Condescending at best and derogatory at worst but that is how he was described as a marketing ploy. No wonder John Clare did not fit in with “society” in the 19th century. I mention him because I like some of his poetry. I’m glad to say that I made up my mind about the poems I read before finding out about him – I was able to judge them on their merits and on their personal appeal without being clouded by my opinion of their author. It turns out that I don’t have much in common with him. Two centuries separate us, he was a country lad and I’m very much the townie. He loved the countryside, its wonder, its beauty, and the freedom to roam its fields. For myself, I don’t mind the countryside, understand its importance somewhat, respect it even, but I would hardly claim to love it in the way that others do.

And it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that much of John Clare’s poetry was written while he was a patient in an asylum. However, that is not what I wanted to tell you about. In one of his poems, Song 4, he uses the phrase “the mirrors change and flye”. I like that metaphor of time passing rapidly. Perhaps you have seen the 1960’s film of H G Wells “The Time Machine”? In it the hero watches a shop window as the display changes from season to season in rapid succession.  The faster his machine goes, the more the display becomes a blur while the shop and its surroundings shimmer as the light changes with the speeded up weather and the passing of days and nights in seconds rather than hours. That scene conveys an air of melancholy and alludes to the peril that is to come later on in the story. Or perhaps you have seen a scene in some TV programme where the character is looking at a bathroom mirror and sees his or her face as it changes in quick succession from their younger to their present face. The mirror and the person stay the same but the reflection shimmers as the years pass.

That shimmering effect from the rapid succession of small changes is reminiscent of ripples on the surface of a pool of water stirred by the wind. It might remind you of that phrase of looking “through a glass darkly” (which can also be translated as “puzzling reflections in a mirror”). I wonder weather John Clare had heard the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which is what where that phrase came from.

John Clare’s poem caught my imagination many years ago: the idea that time passing was like looking at your reflection in a clear pool of water and then a breath of wind stirs that water ever so slightly causing it to ripple gently and shimmer your reflection through time.

“As the wind the waters stir, the mirrors change and flye”.

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