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Monday, 2 June 2014

John Clare: House or Window Flies


Morning mist at Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire: photo by hspall, 24 March 2012

These little indoor dwellers, in cottages and halls, were always entertaining to me; after dancing in the window all day from sunrise to sunset they would sip of the tea, drink of the beer, and eat of the sugar, and be welcome all the summer long. They look like things of mind or fairies, and seem pleased or dull as the weather permits. In many clean cottages and genteel houses, they are allowed every liberty to creep, fly, or do as they like; and seldom or ever do wrong. In fact they are the small or dwarfish portion of our own family, and so many fairy familiars that we know and treat as one of ourselves.

John Clare (1793-1864): House or Window Flies, n.d., from Asylum Poems, in Poems Chiefly from Manuscript, ed. Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter, 1920

small house 1. possibly the smallist house/cottage i ever seen. taken on the road between guyhirn and peterborough (A47): photo by Glenn, 15 May 2007


small house, fenland: photo by Glenn, 15 May 2007

Morning mist at Fen Drayton Lakes, Cambridgeshire: photo by DS Williams, 24 February 2013


Tom said...

The two photos of the house make me wobble. They seem to say so much.

TC said...


Thanks very much, and know what you mean. I can imagine John Clare in that circumstance. And of course this was his neighborhood.

I love his way of noticing the small and simple things which after all do make up a life -- or anyway once did, before the small yet awfully complicated things nudged everything else aside.

(By the by, and coincidentally, that quality of close noticing comes across in a lovely way in your own postings, as today's notes on "getting better at paying attention", and the doings at the bird feeder, and the implications and significances... And then, looking up, "I noticed the wild whirlygigs of the maple trees seeding the universe. Small things, but important to see and to put in context. I noticed morning light high in the trees, before daylight reaches the grass. The light is there, high up, and then - soon - it is everywhere.")

Ed Baker said...

"close noticing"

I like that !


nothing "small" about that house:

it has an upstairs and a down stairs
(and most likely)
a cellar...

and all of that space surrounding

like a skull surrounding brain where-in
resides Mind ?



Reminds me a bit of my own house (not quite so small but almost) -- "Home, Home on the fenland. . ." -- all that sky for company, and the green green tree.

TC said...

Yes, and sometimes a house might even be SO small that that famous Mind wouldn't even fit though the door... and a wonderful house it would be!

On the fenland, there is so much sky to live in, the house is more or less incidental, an afterthought, in any case.

Steve, I expect your house is about that same size, as indeed were all the houses on the Mesa, once upon a time.

Our first dwelling in that precinct (Nymph Road near the "corner" of Cherry) was about that size, too. Not much but a concrete slab with some pre-fab and glass on top.

A few house flies into the bargain, also, as I recall -- especially on those two or three days every year when the temperature actually rose high enough to inspire a bit of vigour in the wings.

Lord Charlie said...

Love John Clare -- the prose as well as the poems. Very moving. DL

TC said...


Ditto here...that "feeling that the sky might be in the back of someone’s mind."

TC said...

"...more and more he took long walks in the fields in an effort to reach peace of mind..."

A squadron of six large bold crows, disturbed by traffic in their regular roadside scavenging, has just now at midday swooped low and single-file down upon the crowded freeway feeder, furiously squawking, dive-bombing individual vehicles, then at the last minute pulling out of their dives and swooping again up, up and away, at play in the fields of no lord... and telling us they were here.

John Clare: I Am

John Clare: Badger

John Clare: The Fox

Cottage Fears

Sand Martin

From the Journal: Walks in the Fields

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore said...

An amazing novel about John Clare by Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze, with some walk-ons with Tennyson, mostly at a "sanitarium (or "insanitarium" perhaps)... but delicious prose, astute, poetic and, of course, deeply poignant. It sent me back to his poems, where I often go for their deep refreshment.

Wooden Boy said...

"the small and simple things whixh do after all make up a life"

Clare always comes to these things as something small himself, creature to creature.

"In fact they are the small or dwarfish portion of our own family".

TC said...

The feeling, and imparting, of "deep refreshment"; the modesty of accepting that one is not grand, that the things of every day in fact have no "point", but simply are as they are, to be settled for or not -- and above all, that all things living are in some way part of a "family", like it or not: so much in Clare to be grateful for.

When he suggests, from observation, that house flies seem lively or sluggish, according to the weather, much as do people, there is an acknowledgment of natural commonalty that is extremely consoling -- and also extremely rare, in what passes for poetry, any more.



"corner" of Nymph and Cherry -- way over there across the Mesa (so nigh unto the Western Isles), almost a different world from here on Overlook, almost at the "corner" of Elm, looking east across field on now tall brown grasses toward the ridge, which is disappeared into grey whiteness of fog. . .

I should ride my bike over there, see if your house is still there there. . .

TC said...


Of course I remember your location, with that great view of the ridge.

Our first place at Nymph & Cherry (1968) has, from all report and evidence, undergone a significant "upgrade" (palazzification), as per the current economics of the milieu. A. was out in Bo Town 15 years ago, and found that the original lot and house (well, pre-fab bungalow) had been transformed and "remodeled", and the original poison ivy and blackberry patches in adjacent lots incorporated into a fancy Japanese-style garden. The eucalypti I had planted as seedlings had become giants. Who knows what's happened since. I got up the nerve to take a peek on Google street view some time back, and had a hard time recognizing what I was seeing. The dirt roads, always a wintertime mire back in the day, had of course been paved, and expensive-looking vehicles (as vs. the wrecks and clunkers of "back in the day") were parked upon them, in numbers. There appeared to be numerous "units" and fencings that had not existed. Everything curiously resembling an upscale and well-"greened" suburb in 2014 California. Back in 1968, of course, with the directional signs from the coastal highway always torn down as soon as they were put up by the state, the place was simply not part of any known universe, save its own. A fly in amber, in my mind, all that, now.

TC said...

Steve, evidently all it takes is a few decades away from the wondrous effects of poison oak to be able to forget it's not called poison ivy. Our precinct of the Mesa was a forest of the stuff. After a while one developed a limited immunity, but then a single overconfident exposure and -- !! There was a quadrant lot at the corner of Nymph & Cherry that no one had yet thought to "develop" (believe it or not, there were then far more undeveloped than developed lots in that now no doubt prime, ergo built-up patch of real estate), and at one point someone (BPUD nosy parkers??) got the bright idea of setting fire to it. The northwest wind from the direction of Agate Beach, which blew hard almost every day, blew the smoke in a noxious cloud of natural irritants that enveloped our happy little Home on the Range.

But at least no idiot commuter ever ran me over out in front of it.