John Clare’s poems always seem to travel within the verses, taking the reader on little rural journeys; in this extract from his November poem in The Shepherd’s Calendar, we’re taken from birds cowering in the trees, ravens and stock doves, to the hawk hovering above. And just as threatening is the hawk to the other birds, so the storm clouds are to the people labouring below. The hedger gathers his tools, slashers, billhooks and sickles, and rushes to find cover, the ploughman no doubt slaps the reins on the horses’ rumps and sends them towards the nearest shelter, buttoning up his coat, as they head to the shepherd’s hut.
At length it comes among the forest oaks,
With sobbing ebbs, and uproar gathering high;
The scared, hoarse raven on its cradle croaks,
And stockdove – flocks in hurried terrors fly,
While the blue hawk hangs o’er them in the sky.—
The hedger hastens from the storm begun,
To seek a shelter that may keep him dry;
And foresters low bent, the wind to shun,
Scarce hear amid the strife the poacher’s muttering gun.
The ploughman hears its humming rage begin,
And hies for shelter from his naked toil;
Buttoning his doublet closer to his chin,
He bends and scampers o’er the elting soil,
While clouds above him in wild fury boil,
And winds drive heavily the beating rain;
He turns his back to catch his breath awhile,
Then ekes his speed and faces it again,
To seek the shepherd’s hut beside the rushy plain.