Sunday, January 13, 2013

January / John Clare (5)


   Oh! Spirit of the days gone by —
The witching spells of winter nights,
Sweet childhood’s fearful ecstacy!
Where are they fled with their delights?
When list’ning on the corner seat,
The winter evening’s length to cheat,
I heard my mother’s memory tell
Tales Superstition loves so well:—                          
Things said or sung a thousand times,
In simple prose or simpler rhymes!
Ah! where is page of poesy
So sweet as this was wont to be?
The magic wonders that deceived,
When fictions were as truths believed;
The fairy feats that once prevail’d,
Told to delight, and never fail’d:
Where are they now, their fears and sighs,
And tears from founts of happy eyes?                        
I read in books, but find them not,
For Poesy hath its youth forgot:
I hear them told to children still,
But fear numbs not my spirits chill:
I still see faces pale with dread,
While mine could laugh at what is said;
See tears imagined woes supply,
While mine with real cares are dry.
Where are they gone? — the joys and fears,
The links, the life of other years?                        
I thought they twined around my heart
So close, that we could never part;
But Reason, like a winter’s day,
Nipp’d childhood’s visions all away,
Nor left behind one withering flower
To cherish in a lonely hour.
Memory may yet the themes repeat,
But Childhood’s heart hath ceased to beat
At tales, which Reason’s sterner lore
Turns like weak gossips from her door:                      
The Magic Fountain, where the head
Rose up, just as the startled maid
Was stooping from the weedy brink
To dip her pitcher in to drink,
That did its half-hid mystery tell
To smooth its hair, and use it well;
Which, doing as it bade her do,
Turn’d to a king and lover too.
The tale of Cinderella, told
The winter through, and never old:                          
The pumpkin that, at her approach,
Was turn’d into a golden coach;
The rats that fairies’ magic knew,
And instantly to horses grew;
The coachmen ready at her call,
To drive her to the Prince’s ball,
With fur-changed jackets silver lined,
And tails hung ’neath their hats behind;
The golden glove, with fingers small,
She lost while dancing in the hall,                        
That was on every finger tried,
And fitted hers, and none beside,
When Cinderella, soon as seen,
Was woo’d and won, and made a Queen.
The Boy that did the Giant slay,
And gave his mother’s cows away
For magic mask, that day or night,
When on, would keep him out of sight.
The running bean, — not such as weaves
Round poles the height of cottage eaves,                    
But magic one, — that travell’d high
Some steeple’s journey up the sky,
And reach’d a giant’s dwelling there,
A cloud-built castle in the air:
Where, venturing up the fearful height,
That served him climbing half the night,
He search’d the giant’s coffers o’er,
And never wanted riches more;
While, like a lion scenting food,
The giant roar’d in hungry mood,                            
A storm of threats that might suffice
To freeze the hottest blood to ice.

   I hear it now, nor dream of woes;
The storm is settled to repose.
Those fears are dead! — What will not die
In fading Life’s mortality?
Those truths have fled, and left behind
A real world and doubting mind.

John Clare
from The Shepherd's Calendar, 1827

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Note - The division of "January" into five parts is my own and not found in Clare's text. Due to the poem's length, I thought it better to post it in installments. The only breaks in Clare's poem are line and verse paragraph breaks. The places where I broke the poem into parts correspond to verse paragraph breaks in Clare's original. GJD 

Read "January" complete
Read The Shepherd's Calendar complete
John Clare biography

No comments:

Post a Comment