John Clare On The Transcendence Nearby

In ‘John Clare and the Manifold Commons‘ (Environmental Humanities, vol. 3, 2013, pp. 71-91) Patrick Bresnihan writes,

Clare’s love of the smallest and most trivial details….In its resolute ‘here-and-nowness’…describes nothing more than the most commonplace moments, moments with no higher meaning….the very ordinariness of these moments allows them to resonate with others, to provoke…‘universal feelings.’…the commonplace experiences which Clare evoked….[were] not a finished or neat world of nature but a seemingly infinite series of pictures—of birds, trees, dawns, sunsets—which captured particular moments as they materialized….Clare’s poetry opens up common ground, “a sort of gate into another dimension, a dimension that turns out to be none other than the nowness that is far more radically ‘here’ than any concept of ‘here,’….There is a deep equality to this as human and non-human are all counted as singular entities beyond any particular configuration of roles or functions. It affirms instead the ‘democratic fullness of objects.’:

How beautiful e’en seems
This simple twig that steals it from the hedge
And wavering dipples down to taste the stream.
I cannot think it how the reason is
That every trifle nature’s bosom wears
Should seem so lovely and appear so sweet
And charm so much my soul while heedless passenger
Soodles me by, an animated post,
And ne’er so much as turns his head to look
But stalks along as though his eyes were blinded
And as if the witching face of nature
Held but now a dark unmeaning blank.

Clare was not the first, and certainly will not be the last, poet to find his poetic vision grounded in a sense of the world’s unity, its fractal nature, its ability to contain multitudes within its smallest atoms. Here–in this extract from ‘A Ramble’–he summons up this vision to remind and reassure us that transcendence lurks nearby, in the most ordinary and commonplace of things, in the particulars of the world’s objects, in what might seem in our less sensitive moments, to be mere detritus. Clare warns us against both blind obliviousness to this beauty–which would take it for granted and thus render it dull and meaningless. The world around us, and about us, was not a static, lifeless world to be captured in still images, in theories that froze it, but a world of nested things and the dynamic relationships among them.  Clare urges upon us a self-awareness which suggests that we see ourselves as part of that which surrounds us, indeed, he bids us see ourselves as arising out of, and being grounded in, this world of objects. This recognition is, as mystics have not failed to note, powerfully affective; it may reduce the anxieties of alienation, of the bewilderment that may otherwise be the lot of strangers in a strange land. It forms the basis of the paradigmatic ‘religious experience’; we are ‘rejoined’ with that from which we were originally cast asunder; there is no journey to be made to distant lands; all that we seek is about us and with us at all times.

Note: ‘A Ramble’ may be found in “‘I Am” The Selected Poetry of John Clare, ed. Jonathan Date, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, 2003

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