Welcome to the John Clare Society Website - in 2014 commemorating the 150th anniversary of his death - click on the Events link over on the right for detail of what is happening in this important year.

John Clare's life spanned one of the great ages of English poetry but, until about fifty years ago, few would have thought of putting his name with those of Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Browning and Tennyson.

The son of humble and almost illiterate parents, Clare grew up in the Northamptonshire village of Helpston and made the surrounding countryside his world. His formal education, such as it was, ended when he was eleven years old, but this child of the 'unwearying eye' had a thirst for knowledge and became a model example of the self-taught man. As a poet of rural England he has few rivals.

During his long life, Clare observed a period of massive changes in both town and countryside. The Agricultural Revolution - The Enclosures - saw pastures ploughed up, trees and hedges uprooted, marshy land drained and the common land enclosed.  This destruction of the countryside he knew as a child and the centuries-old way of life it supported, distressed Clare deeply. Large numbers of agricultural labourers, including their children, went to work in the new factories because of the rural poverty caused by the greed of landowners and farmers, which kept wages down but forced prices up.  For them, it was migration to the town, or die.  Clare recorded much of this in his poems and prose.
From the moment his first publication - Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery - appeared in 1820, it was clear that England had a new and original poet. Sadly, the public's enthusiasm did not last long and each new volume met with diminishing applause. Ill and in debt, he left Helpston for Northborough and, at the encouragement of his editor, John Taylor, was then committed to a private asylum, High Beach in Epping Forest, in 1837.  Leaving the asylum in 1841, he made the long trek on foot back to his home where he spent a few months before eventually being removed to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum in which he died in 1864.

Image: John Clare by William Hilton (1820), copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

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The Society was founded in 1981 to promote a wider and deeper knowledge of this remarkable poet. It currently has about 550 members worldwide. We publish a Newsletter three times a year, and a peer reviewed Journal once a year (received at the end of the subscription year).

On the weekend nearest to Clare's birthdate (July 13th) members and friends gather for our Annual Festival in Helpston, Clare's birthplace. Festival is open to everyone, however:  you not have to be a member or a member's guest in order to attend. At the Festival, there is always a variety of Clare books for sale, some published by the Society. The Festival also includes poetry readings, tours, stalls, talks, live entertainment and the Annual General Meeting of the Society. The News and Events section of this website -- see links on the right -- list other Clare related events which we hope will be of interest.

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Click on the link over on the right to view details of the Choral Composition Competition held to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of John Clare. The winning entry was from Croatia - Ivan Bozicevic.

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Extract from THE SCHOOLBOYS IN THE MORNING

The schoolboys in the morning soon as dressed
Went round the fields to play and look for nests.
They found a crow's but dare not climb so high,
And looked for nests when any bird was nigh;

from The Wood is Sweet (ed. David Powell, and illustrator Carry Akroyd), 2005,
on sale via the Society (see the Publications and Merchandise page)

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Visit the John Clare page on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/groups/391098594302386/
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The John Clare Society is affiliated to the Alliance of Literary Societies and is a registered charity (no. 1124846).