John Clare

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

Young Lambs

The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two--till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe,
And then another, sheltered from the wind,
Lies all his length as dead--and lets me go
Close bye and never stirs but baking lies,
With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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  • Henk Capelle (12/24/2012 12:53:00 PM)

    This is really one of Clare’s many poems in praise of Spring, but one’s first impression is that the title is misleading. No lambs appear until the second half. Still, they are such a prominent and exclusive feature of spring that the poem actually belongs to three of Clare’s favourite categories: nature poems, seasonal poems and animal poems.
    The first part begins with an enumeration of the harbingers of spring, such as the changing countryside, (“the hedges are broken down”) and culminates in the flourishing of buttercups – tentatively at first (“a star or two”) , which then turn into gold. In these lines Clare, the acute observer, uses his experience of country sights and activities and captures them in his verse. After some subtle descriptions (notice “the suns”) , Clare turns his attention to lambs. The first one expresses movement and gambols freely. The other silently enjoys the luxury of the warm sun and its protection from the wind - a contrast that encapsulates the whole scene. It is now obvious that the two halves of the poem complete each other.
    The poem radiates the joys of life, yet tenderness. The narrator is enraptured by what he sees and becomes a part of it without disturbing the spectacle – the lambs allow him to “go close bye”. In such a landscape man is a silent observer with no control.
    It may be that the reader is surprised by the rather abrupt ending. Could it be that the poet wants the reader to keep this picture of the lambs in mind by ending the poem like this?
    Two words in the poem may have struck the reader as quaint. They are ‘trays’ (trees) and ‘yoe’ (ewe) . They are old dialect words, which Clare used on purpose and which his publishers were not allowed to ‘modernize’. The word ‘up’ is also problematic. I guess it means, “The trees are sprouting.” In all his poetry Clare uses the genuine idiom of rural folk, to whom he belonged. This poem is characteristic of Clare in its feeling, observation and simplicity of diction and syntax.
    Of Clare’s nature poems, the most acclaimed are his poems of birds, (he wrote over thirty) and some of their nests as well.* Nevertheless, this charming impression of lambs by a poet who has, during the last three decades or so, been praised for his highly personal evocation of landscape, is worth its place in his output of three and a half thousand poems.
    *) Among them are those of birds that most people will not have heard of, such as bumbarrel, landrail, and wryneck. (Report) Reply

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