetles wading in the coolness of the clear lake. It feels as if nature’s magic is at work and reminds me of the first verse of Emily Bronte’s Moonlight, Summer Moonlight, which is in contrast to the bright daytime. Bronte alludes to the extraordinary quality of the summer moonlight which has the power to bestow sweet thoughts.

’Tis moonlight, summer moonlight,
All soft and still and fair;
The solemn hour of midnight
Breathes sweet thoughts everywhere,

While the summer is here now, at some level we recognise that it will soon fade, giving way to another season. However, there is always a promise that it will return again next year and nature will regale us in unexpected ways.

Sonnet

I love to see the summer beaming forth

And white wool sack clouds sailing to the north

I love to see the wild flowers come again

And mare blobs stain with gold the meadow drain

And water lillies whiten on the floods

Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood

Where from her hiding place the Moor Hen pushes

And seeks her flag nest floating in bull rushes

I like the willow leaning half way o'er

The clear deep lake to stand upon its shore

I love the hay grass when the flower head swings

To summer winds and insects happy wings

That sport about the meadow the bright day

And see bright beetles in the clear lake play

John Clare, 1841.

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