new zealand electronic poetry centre


 Capital of  the minimal
M i c h a e l  H a r l o w

‘Talking at the Boundary’
John Clare, 13 July 1793 - 20 May 1864

Whopstraw man about the countryside
     In your own time ‘Peasant Poet’, Clare
Talking at the boundary; from Helpstone’s
     Centre, a day’s ramble you define
Earth’s curve. What wild ways you go, such
     Bright astonishments heart holds. Under
The sun’s arm you rise into the light; your
     Devotion to small things, each one a
World; speckled eggs, still warm in your
     Hands a nest of planets. All noise
Songs: to your country ear the ‘fern owl’s
     Cry that whews aloft.’

     Storyteller talking straight, names
Flourish like grass: Swordy Well, Sneap Green,
     Eastwell’s Boiling Spring; Salter’s Tree
That in you lived, world-inner-space,
     ‘Humming of future things that burns
The mind.’ Yours – of course, a wounding
     Drive, a purity of heart; person and place
As you rightly say, Love’s register.
     And, failed: ‘Blue devils’ rode you hard;
Like that other you most admired, ended
     Up in bedlam. You signed your name,
: out of a terrible clarity given,
     You gave your word.

     Sought asylum from a world, its
Tormented sleep that wanted books to be
     ‘About’ and yours were not; that
Tore up trees, would titillate itself
     With ‘high life seen from below
Stairs.’ Too much seen from which
     There’s no retrieving, you say, a man
Whose daughter is the queen of England now
     Sitting on a stone heap on the way
To bugden without a farthing in his pocket.

     You may have seen the face of God;
Or staring back from the spoonhollow
     Of a stream, that unspeakable shadow.
Saints are not made, they are chosen, Clare.
     And I am moved to say at risk these fell
Days of a century’s end when reason is on
     The make: for such ‘mad’ men as you
Measure must be taken; some small witness
     Given alongside those desperately sane,
Who nightly lie above their wives
     Planning devices so subtle
They eat children before they are born.


[Giotto’s Elephant, John McIndoe, 1991]


© Michael Harlow2004


Last updated 10 July, 2004