poet John Clare

John Clare

#81 on top 500 poets

An Invite, To Eternity

Wilt thou go with me, sweet maid,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through the valley-depths of shade,
Of night and dark obscurity;
Where the path has lost its way,
Where the sun forgets the day,
Where there's nor life nor light to see,
Sweet maiden, wilt thou go with me!

Where stones will turn to flooding streams,
Where plains will rise like ocean waves,
Where life will fade like visioned dreams
And mountains darken into caves,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through this sad non-identity,
Where parents live and are forgot,
And sisters live and know us not!

Say, maiden; wilt thou go with me
In this strange death of life to be,
To live in death and be the same,
Without this life or home or name,
At once to be and not to be -
That was and is not -yet to see
Things pass like shadows, and the sky
Above, below, around us lie?

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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Comments about An Invite, To Eternity by John Clare

  • John Richter (8/5/2015 11:57:00 AM)

    If by some miraculous act of God I should ever find my soul mate, who remains obscured from me in her esoteric ways, I should think these will be the perfect first words of my voice to fall upon her ears

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  • Ramesh T ARamesh T A (8/5/2015 2:26:00 AM)

    No maid will accompany one who has to live in such inhuman world and die and go to heaven high above later unless one is deeply in love with such a one ever! This poem reflects a situation where is there is no chance for relief and escape to peace! A most horrible situation as hell is depicted in this poem!

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  • Henk Capelle (10/2/2012 6:26:00 AM)

    This magnificent poem surely belongs to Clare’s five greatest visionary poems on life, death and afterlife. It was written during his last asylum years and was given to the watch and clockmaker Thomas Inskip, whom Clare had met back in the 1820s in London. They remained friends for life. Inskip called the poem 'bordering on the sublime'. In 1848 Clare gave a copy to a visitor during his stay in his second mental home, in Northampton, who described it as 'weird and mysterious, requiring an effort to grasp its full meaning.' Let's go through the stanzas attentively and see if we can unravel some of these mysteries.

    STANZA 1: He starts with the two archaic words 'wilt thou', which directly set the tone for a grave poem. Who is this maiden? In my opinion Clare is not thinking of any particular person, not even Mary, or Martha. For him 'woman' stands for warmth and companionship. To what land does he invite her to go? In the next five horrifying lines it appears to be an apocalyptic land as described in, e.g., “The Revelation of St. John”. It certainly is not, as one might have expected, an attractive prospect of a future life for the two of them, a sort of lover's paradise. Still he reiterates his request in spite of the repulsive picture he has drawn of it, knowing that he is asking for the impossible. Because of the repetition, the invitation comes across as even more urgent, compelling and desperate.

    STANZA 2: In the first four lines he continues portraying the ominous world of a tortured landscape, and one is strongly reminded of Macbeth’s “ stones have been known to move”. Clare immediately follows it up with the same question to the 'sweet maiden', which recurs in Stanza 3. In a prose fragment written at Northborough (Clare's village after Helpston) , he had coined the term 'self- identity'. Now he uses its opposite: 'non-identity'. By that he probably means that he neither lives nor has died. In fact, his situation in the mental home, no longer in the presence of his wife, parents and children in his familiar cottage in Helpston is the reason why Clare no longer knows who he is. Why then is he so dejected? Many reasons may be suggested, and some of them probably influenced ‘I Am’, written a few months earlier, as well.
    In the mental institution Clare felt isolated and therefore he refers in the poem to his social death - he felt forsaken by his friends and family (his wife never came to visit him in the asylum - his sons only rarely): he realized that the sales of his poetry had dwindled (people were now more interested in the latest form of literature: the novel, which attracted so many readers in the second half of the 19th century): he was in doubt whether his poems would be read after his death, in other words if he would be remembered as a great romantic poet; he was aware of the fact that literary critics had neglected him.
    Also in this stanza we are astounded by Clare's diction. Striking original comparisons are used; take for instance “Where the sun forgets the day” and “Where life will fade like visioned dreams”. The deep pessimism is clear and is accentuated by the gravity of the subject. The rhythm in the ten or so comparisons is interesting in its conscious monotony. Do I hear Macbeth's For it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell” here? The ‘sisters’ in the last line might refer to John Clare's own sisters. His twin sister died when she was only a few weeks old. His sister Sophie had died in 1855.

    STANZA 3: In lines 2 and 3 the hellish landscape where Clare wants to take his companion now turns to the words 'life' and 'death'. Then Clare ponders on the difference in the state in which the two of them will be hereafter. It seems as though he is doing conjuring tricks with the word 'death', so that the passage is not easy to understand any more. 'Death of life' and 'live in death' are the problems that concern him. Although he is still alive, he experiences the asylum as a place of death. We cannot penetrate into Clare's mind and it may never be possible to understand the meaning completely - mental confusion may have played a part.
    In the next line he gives an unexpected answer to Hamlet's question to be or not to be? The last three lines show that he has now entered a ghostly world, in which normalities have ceased to exist.

    STANZA 4: Clare goes on drawing the bleakest picture imaginable of the promised land by saying that they will not see who each other's partner is and where they have lost all sense of time, and earthly distinctions have been blotted out. The poet has now sunk into deep despair and it is as though we hear Macbeth’s “I have lived long enough”, “Life is a walking shadow” and “There is nothing serious in mortality now.” Surely, hell is murky.
    His repeated invitation in the last two lines now has a despondent undertone. He seems to have realized that no maiden will join him and he must explore the new territory alone. As before we are struck by his skilful choice of words, when he persists with his entreaty. This is the voice of Clare in his isolation.

    CONCLUSION: This poem, full of obscure imagery, will go on causing a wide variety of interpretations. On its first reading, one may be inclined to think that Clare only speaks of the afterlife, but closer interpretation reveals that underlying it all, lie his mental illness and loss of freedom.

    With his philosophical poems added to his output of verse on a wide variety of other subjects, he deserves his place in the front ranks of nineteenth century poets. Time and again this poem will grab the reader by the throat, coming across the opening lines:
    Wilt thou go with me, sweet maid,
    Say maiden, wilt thou go with me? *)

    *) Clare’s use of ‘maid’ and ‘maiden’ here is clever. The first ‘maid’ is a more harsh, stacatto sound. He is putting his own wishes first by mentioning ‘me’ before her wishes. The next line’s ‘maiden’ is a softer, more pleading version of the word and he has put her first, before his request to go with him.

    Henk Capelle NL

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  • Jen M (9/9/2012 7:53:00 AM)

    vampires most of this poem hints on death being life still where the sun forgets the day no life nor light to see to live in death and be the same at once to be and not to be can thy life be led to join the living with the dead were wed to one eternity

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  • Judith Davies-webb (8/27/2007 8:25:00 PM)

    This is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read by without a doubt the greatest British poet.

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  • Weston Treece (2/11/2005 9:34:00 PM)

    This poem perfectly describes the experience of anyone who has had a love that thorugh circumstances, could not be fully shown by one to another.

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