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Saturday, 27 June 2020

Saturday Rave: The Shepherd's Calendar. June, by John Clare.

Most of the books I read as a child had on the inside cover the legend Editor: Kaye Webb

By this means Kaye Webb became a legend in more ways than one.

What was it, I wondered, that an editor did? It was clearly something extremely important.

I now know what editors do. The good ones suggest the removal of the best bits of a manuscript; the bad ones do it themselves and hope the writer won't notice.

Ah well.

John Clare's editor (and publisher) for The Shepherd's Calendar was John Taylor. It was a complicated sort of a relationship, largely supportive but still controversial to this day.

Here's a section from the June section of Clare's poem (I've updated the spelling a bit):


To willow skirted meads with fork and rake
The scented hay cocks in long rows to make
Where their old visitors in russet brown
The hay time butterflies dance up and down
& gads that tease like wasps the timid maid
& drive the herd boy cows to pond & shade
Who when his dogs assistance fails to stop
Is forced his half made oaten flute to drop
& start and halloo through the dancing heat
To keep their gadding tumult from the wheat
Who in their rage will dangers overlook
& leap like hunters o'er the pasture brook
Brushing through blossomed beans in maddening haste
& [des]stroying corn they scarce can stop to taste
Labour pursues its toil in weary mood
& feign would rest with shadows in the wood

I love the way the quiet scene - even the butterflies are soberly dressed - is transformed in just a few lines by a gadfly into a raging stampede through the suffocating heat; and then it all comes back to rest and quiet again.

John Taylor cut out the whole passage.

Ah well. He probably had his reasons.

But what they might have been, I do not know.

Word To Use Today: gad. This word came into English in the 1200s from the Old Norse gaddr, which means spike.




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