'At the Grave of John Clare' by Charles Causley


Walking in the scythed churchyard, around the locked church,
Walking among the oaks and snails and mossed inscriptions
At first we failed to find the grave.
But a girl said : “There he is : there is John Clare.”
And we stood, silent, by the ridged stone,
A stone of grey cheese.
There were no flowers for the dead plowman
As the gilt clock fired off the hour,
Only the words :
A poet is born not made.

The dove-grey village lay in the Dutch landscape :
The level-crossing and the fields of wet barley,
The almshouses, the school, the Ebenezer Chapel,
The two pubs, and the signposts
To Stamford, To Maxey
From the pages of biography.
And later, sitting in the church
Among the unstuffed hassocks,
And smoking a pipe on the gate
At Maxey Crossing,
I thought of the dead poet :

Of the books and letters in the Peterborough Museum,
The huge, mad writing.
Of the way he walked, with one foot in the furrow,
Or hurried, terrified, as a child to fetch the milk from Maxey
Expecting from every turn a Caliban.
Of London, Charles Lamb and Hazlitt,
The bad grammer, the spelling, the invented words,
And the poetry bursting like a diamond bomb.
I thought of the last days, the old man
Sitting alone in the porch of All Saints’ in Northampton,
And the dead poet trundling home to Helpston.

O Clare! Your poetry clear, translucent
As your lovely name,
I salute you with tears.
And, coming out on the green from The Parting Pot,
I notice a bicycle-tyre
Hanging from the high stone feathers of your monument.
Charles Causley

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