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Saturday, 21 November 2020

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

 What can one say in favour of an English November? It's often a dreary time. John Clare's poem speaks of this so precisely, with so much knowledge and affection...and yet, of his twenty verses on the subject, eleven were cut before publication.

All twenty verses are really well worth reading, and to make a choice of one to feature here is difficult. I love Clare's sun that shines so palely through the clouds it seems to be the moon; I love the owlet that flies by day and spooks the inhabitants of the village; I love the old woman trying to spin with her cold hands, her aching corn foretelling harsh weather.

But here, in the midst of the November gloom, is a little bit of determined respectability, a little bit of mischief, and a little bit of something tender. 

It tell of the human spirit refusing to be cowed.

This verse was cut, too.


The cleanly maiden thro the village streets

In pattens clicks down causeways never drye

While eves above head drops - were oft she meets

The school boy leering on wi mischiefs eye

Trying to splash her as he hurrys bye

While swains afield returning to their ploughs

Their passing aid wi gentle speech apply

& much loves rapture thrills when she alows

Their help wi offerd hand to lead her oer the sloughs


Why was this verse cut? Was the gentle speech of the ploughmen potentially of offence to Clare's city-based readers? How could a ploughman be gentle? Surely only gentlemen are gentle? 

I suppose, also, the implication that gentlemen should be, well, gentle, was a rather revolutionary idea...

...actually, though we no longer speak of those in power being gentlefolk, I'm afraid those ideas are still just as revolutionary today.

Word To Use Today: gentle. The Old French word gentil meant noble. The Latin gentīlis means belonging to the same family. Gens means race.


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