Themes of refuge in John Clare's poetry

Dawe, Tom (1976) Themes of refuge in John Clare's poetry. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Themes of refuge pervade the poetry of English poet, John Clare (1793-1864). Several of those themes can be examined by considering a wide range of Clare's poetry in which he is preoccupied with motifs of security, shelter, and retreat from the cares and disappointments of society, seeking instead his private world of peaceful contemplation and vision. -- Clare's emphasis on a visionary Eden can be considered as a theme of refuge in his poetry; the poet takes the Garden symbol of biblical and Romantic tradition and adapts it to his own particular system. In his Eden poems, Clare can turn away from the miseries of his deprived life and envision a place of constant, timeless beauty, spiritual presence, innocence, glory, and natural freshness. Motifs of spring and childhood are frequent in this context as Clare returns often in his imagination to that perfect setting before the axe of enclosure chopped down most of the trees, and the adult state of reason ended the child's world of wonder and fantasy. Also relative to the Eden refuge in Clare's poetry is the way he celebrates all Sabbath moments, however brief, as heavenly breaks from sweaty labour, the curse of man's Fall. -- Clare's companion in this Paradise is Mary, his ideal, spiritual lady; from his childhood sweetheart, Mary Joyce, she developed, over the years, into the poet's perfect Platonic wife, his symbol of timeless beauty, his muse, his guardian angel, his benign goddess, and into a number of various other special female figures. In Mary's divine company, Clare feels safe from the toils of life; without her, however, he feels doomed with all the rank and file of fallen humanity, destined for anxiety, sorrow, depression and the nightmare of hell. -- There are a number of other retreat themes in Clare's poetry: sheltered nooks in a pleasant, natural landscape away from the din of labour, comfortable shades that enclose the poet in an atmosphere conducive to imagination's pleasures, the bird's nest secure in the protection of nature's bosom away from insensitive man, and the domestic retreat, the snug, tidy nest of a cottage where the poet can still feel nature's influence as he reads or dreams in peace far away from the noisy world. In this latter aspect, Clare sometimes echoes the poetry of William Cowper who also celebrates the bliss of the simple, cottage retreat. -- In all his modes of refuge and retreat, in his exercise of imaginative vision, Clare is intimate with all the positive entities of the natural world. Eden and Mary can continually bloom for him again as long as he keeps his heart and imagination true to his recreation of those confined, special places in the sheltered landscape of Helpstone, his blessed childhood home.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7395
Item ID: 7395
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [126]-132.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1976
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Clare, John, 1793-1864--Criticism and interpretation

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