Sunday, November 27, 2011


O soul enchanting poesy
Thoust long been all the world with me
When poor thy presence grows my wealth
When sick thy vision gives me health
When sad thy sunny smile is joy
And was from een a tiny boy
When trouble was and toiling care
Seemed almost more than I could bear
While thrashing in the dusty barn
Or squashing in the ditch to earn
A pittance that would scare alow
One joy to smooth my sweating brow
Where drop by drop would chase and fall
---  Thy presence triumphed over all
The vulgar I might frown and sneer
Insult was mean – but never near
Twas poesy self that stopt the sigh
And malice met with no reply
So was it in my earlier day
When sheep to corn had strayed away
Or horses closen gaps had broke
Ere sunrise peeped and I awoke
My masters frown might force the tear
But poesy came to cheek and cheer
It glistened in my shamed eye
But ere it fell the swoof was bye
I thought of luck in future days
When even he might find a praise
I looked on poesy like a friend
To cheer me till my life should end
 [. . .]

Composed 1821-24         First published 1980

Top:  John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821, The National Gallery, London

Bottom:  Site depicted in The Hay Wain, 2010


  1. I am suddenly taken with the desire to visit England, looking at this post and hearing this poem in my mind with a British accent . . .
    It is true, I think, poetry is something I fall back on, not exactly like a friend, but . . . But what is a swoof? I love the word.

    But ere it fell the swoof was bye

  2. Alas, or perhaps not alas but fortunately, Nin, the England of John Clare -- that is, a world of impoverished agricultural servitude and nightmarish madhouses -- no longer exists to be visited; and Clare's particular regional accent, I can assure you, would have been understood by none of us. I once attempted to retrace, on foot, a part of his sad walk from the madhouse in Essex back to his village home, and no one I encountered along the way had ever heard his name.

    John Clare: Badger

    John Clare: I Am

  3. Tom: I'm glad you weighed in. Like Nin, I was stumped (and remain stumped) by "swoof." Now I know why. It's sad that no one you met in Clare's region knew his name. Last year I was surprised and heartened to encounter online a group of (this is really true) Syd Barrett devotees who were "Clare aware." Obviously, it was his madness that originally piqued their interest. But it seemed they hung around and became interested in reading the work for its own sake. I also would love to board a plane and visit the UK, but that's going to have to wait for a while. Curtis

  4. Curtis,

    All I meant to say is that one cannot visit John Clare's England because it's gone. The landscapes, some of them, remain, but the "structure of feeling" that produced his poems, and his madness, is a thing of the past. When attempting to follow the trail of his journey out of Essex back toward Helpston, I learnt quickly enough that where there were once paths and byways and stiles that led through fields, now there were motorways. And of course that was some 46 years ago now.

    Syd Barrett devotees, my heavens. Syd, whose name was actually Roger, was a Cambridge town kid and a bit of a genius. For my money he WAS the creative source of that band. In the early performances at the Roundhouse in London, his extremely unusual musical mind shone out. Then he went to India, took tonnes of acid, and came back saying very little, just hanging about the house doing strange drawings of figures composed in rubber-tyre layers, like the Michelin Man. The band dumped him, due to the weirdness. The other guys kept up the shtick, did the arena rock explosion and made tonnes of cash. He meanwhile faded into oblivion.

    This 1975 photo is painful to look at.

    In later years Barrett maintained an extremely quiet sub rosa existence back in Cbge, riding his bike to the shop, bringing home loaves of bread in the basket. On his bike he had a cute little bell.

    When he died (pancreatic cancer, at sixty) his worldy belongings were auctioned off. 119 thousand quid was made for charity. His great love in those later years was painting. Ten of his paintings were in the auction. You can see one of them here.

    It's been said Barrett was bipolar, schizo and the like. Many similar things were said of John Clare. All I know is that neither of them fit into the world they found around them -- round pegs, square world.

  5. Tom: Thanks for your reply. Syd's sad, untimely death caught everyone except his family unaware, I think. Kevin Ayers, the original bassist of Soft Machine (whose lyrics I've posted here, including today), is actually an old friend of ours and, of course, a contemporary of Syd's. (We met Kevin a long time ago when he was an artist on the ABC Records label in the US.) They used both to be managed by Andrew King and Peter Jenner at Blackhill Ents. Kevin shared Peter's and Andrew's feeling that when PF dismissed Syd from the group, that was basically "it" for them and management and band actually parted company over the decision. Obviously, the group reconfigured and flourished commercially beyond anyone's wildest dreams, but they really lost that special quality. You're very lucky to have seen Syd perform. I’m jealous. A few years ago, the Syd Barrett Appreciation Society started collecting material meant to represent the "complete Syd," including a number of unissued PF live performances and it was very easy to hear how penetrating and "there" they were when he was in the group (and how diffuse in comparison they were after his departure). Kevin and the other Soft Machine musicians (Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge), who were keen PF rivals on the UFO/Middle Earth scene, have always said that they felt from the beginning that PF would be more successful than they because of Syd's astonishing riveting presence and songwriting talent. For what it's worth, Kevin has always said how very nice Syd was as a person before it all went south and he wrote a very fine song about him called “O Wot A Dream,” which appeared on his Bananamour lp. Currently, I'm actually professionally involved with Mick Rock, the photographer who took all those great Syd photos, including the one on the cover of The Madcap Laughs. Mick was a Cambridge student who unexpectedly became friendly with Syd and realized instinctually that he had a vocation for photography, which he eventually turned into a successful career. Mick’s a lovely guy and we’re working on producing a documentary film on his career, which will necessarily involve Syd footage, reflections, etc. Keeping fingers crossed on that one. One fascinating tidbit is that following Syd’s death, one of the items they auctioned was an ingenious utility “outbuilding” Syd designed and constructed for his house in Cambridge. EBay link follows:


  6. Hey Curtis,

    I'm sure that link would have embarrassed and shamed the man. By the way, his name was Roger. When I knew these guys they were just townies in the town where I lived, we hung out and did the things townies do. One of our mutual friends died a few months ago of a brain tumour. He was a golfer. You've never heard of him. Back then however people were more equal-equal, celebrity had not yet begun to count for everything. When I went over to Colchester I hooked up the chaps who were still standing with a dance gig. The pay came in pints. There was never a professional involvement. Professional involvement and fame are enemies of art, in the long run. Iconic photos are tiresome. Icons are best left to the religious. I have friends from Georgia (that other Georgia) who are iconoclasts. You have to grow up Orthodox to know what that means.

  7. (By the by, I think the proper word, re. the pegs, would not be "square", but "cubic".)

  8. For what it's worth, I don't think Mick Rock set out to take "iconic" photos of Syd Barrett. He was a Cambridge undergraduate at that time discovering himself as a photographer and was simply trying to take the best photos of his friend that he could (and possibly hoping to defray college expenses by doing so). The "career" came later and had, as often happens, certain accidental aspects to it that grew out of the "equal-equal" relations you mention. I've spent a lot of time with the initial PF and SB records over the years and clearly Roger "Syd" Barrett would agree with you about the professional/fame part. That series of fan-released recordings was called "Have You Got It Yet," and was named after the legendary constantly changing Barrett composition that couldn't by definition be learned, rehearsed and made professional. I'm sure you're right that he would have found the post-death auctions offensive and painful. Curtis

  9. Funny, I think, to have ventured what seems to be far from the Hay Wain. Curtis

  10. Sorry to have sounded a bit cranky there, Curtis. All these memories, all these ghosts. The putative "holiday" here, an extended meditation upon the blood-work numbers. Extremely meagre fare for thought, but a great meal for misery.

    The two years I spent doing this and that at the school that was even then being built up as a rather ugly pile of concrete upon the site of a Constable "view" (Wivenhoe Park) were in that respect an object lesson in the truth of the hoary observation, "All things pass". But as someone also once said, The Second temple was not like the first. Those beings who once roamed the earth are all gone. One ought to get used to the fact the past is irretrievably lost. One is forever telling oneself this.

  11. Not too cranky. My own crankiness has increased many-fold this year and, particularly, this season. All things pass, and how. When I am in Tuxedo Park, I see that the couple who purchased my mother's house some years ago (it was a very beautiful piece of work because of her efforts, it really was) decided to deconstruct it and replace it with something new. Before that job was completed, they "traded up" in what was essentially a "sacrifice auction" for a grander property that wasn't selling in the current environment. My parents' house now sits like a ruin. I can't bear to look at it and I don't know why I feel so strongly. I didn't grow up there or anything, but the attack on the house seems savage. Before we moved to Philadelphia, I wanted to show Jane the town where I grew up on Long Island. We drove on the road where one set of grandparents lived. The house was gone (its land now is conjoined with an adjacent property) but the former driveway indentation remains. None of these are particularly good memories, but they still affect me, even though there are no relatives on either side of my family I see or converse with at this point. (For them, my useful life, such as it ever was, ended some time ago.) So I try to look at other things and to look forward to our next putative holiday, which I hope is a very good one for my daughter, who may or may not be an optimist. It's hard to tell. Back on Mick Rock for a brief moment, one thing that's interesting is the display of talent. He didn't intend to be a photographer, but like most of us just took snaps with a camera. His were uncommonly good, stuck in your head and made you smile and see things in a new way. He can do this in an instant just using a cellphone camera. I, on the other hand, could make a close horserace look like a lazy picnic or the original Marathon run seem unimportant. I guess I need to keep pursuing legal work. Curtis

  12. I fear all that was good in this world has gone, and all that's left of it are the dents.

    Every idiot who can afford a cellphone camera can take a picture with it. I'm sure you could afford one and take as good a picture as the next person with it. I could not afford one and in any case would not wish to own or use one of those ubiquitous little slices of plastic and electronic trash. Every time one has been thrust into my hand by some well meaning person, I am grateful for the vision-loss incurred after multiple strokes, which makes it impossible for me to see all the tiny little meaningless bits of number and symbol or whatever it is that's on there. So I am able to politely and honestly plead blindness. The very best photos of cellphone cameras I have ever seen were taken by people who ran over their cellphones with their cars, smashed their cellphones with hammers, etc., and then took pictures of the mess... with their next cellphone camera. Let our legacy to the ocean floors of the earth not be more useless plastic and electronic trash, O Lord! Deliver us!!

  13. Actually, I posted my most recent broken cellphone pictures early this morning. One of them is sort of Arthur Dove-ish, I think. I hate cellphones to pieces. Initially I thought it would be useful for my mother to have one in her glove compartment in case she had a flat tire or something like that, but that never really took. In my line of work, they make you use one. There is absolutely no choice. I read a fascinating article a couple of days ago giving what was supposedly the real story and chronology of the recent "Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair." The article kept referring to his enormous number of "spare" cell phones. What hath God wrought? Curtis