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Thursday, 4 March 2010

John Clare: Badger


File:Meles meles borz.jpg

When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den
And put a sack within the hole and lye
Till the old grunting badger passes bye
He comes and hears they let the strongest loose
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose
The poacher shoots and hurrys from the cry
And the old hare half wounded buzzes bye
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clapt the dogs and bore him to the town
And bait him all the day with many dogs
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs
He runs along and bites at all he meets
They shout and hollo down the noisey streets

He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very doors
The frequent stone is hurled where ere they go
When badgers fight and every ones a foe
The dogs are clapt and urged to join the fray
The badger turns and drives them all away
Though scarcely half as big dimute and small
He fights with dogs for hours and beats them all
The heavy mastiff savage in the fray
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away
The bull dog knows his match and waxes cold
The badger grins and never leaves his hold
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through the drunkard swears and reels

The frighted women take the boys away
The blackguard laughs and hurrys on the fray
He tries to reach the woods a awkard race
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chace
He turns agen and drives the noisey crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud
He drives away and beats them every one
And then they loose them all and set them on
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd agen
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles groans and dies

File:Meles meles norway 2.JPG

Badger: John Clare, c. 1832-1837 (from ms.)

European badger (Meles meles): photo by Kókay Szabolcs, 2006
European badger (Meles meles) at entrance to den, Norway: photo by Orland, 2006


Curtis Roberts said...

This is fantastic. Until now, my badger knowledge was limited to the things I learned when Santa Claus, in his infinite wisdom, brought two miniature longhaired dachshund puppies for my daughter several years ago. (When you live with dachshunds, it's incumbent on you to learn about badgers; dachshunds live in a state of constant badger expectation.) Badger websites and encyclopedia articles don't tell the whole story, though and illustrate the maxim of history being written by those who assume they're the victors. So, thank you. Reading about the lives of John Clare, Charlotte Mew and Stevie Smith was fascinating, but obviously sobering. My Mew reading somehow led me to the biography of Detmar Blow, the late 19th century architect who embezzled from the Duke of Westminster (an unwise move) and ancestor of the current Detmar Blow, widower of Issy Blow, but that's another story.

TC said...


The spirit shalt blow where it lists. Or is it list where it blows?

Clare's Badger is an intensely observed and directly felt capture of something tenacious and indomitable in the spirit of everything that lives.

The modern restoration of Clare's poems to their original ms. versions has helped us to see this poet as he really was. The 1986 Methuen edition edited by Raymond and Merryn Williams has a very useful introduction by Raymond Williams. (But beware, this Google Books version plays a tease game, tantalizing the reader with infuriating omissions.)

In "The Country and The City" (1973), his magisterial survey of English literature in terms of changing attitudes toward rural and urban life, Raymond Williams also centered a chapter ("Green Language") on Clare, seeing in his work a radical response to a disturbing history and an altered landscape. A "neglected poet," caught in "a speaking silence... virtually breaking the mind," Williams' Clare is a tragic figure, "the man alone with nature and with poverty, recreating a world in his green language."

An extremely affecting document, strongly recommended to anyone interested in Clare, is the journal of his long walk (some ninety-plus miles), after escaping from a mental asylum in July 1841, back to his home village in Northamptonshire. It is to be found in "John Clare: The Journals, Essays and the Journey from Essex", ed. Anne Tibble (1980). The journal is a human testimony of mental and physical anguish and resistance unique in its period.

Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you very much for this additional information about Clare, for the references, which I will follow-up, and for the Google books warning. I hate infuriating omissions and am trying as hard as I can at the moment to avoid additional things that will get on my nerves.