Treasure Island

John Clare

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

The Dying Child


He could not die when trees were green,
For he loved the time too well.
His little hands, when flowers were seen,
Were held for the bluebell,
As he was carried o'er the green.

His eye glanced at the white-nosed bee;
He knew those children of the spring:
When he was well and on the lea
He held one in his hands to sing,
Which filled his heart with glee.

Infants, the children of the spring!
How can an infant die
When butterflies are on the wing,
Green grass, and such a sky?
How can they die at spring?

He held his hands for daisies white,
And then for violets blue,
And took them all to bed at night
That in the green fields grew,
As childhood's sweet delight.

And then he shut his little eyes,
And flowers would notice not;
Birds' nests and eggs caused no surprise,
He now no blossoms got;
They met with plaintive sighs.

When winter came and blasts did sigh,
And bare were plain and tree,
As he for ease in bed did lie
His soul seemed with the free,
He died so quietly.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Henk Capelle (8/20/2012 2:23:00 PM)

    In the last two decades Clare has repeatedly been called the greatest English nature poet and childhood poet. The above poem might be said to belong to the second category. It was written in the late 1840s, the period in the asylum when he also wrote his great visionary poems, such as I AM, AN INVITE TO ETERNITY and A VISION. One is tempted to suppose that in this poem he might have been thinking of his second child, who died in infancy in 1821. Because of all the nature descriptions in the poem, he might have been thinking back to happy times in the past with his young children. In the mid 1820s he wrote the poem THE HOLIDAY WALK, which confirms this. On Sundays he used to take his children Frederick - the 'Freddy' of Clare's poems for children - Anna and Eliza on walks through the fields around Helpston to teach them natural history. In a letter home from the mental home he once wrote that he ''had led him (=Frederick, his eldest son) by the hand in his childhood''. Anyhow, whoever the child may have been, one cannot avoid the notion that Clare must have known the boy in the poem, or even saw him dying. Every time I come across the opening lines of Clare's monumental poems, I feel deeply moved, such as by the lines, ''Say, wilt thou go with me, sweet maid'' (AN INVITE TO ETERNITY) and ''I am - yet what I am, none cares or knows'' (I AM) . The same goes for the poem THE DYING CHILD, ''He could not die when trees were green.'' It introduces a well-structured poem that gently and slowly progresses in a soothing rhyme scheme a b a b a. The style is beautifully quiet and gentle. The reader is struck deeply at once, not only because a child's death touches everybody, but also through the way in which the process of dying is depicted. Clare links this with nature, as he did in numerous poems: flowers, the sun, the seasons, birds, butterflies. He does not describe this process as an outsider, but seems to be the perceptive person present. Take for instance the superb third stanza, in which he uses the words, ''How can... die? '' twice, with stunning effect. Also the last line is a marvel. Although so short, it takes a long time to read aloud and brings the poem to a silent standstill. In a piece of music the word morendo would have been printed under it. In this magnificent poem John Clare proves to be a poet of genius who manages to convey his deepest emotions to the reader. (Report) Reply

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