John Clare was born in Northamptonshire, England. on this day, July 13 1793 (1793-1864), into a poor family, his father being a farm labourer. He himself became a farm labourer while still a child, leaving school at 12 years. In his early adult life, Clare became a pot-boy in the Blue Bell pub, he was a gardener, enlisted in the militia, tried camp life with Gypsies, and in 1817 Rutland worked as a lime burner. The following year he had to accept parish relief. Malnutrition stemming from his childhood may have contributed to his poor physical health in later life.
On 16 March 1820 he married milkmaid, Martha (Patty) Turner, in the same year, to prevent his parents from eviction he wrote his first collection Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, it was highly praised, the following year The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems (1821) was published, he gained great regarded for his poems about nature.
However, The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) met with little success, he returned to work again in the fields his health temporarily improved, but he soon became seriously ill. Clare was constantly torn between two worlds, literary London and country life; between the need to write poetry and the need for money to feed his growing family, his health began to suffer, he had bouts of severe depression, which became worse after his sixth child was born in 1830. His last work published, the Rural Muse (1835), was not very successful and Clare’s mental health began to worsen his behaviour became more erratic. In 1837, he entered an asylum and remained institutionalized until his death in 1864. During his first years at the asylum Clare re-wrote famous poems and sonnets by Lord Byron while also claiming to be the composer of the works of Shakespeare. In 1848 wrote possibly his most famous poem, “I Am”, certainly in his later poetry Clare developed a very distinctive voice.
Clare’s early work expresses delight in both nature and the cycle of the rural year. Poems such as “Winter Evening” and “Haymaking” celebrate the beauty of the world and the certainties of rural life. His later poetry tends to be more meditative, Clare’s knowledge of the natural world went far beyond that of the major Romantic poets. However, poems such as “I Am” show a metaphysical depth on a par with his contemporary poets.
On Clare’s birthday, children at the primary school in Helpston, John Clare School, parade through the village and place their “midsummer cushions” around his gravestone, which bears the inscriptions “To the Memory of John Clare The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet” and “A Poet is Born not Made”