Poet's Pick April 15
John Clare: "Clock A Clay"
Selected by Susan Stewart
National Poetry Month 2014

Letter from the Editors

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Susan Stewart's Poetry Month Pick, April 15, 2014

"Clock A Clay"
by John Clare (1793-1864)

In the cowslips peeps I lye
Hidden from the buzzing fly
While green grass beneath me lies
Pearled wi’ dew like fishes eyes
Here I lye a Clock a clay
Waiting for the time o’day

While grassy forests quake surprise
And the wild wind sobs and sighs
My gold home rocks as like to fall
On its pillars green and tall
When the pattering rain drives bye
Clock a Clay keeps warm and dry

Day by day and night by night
All the week I hide from sight
In the cowslips peeps I lye
In rain and dew still warm and dry
Day and night and night and day
Red black spotted clock a clay

My home it shakes in wind and showers
Pale green pillar top’t wi’ flowers
Bending at the wild wind’s breath
Till I touch the grass beneath
Here still I live lone clock a clay
Watching for the time of day

*Susan Stewart Comments:
John Clare (1793-1864), born in the rural village of Helpston, has been called the "greatest English poet ever to come from the labouring classes." A field worker from childhood, Clare nevertheless received a rudimentary education and became a great reader and writer of poetry and a brilliant nature writer. In this little poem, "Clock a Clay," he speaks in the voice of the insect you may know as a "ladybug" or "ladybird." The name "Clock a Clay" comes from the rural Northhamptonshire belief that you can tell time by counting the number of taps on the ground it takes to make a lady bug fly away.

The poem was written at some point between 1842 and 1864 when Clare lived in the Northampton [Insane] Asylum, suffering from delusions, but continuing to write. John Clare is cited in 858 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary—not because he invented neologisms, but because he provided English poetry with a vast trove of everyday rural words, like "clock a clay," that no writer had before committed to paper.

This poem is printed in John Clare, The Later Poems, edited by Eric Robinson and David Powell, Oxford University Press, 1984, vol. I, p. 611.

About Susan Stewart:
Susan Stewart's most recent books of poems are Red Rover and Columbarium, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. A former MacArthur Fellow, she is also the co-translator, with Patrizio Ceccagnoli, of Milo De Angelis's Theme of Farewell and After-Poems. Her many prose works include her recent The Poet's Freedom: A Notebook on Making.The Avalon Foundation University Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University, she is currently a Berlin Prize fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

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