Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Shepherd's Calendar - May

The Shepherd's Calendar is a long poem which has a section for each month of the year and tells of the work of the farm labourer through the seasons and describes the celebrations and festivals that were enjoyed by the country people. There are lovely descriptions of the countryside and wildlife as it was in 1827 when the poem was published. It describes a world that is long gone and is a marvellous record of that world. The poem was written by John Clare who was born in 1793 and was the son of a Northamptonshire farm labourer so he was very familiar with the things he wrote about, it was the life he lived himself. I have chosen a small excerpt from May and I think as the year goes by I will try and post a small piece for each month. John Clare writes in Northamptonshire dialect and without punctuation but it is easy enough to understand.

The shepherd goes wi happy stride
Wi morns long shadow by his side
Down the dryd lanes neath blooming may
That once was over shoes in clay
While martins twitter neath his eaves
Which he at early morning leaves
The driving boy beside his team
Will oer the may month beauty dream
And cock his hat and turn his eye
On flower and tree and deepning skye
And oft bursts loud in fits of song
And whistles as he reels along
Cracking his whip in starts of joy
A happy dirty driving boy

The two photographs were taken at the Weald and downland Museum in Sussex, the painting is The Cornfield by John Constable.


Ragged Roses said...

I really, really love May!

Thimbleanna said...

Beautiful Rowan! I especially love that picture of the little thatched cottage. I'll be eagerly looking forward to the other months in the Shepherd's calendar

Piecefulafternoon said...

What a lovely post - thank you.

Nao said...

I always learn something wonderful when I come here. This post touches my heart. Wonderful poem, beautiful images. Thank You.

Rosie said...

Oh, wonderful John Clare:) I was watching the local news last night and they interviewed a man who said he had 'the best job in the world' - he'd been a shepherd on the Long Mynd in Shropshire for 50 years - this poem reminded me of that:)

Derrick said...

Hello Rowan,

Lovely, fresh and gentle words that clearly evoke the era and the time of year. It will be interesting to see if the less pleasant times of year are equally recreated by John Clare to show how hard a country life could be.

Anonymous said...

The lamb is so sweet x
I must look that poem up

Rowan said...

Derrick, the bad times are described as much as the good times in this poem. As I said,John Clare was a from a poor labouring family and none knew better how hard that life could be.

Wanda said...

I love coming here for the beautiful words and the John Constable painting is perfect in every way.

FireLight said...

Rowan, I really enjoyed this. A shepherd does work all of the year. The lambing season must be very intense. Does Clare mention a "lambing chair" in his poem? I am fascinated by the history of these utilitarian, fireside chairs.

Sheila said...

It was a hard life, but in many ways I envy them the simplicity of it. Everyone knew their role, and did their part.
I read once that when a shepherd was buried, a tuft of lamb's wool was placed under his chin. The idea being that it identified him as a shepherd and explained why he was not often at church on Sundays.
I don't know how true it is, but it's a nice story.

OhSoVintage said...

I thought I recognised that building. May is a wonderful month. Everything seems to have burst into leaf and flower and the horse chestnut trees are so beautiful. That's very interesting what Sheila says about when a shepherd dies, I wonder if it is true. I'd like to think it is.

Diane said...

I love when you post poetry. I think you would have made a very good teacher - the kind that inspires and changes kids lives. May always holds the promise of a good summer - fingers crossed then we can forget the last two washouts. xx

ruthie said...

i shall have to go and hunt out that poem, its beautiful!

Julie said...

I hadn't heard of this poem. Thanks. I love the Constable painting. Had never seen this one before.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing this too! Have you seen it on my sidebar...can't wait to see what we both choose for June. I love John Clare so much. :)


sally said...

I occasionally put bits of John Clare on my blog too! This is quite my favourite bit from May - that happy dirty driving boy! There is quite a controversy in academic circles about his lack of punctuation. His publisher did punctuate and edit his verse - with Clare's approval - but academics in the 1960's (who bought the copyright for £1!)thought that it should be restored to the original. Jonathan Bate, Clare's biographer, thinks that although Clare's's publisher undoubtedly made some bad alterations - tidying up dialect for example - Clare expected and benefits from light editing and Clare himself wanted this. (There is a lovely edition of the Shepherd's Calendar which shows Clare's original and the published version side by side with fabulous illustrations by Carry Ackroyd.)He was not just the son of a farm labourer but a labourer himself. Went mad of course....Wonderful description of his escape from an asylum trying to get back to the landscape he loved.

Anonymous said...

Rowan, I will look forward to John Clare poems. I can actually cycle to a local village and photograph a house where he lived. Which I will do at some stage and post it.