A final walk in “Clare Country.”
In 1832, the major poets of Clare’s generation were dead. Byron to a fever, Shelley drowned, and Keats of tuberculous. Clare was broke, usually sick, and, by modern standards, an alcoholic. The poetry market had collapsed, and when he could work, he was working in the fields or trying to pen sentimental bits for newspapers.
Yesterday, I walked from his village of Helpston to Northborough, not quite 4 miles away. He was moved here in 1832 by the generosity of his remaining friends and the local Lord. Most importantly, it came with a bit of land, so his wife could grow a garden to keep them from starving.
Clare’s poems subtlety change, start to become more morose, and lose their specificity, partly due to pressures from his near-imaginary publishers and partly due to becoming unmoored from his village. It really puzzled me until seeing the landscape as in that three miles you find yourself on the edge of the fens, a marshy land, being drained for agriculture. Again, it is subtle but definitely different, and I imagine more so in Clare’s time.
Clare would live in Northborough only five years before admitting himself to the insane asylum, but his family would stay there, with Patty providing for them the rest of her days.
I would have found nothing I was looking for in Northborough, but for being stopped by a couple in a car that were clearly suspicious of why I was snapping so many pictures (and of their garden, I then found out!). Once it was obvious I was one of those Clare nutters, they pointed the right way and then invited me in for tea. Forget Clare; it was pure Sebald, tea time turned into a wide-ranging conversation with the world’s leading expert in Babylonian lute music, who was quite familiar with Seattle and its early music scene.
How delightful and unexpectedly odd! Exactly what I love most.