Hail, humble Helpstone ...
Where dawning genius never met the day,
Where useless ignorance slumbers life away
Unknown nor heeded, where low genius tries
Above the vulgar and the vain to rise.
"I Am": The Selected Poetry of John Clare is the first anthology of the great "peasant poet"'s remarkable verse that makes available the full range of his accomplishments. Here are the different Clares that have beguiled readers for two centuries: the tender chronicler of nature and childhood; the champion of folkways in the face of oppression; the passionate, sweet-tongued love-poet; and the lonely visionary confined, in old age and senility, to asylums.
Though he has steadily furnished anthology pieces, and has been cited repeatedly by John Ashbery as an influence, only recently have scholars and critics, often inspired by Clare's stands on behalf of the poor and by his "green" perspectives on forests and fields, tried to launch him as a major poet. A passionate observer of rural England, and a poet of visionary, even hallucinatory, extremes, Clare (1793-1864) emerged from village poverty to modest success as a "peasant poet" before mental illness confined him to asylums, where he produced works for which there are few points of comparison. Distinguished British academic Bate (whose Clare biography will be published along with this edition) presents the first recent American edition of Clare aimed at nonacademic readers. He draws liberally from Clare's large oeuvre-from long poems, from Clare's most famous prose piece (a record of an eighty-mile foot journey)-and, in a controversial intervention, adds the punctuation, line-breaks and other emendations that Clare had explicitly expected to be part of his printed texts. The results are impressive, though a shorter selection might have made a better case for Clare's greatness: Clare's poems of the 1820s and '30s (the only ones published in books during his lifetime) follow their 18th-century models too closely, and often repeat themselves. Clare's asylum poems, however, sound like nothing else on earth. These include tightly wound cries against isolation and lost love; rigorously attentive descriptions of vulnerable badgers, fragile birds and displaced people; and even energetic long poems that Clare wrote as Lord Byron. Sort through the less-inspired couplets and discover a voice neglected in his lifetime, but impossible to forget once heard. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.