May 20 marks the 150th anniversary of the death of John Clare.
John Clare was born in the Northamptonshire village of Helpston on 13 July 1793. The English poet was the son of a farm labourer. He is often considered to be among the most important 19th century poet and was known as “the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet”.
Living in the Northamptonshire countryside had a strong impact upon Clare’s work. His childhood spent working in the rural landscape is a topic that he continuously refers to in his poetry and he had a passion for the small details in the natural world. Clare’s poetry also reflects the impact enclosure and industrialisation was having upon those around him. Indeed, a large amount of Clare’s poetry is born out of his need to record the landscapes and traditions around him that would soon be changed and gone forever.
Throughout his life he suffered from mental illness which led him to being committed to a private asylum in Epping Forest in 1837. He left the asylum, walking all the way home to Helpston and his sweetheart who had tragically died before he arrived.
In 1841 he was admitted to the County Lunatic Asylum in Northampton – now St. Andrews Hospital. Clare was allowed the freedom to take walks and he continued to write, taking nature as his inspiration to convey the beauty of landscape. He often visited the town centre and was a familiar figure sat on the porch of All Saints Church, where he read and wrote poetry whilst observing everyday life passing by.
To mark this anniversary, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery presents an exhibition, John Clare and The Shepherd’s Calendar, which runs until 8 June.
The exhibition celebrates John Clare’s appreciation of the seasonal cycles and the natural year. The collection of poems ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’ is illustrated by the artist Peter Newcombe.