John Clare (1793-1864), a lately-recognized major poet of Romantic period, was an untrained farm laborer from rural Northhamptonshire. His Major Works are fraught with nature. But nature idealized, abstracted.
Clare saw his countryside reshaped, cultivated and changed by the hands of humans. Like Henry David Thoreau and Mary Oliver – Clare saw eternity in nature, something grander that extends beyond us. Throughout his poetry Clare projected a deep longing for something past, something gone.
For most of his adult life, Clare suffered depression, “harassed by perpetual bother.” The last years of his life he lived in a mental hospital and wrote, arguably, his best poetry. His lamentation of things lost – nature, horizons, childhood – are a veiled stand-in for the ultimate loss that those of us harassed by depression know all too well: first self, then life.
A stout companion to Clare’s works is Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways, a book that meditates on the intersection of paths and humanity throughout the British Isles.