John Clare (1793-1864) was born on July 13 at Helpstone, a village in Northamptonshire, close to the Lincolnshire fens. His father, Parker Clare, worked as a farm laborer. In his spare time his father was also a rustic wrestler and ballad singer. Clare attended a dame school in his native village, and then went to Glinton School in the next village. When his father became ill with rheumatism, Clare began work first as a horse-boy, then ploughboy, then as a gardener at Burghley House. In 1812 he enlisted in the militia, returning home eighteen months later. He met Martha Turner in Casterton, who joined the Clare family just before the birth of the first of their eight children. Clare’s first book of poems appeared in 1820, published by Hessey and Taylor. The volume ran to four editions in the first year, and he became celebrated in London literary society as the “peasant poet”.
In 1837 Clare was admitted into Mathew Allen’s private asylum of High Beech in Epping Forest, where he stayed for four years until he discharged himself, walking the eighty miles home to Northborough in three days, eating grass on the way. He wrote two long, suffering poems, Don Juan and Child Harold, which documented his precious mental state. He was certified insane by two doctors in December 18841 and was admitted to St, Andrews County Lunatic Asylum in Northampton, where he was treated well and continued to write, producing many short, semi-mystical poems. John Clare later passed away in the institution in 1864 at the age of 71. First Love
I ne'er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
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