Poet's Pick April 6
John Clare: "Open Winter"
Selected by Emily Wilson
National Poetry Month 2015

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Emily Wilson's Poetry Month Pick, April 6, 2015

"Open Winter"
by John Clare (1793 - 1864)

Where slanting banks are always with the sun
The daisy is in blossom even now
And where warm patches by the hedges run
The cottager when coming home from plough
Brings home a cowslip root in flower to set;
Thus ere the Christmas goes the spring is met
Setting up little tents about the fields
In sheltered spots—primroses when they get
Behind the wood’s old roots where ivy shields
Their crimpled curdled leaves will shine and hide
—Cart ruts and horse footings scarcely yield
A slur for boys just crizzled and that’s all.
Frost shoots his needles by the small dyke side
And snow in scarce a feather’s seen to fall.


* Emily Wilson Comments:

In Lives of the Poets, Michael Schmidt remarks that John Clare “witnessed everything from ground level.” I think it is this deep, earthbound intelligence, shared with the snipe and the moorhen, the primrose and the printing hoarfrost, that marks his poems with a kind of sturdy indelibility, brilliant perceptual “footings” that “scarcely yield.” Keats thought Clare’s tendency toward description prevailed too heavily over sentiment in his poems. Clare thought Keats needed to look more closely at the actual world. It is easy to feel the sympathies between them, however weighted and off set.

“Open Winter” is a strange title for a poem that so wants to track the incipience, or the already present potentiality, of spring’s language. Perhaps the title affirms the essential openness of anything that would otherwise be confined to a set of designated images or beliefs or stock characteristics. Here, winter is a world of glimpsed flickerings of growth and embellishment upon the old ground—flowers and plants set up like “little tents” in the bare woods and fields, within the sparse furrows of warmth and sunlight, in which they can “shine and hide.” To me, the poet enacts this last paradox again and again in his hedge-hidden, nest-precise, and quietly radical illuminations.

About Emily Wilson:
Emily Wilson is the author of The Keep (2001) and Micrographia (2009). Her third collection, The Great Medieval Yellows, was issued by Canarium Books in spring 2015. She lives in Iowa City with her husband and two sons.

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