Featured Poem: My Early Home by John Clare

It’s the time of year once more when one of the biggest dates in the poetry calendar rolls around. October 7th – this coming Thursday – is National Poetry Day here in the UK, a celebration of everything verse-related. Each annual National Poetry Day is marked with a theme and 2010’s theme is ‘Home’.

Home, wherever it may be, is a special place. Just bring to mind all those famous phrases: home is where the heart is, there’s no place like home, an Englishman’s home is his castle (that last one especially paints a nice picture; no matter how materially privileged – or not – you may be, you can still be the regal head of your own king/queendom. Doesn’t quite stretch to having servants – although other people may argue about that point, depending on positions within the household…). All are reflections on how important home is to everyone. I have to say that I am a definite homebody. It’s where I feel most comfortable and, well, at home. It’s great to go here, there and everywhere (well, perhaps not everywhere just yet– here and there does perfectly fine, though), seeing sights, doing things, walking a million miles; but even when you’ve had a absolutely brilliant day, it makes it worthwhile to come home, slump down, rest your feet and let out a satisfied sigh.

It seems appropriate that home should accompany this year’s National Poetry Day as just as a poem contains within it many varying interpretations, the word ‘home’ can bring all manner of things to mind, sparking something entirely different off in the mind of every individual. Quite often it’s not about the bricks and mortar, the physicality of the abode but everything else within and immediately surrounding that makes a home just that. The view of a cityscape or on the other hand a picturesque country scene, the smell and taste of mum’s cooking, the feel of the fluffy towels and bed sheets that even the finest hotels can’t match up to. The general sweetness of home sweet home. Childhood homes seem to occupy a special genre of their own, filled with memories and feelings of when home really meant – and was – the whole world.

Someone who sums up the magic, beauty and consuming safety of the childhood home is John Clare, in this week’s featured poem. Matters of home and family were of particular importance to Clare; his life in poetry began when he offered the early poems and sonnets he had written to a local bookseller called Edward Drury in order to prevent his parents being evicted from their home. Even if not all of us had the experience of growing up in the depths of the beautiful English countryside as Clare did, most can identify with having our own piece of ‘paradise’ in our childhood home. The way Clare ends the poem is enlightening; the early home seems to be revisited some time later in life, with it stated: “The trees are here all green again/Here bees the flowers still kiss/But the flowers and trees seemed sweeter then”. This appears to reveal a kind of nostalgic romanticism, looking through rose-tinted-spectacles at the past. The fact that going back and seeing things aren’t as good as they used to be tinges everything slightly with sadness – in Clare’s case it’s especially heartbreaking, given that he was confined to an asylum for the last years of his life, having lost a sense of his world of which his early home was the centre. Yet for us as readers, it also shows us how our own past experiences are to be cherished.

My Early Home

Here sparrows build upon the trees,
And stock-dove hides her nest:
The leaves are winnowed by the breeze
Into a calmer rest;
The black-cap’s song was very sweet;
That used the rose to kiss;
It made the paradise complete:
My early home was this.

The redbreast from the sweetbrier bush
Dropt down to pick the worm;
On the horse-chestnut sang the thrush,
O’er the house where I was born.
The moonlight, like a shower of pearls,
Fell o’er this ‘bower of bliss’,
And on the bench sat boys and girls;
My early home was this.

The old house stooped just like a cave,
Thatched o’er with mosses green;
Winter around the walls would rave,
But all was calm within;
The trees are here all green again,
Here bees the flowers still kiss,
But flowers and trees seemed sweeter then;
My early home was this.

John Clare (1793-1864)

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