John Clare

(13 July 1793 – 20 May 1864 / Northamptonshire / England)

The Cottager


True as the church clock hand the hour pursues
He plods about his toils and reads the news,
And at the blacksmith's shop his hour will stand
To talk of 'Lunun' as a foreign land.
For from his cottage door in peace or strife
He neer went fifty miles in all his life.
His knowledge with old notions still combined
Is twenty years behind the march of mind.
He views new knowledge with suspicious eyes
And thinks it blasphemy to be so wise.
On steam's almighty tales he wondering looks
As witchcraft gleaned from old blackletter books.
Life gave him comfort but denied him wealth,
He toils in quiet and enjoys his health,
He smokes a pipe at night and drinks his beer
And runs no scores on tavern screens to clear.
He goes to market all the year about
And keeps one hour and never stays it out.
Een at St. Thomas tide old Rover's bark
Hails Dapple's trot an hour before it's dark.
He is a simple-worded plain old man
Whose good intents take errors in their plan.
Oft sentimental and with saddened vein
He looks on trifles and bemoans their pain,
And thinks the angler mad, and loudly storms
With emphasis of speech oer murdered worms.
And hunters cruel--pleading with sad care
Pity's petition for the fox and hare,
Yet feels self-satisfaction in his woes
For war's crushed myriads of his slaughtered foes.
He is right scrupulous in one pretext
And wholesale errors swallows in the next.
He deems it sin to sing, yet not to say
A song--a mighty difference in his way.
And many a moving tale in antique rhymes
He has for Christmas and such merry times,
When 'Chevy Chase,' his masterpiece of song,
Is said so earnest none can think it long.
Twas the old vicar's way who should be right,
For the late vicar was his heart's delight,
And while at church he often shakes his head
To think what sermons the old vicar made,
Downright and orthodox that all the land
Who had their ears to hear might understand,
But now such mighty learning meets his ears
He thinks it Greek or Latin which he hears,
Yet church receives him every sabbath day
And rain or snow he never keeps away.
All words of reverence still his heart reveres,
Low bows his head when Jesus meets his ears,
And still he thinks it blasphemy as well
Such names without a capital to spell.
In an old corner cupboard by the wall
His books are laid, though good, in number small,
His Bible first in place; from worth and age
Whose grandsire's name adorns the title page,
And blank leaves once, now filled with kindred claims,
Display a world's epitome of names.
Parents and children and grandchildren all
Memory's affections in the lists recall.
And prayer-book next, much worn though strongly bound,
Proves him a churchman orthodox and sound.
The 'Pilgrim's Progress' and the 'Death of Abel'
Are seldom missing from his Sunday table,
And prime old Tusser in his homely trim,
The first of bards in all the world with him,
And only poet which his leisure knows;
Verse deals in fancy, so he sticks to prose.
These are the books he reads and reads again
And weekly hunts the almanacks for rain.
Here and no further learning's channels ran;
Still, neighbours prize him as the learned man.
His cottage is a humble place of rest
With one spare room to welcome every guest,
And that tall poplar pointing to the sky
His own hand planted when an idle boy,
It shades his chimney while the singing wind
Hums songs of shelter to his happy mind.
Within his cot the largest ears of corn
He ever found his picture frames adorn:
Brave Granby's head, De Grosse's grand defeat;
He rubs his hands and shows how Rodney beat.
And from the rafters upon strings depend
Beanstalks beset with pods from end to end,
Whose numbers without counting may be seen
Wrote on the almanack behind the screen.
Around the corner up on worsted strung
Pooties in wreaths above the cupboard hung.
Memory at trifling incidents awakes
And there he keeps them for his children's sakes,
Who when as boys searched every sedgy lane,
Traced every wood and shattered clothes again,
Roaming about on rapture's easy wing
To hunt those very pooty shells in spring.
And thus he lives too happy to be poor
While strife neer pauses at so mean a door.
Low in the sheltered valley stands his cot,
He hears the mountain storm and feels it not;
Winter and spring, toil ceasing ere tis dark,
Rests with the lamb and rises with the lark,
Content his helpmate to the day's employ
And care neer comes to steal a single joy.
Time, scarcely noticed, turns his hair to grey,
Yet leaves him happy as a child at play.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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