Tuesday, November 07, 2006

John Ashbery on John Clare’s Mouse’s Nest (Commonplace Book)

[Mouse’s Nest, the commonplace selection from a week ago] exemplifies what it is in [Clare] that I find endlessly fascinating. Here is Clare on his rounds again, telling us what he has just seen but neglecting to mention why he thinks it ought to interest us or even him. Though it has been likened to Burns, there is no suggestion implicit or otherwise that the sight of this “wee, sleekit, cowrin’, tim’rous beastie” has stirred Clare to reflections on his own unsatisfactory condition or that of mankind in general; there is not even a sign that Clare’s mouse is cowrin’ and tim’rous. Clare just happened by; before he recognized the creature as a mouse, he thought she looked odd and grotesque. Subsequently he saw no reason to revise his estimate and even less to humanize or allegorize her. Instead, after noting that she found her nest again, his attention turns, as the poem is signing off, to the undistinguished landscape. The water is having difficulty making its way over the pebbles. It must be a dry summer. The only hint of grandeur in the closure is the appearance of the cesspools – broad, old, glittering, they have their dignity under the sun, even though most travelers would hurriedly pass them by with pinched noses. And the poem is done. Clare was here – he saw what there was to see and noted it down, then went about the business of idle observation, ready to collect further swatches of nature as casually as one might pick a wildflower, press it between the pages of a book, and forget it.


Roger Whitson said...

This is precisely what makes Clare so amazing--that he doesn't, as perhaps Wordsworth might--sometimes--impress himself upon nature. It seems remniscent of Heidegger's notion of care and its relationship to Dasein--that we care as part of a larger existential drama, and that this care is letting Being be.

Geoff Klock said...

I actually never liked Clare until I read this Ashbery passage, which is why I posted it.