Peasant Poets – Reflections on Thomas Post and John Clare

We are fond, on WyeWeb, of restating the obvious fact that we live in a very beautiful part of England. You will also have noticed that we are very proud of the associations with education. It is not surprising therefore that Wye attracts people with, for want of a better word, an artistic character. Aphra Benn is often identified as both a (temporary) resident and an early female writer of plays and essays. More recently we were lucky to have the late Pat MacNeill, a consummate story-teller whose tales of her early life were frequently accompanied by her own sketches. Today we have Robert Graham, whose poems have focused on the immediate and current Wye environment. Then we have Dianne Barsham, who contributed several poems to our earlier website. These are but a few of the talents we know and we must apologize for acknowledged omissions for the sake of getting on with our immediate task.

 

Many of you will have heard Melvyn Bragg’s radio discussion of the poet, John Clare who was recognized during his lifetime as a peasant or farmer poet. Clare was born in 1793, just after the French Revolution, into a poor Norfolk family. His father was a jobbing labourer whose income was both small and infrequent. John received some formal education up to the age of ten when he too was set to work on the land. He was a very inquisitive child and loved the fenland with its great skies and the intimate natural life in the marshland. He managed to collect a few coins to purchase a poetry book and immediately he had finished it started to write his own poetry. Amazingly he became famous in his lifetime, even frequenting the London publishing houses and engaging in correspondence with the literati of the time. Unfortunately he spent the last twenty-odd years in a mental asylum, though he continued to write and his poems were collected by his warder and friend. I am glad to say that he is remembered in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

John Clare Portrait
John Clare’s Cottage and Life-Size Statue
The elderly John Clare by W.Law

 

 

We have our own working-class poet, Thomas Post. We actually called him a ‘shepherd poet’ because that was he was – a shepherd. He fist came to our attention when we were analyzing the churchyard and some of the nineteenth century paintings of the charnel house, then in the corner of the churchyard. We remarked that it was common for sheep to be grazed in the cemetery and that in one picture there was an image of a shepherd.

 

“On Monday mornings if you took notice you would have seen a venerable old gentleman in a smock driving a flock of sheep into the Churchyard to feed and keep the grass down, they were duly taken out on Saturdays so as not to impede the progress of the worshippers to Church.”

Some reflections of Wye, published on WyeWeb

A book of poetry, by Thomas Post, was loaned to us and we wrote up a short biography. We think that it is important to re-instate that biography.

Thomas Post, Wye’s Shepherd Poet 1902

Thomas Post was born in 1818 in Aldington and there is no record of his burial in Wye. His son, William, is buried in Aldington and it is not unlikely that he and his wife are interred there too. However, for our interest, it is the collection of poems that are exciting because they, like the description given above, speak to us across more than a century in the language of the (not-so) common man. Now, in the company of John Clare we can take another look at some of Thomas Post’s poetry. His poetry is not so erudite as Clare’s, whose own poetry was not as filled with neo-classical attributions as Keats’, who, incidentally, was also born a poor Cockney, but it does show a close perception of contemporary Wye and its nature. We make no apology to add this piece about Thomas because it is, perhaps, for too long that such working poets have been neglected and with that neglect the contribution they made to our heritage.

Firstly we would like to show a poem of each poet that celebrates the seasons.

THE TIME IS COME

The time is come, the month of May,

The little lambs they run and play,

The time is come, it is the spring,

The time is come and birds do sing.

 

In the fields we see the flowers,

And then they come, the happy hours,

The sun it shines and shines more bright,

And then it comes, our heart’s delight.

 

The time is come, the month of June,

The time is come to be in tune,

In the fields we see the grass,

The time is come, it grows so fast.

 

The time is come, it is July,

The time is come for all to try;

The time is come, so hot we say,

The time is come, to hay boys, hay!

 

The time is come, the Sabbath day.

The time is come to watch and pray,

The time is come, the church bells call

To praise the Lord, yes, one and all.

 

The time is come, I must confess,

The time is come we all want rest.

 

Thomas Post

Collected Poems (1903)

 

FROM ‘APRIL’

 

I

NOW infant April joins the Spring,

And views the watery sky,

As youngling linnet tries its wing,

And fears at first to fly;

With timid step she ventures on,

And hardly dares to smile,

Till blossoms open one by one,

And sunny hours beguile.

 

II

But finer days are coming yet,

With scenes more sweet to charm,

And suns arrive that rise and set

Bright strangers to a storm:

Then, as the birds with louder song

Each morning’s glory cheer,

With bolder step she speeds along,

And loses all her fear.

 

III

In wanton gambols, like a child,

She tends her early toils,

And seeks the buds along the wild,

That blossoms while she smiles;

Or, laughing on, with nought to chide,

She races with the Hours,

Or sports by Nature’s lovely side,

And fills her lap with flowers…

 

John Clare

The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827)

 

We are sure that you will enjoy the picture these poems paint of the countryside of your grand- and great-grand parents.