Tuesday, September 8, 2015

wreathing round the thorn

As I was reading Mudpuddle's last comment I realised that if I wanted to say for sure whether John Clare was less influenced by Charlotte Smith as he aged, or more  –

(– or influenced by the romantic style she represented, not only by her specifically, for who is influenced by anyone specifically? Like any Romantic he was moved by the thought of Chatterton's suicide. "Coleridge's monody on Chatterton is beautiful." He tried to compose at least one poem about the other poet's death. A publisher "said he wanted to print [it] in a penny book to sell to hawkers but I was doubtful of its merits and not covetous of such fame so I declined it." (Autobiographical Fragments.) "[L]ookd in to the Poems of Chatterton to see what he says about flowers," he wrote on the "3rd Day of Sep: 1824," and as he read he re-discovered a "favourite" line, which he copied into his diary in this form: "The king cups brasted with the morning dew."

In Chatterton:
Dacya's sonnes, whose hayres of bloude redde hue
Lyche kynge-cuppes brastynge wythe the morning due,
Arraung'd ynne dreare arraie,
Upponne the lethale daie,
Spredde farre and wyde onne Watchets shore

(from the Songe to Aella, Lorde of the Castel of Brystowe Ynne Daies of Yore in the Poems supposed to have been written at Bristol by Thomas Rowley and others, in the Fifteenth Century, 1777)

If Chatterton meant "bursting" when he wrote "brastynge," as the author of the 1789 Life of Chatterton assumes that he did ("that delicious line, so full of the freshness and fragrance and vigorous youth of a spring morning"), then why did Clare write "brasted" instead of "brasting" when he doesn't use (I don't think) the equivalent, "bursted," in his own poetry, to denote anything except the past tense? What did he understand it to mean? There is "Wheat spindles bursted into ear | And browning faintly – grasses sere | In swathy seed pods dryd by heat | Rustling when brushd by passing feet," from A Sunday with Shepherds and Herdboys (pub. 1835 in The Rural Muse), and "The weaver […] couldnt draw | His breath but stampt his happy foot | & bursted, 'haw haw haw'" from a draft fragment that was published in John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837 but the bursting in Clare is already done and over, whereas the bursting in the Chatterton imagery is happening now ...

It may be that if Clare had written Aella then the king cups would have already burst with morning dew; he would be comparing the heads of Dacya's sons to the flowers after they were already too full of the dew to burst any further, or this dew-filling would naturally have been a memory in him ("who sees the taller buttercup carpeting the closes in golden fringe without a remembrance of Chatterton's beautiful mention of it if he knows it" he wrote once (pub. in The Natural History Prose Writings of John Clare) – the line is a settled conjuration inside his brain) and therefore he recalls the word brastynge as it would have been in himself, but: shut up: here's an answer in The Rural Muse –  burnished? –

I see the wild flowers, in their summer morn
Of beauty, feeding on joy's luscious hours;
The gay convolvulus, wreathing round the thorn,
Agape for honey showers;
And slender kingcup, burnished with the dew
Of morning's early hours,
Like gold yminted new.

And mark by rustic bridge, o'er shallow stream,
Cow-tending boy, to toil unreconciled,
Absorbed as in some vagrant summer dream;
Who now, in gestures wild,
Starts dancing to his shadow on the wall,
Feeling self-gratified,
Nor fearing human thrall.

(Summer Images [my italics])

In D.H. Lawrence:

The common flaunts bravely; but below, from the rushes
Crowds of glittering king-cups surge to challenge the blossoming bushes

(from The Wild Common,(1921) –)

The next lines in Chatterton:

Than dyddst thou furiouse stande,
And bie thie valyante hande
Beesprengedd all the mees wythe gore

The king cup is also known as caltha palustris or marsh-marigold.)


  1. besprengedd: sprinkled? bursting with the morning dew doesn't sound quite right to me. of course, "breasted" is not normal phrasing either, but is more logical, one might think...

    i wonder if brastyinge is found in any other contemporary source?

    1. I'm guessing it's "burst" because "brast" for "burst" is a legitimate piece of archaic language. Spenser used it in The Faerie Queene. "But dreadfull Furies which their chaines have brast." The Chatterton Wikipedia article believes that "Chatterton's "Rowleian" jargon appears to have been chiefly the result of the study of John Kersey's Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum," but the Anglo-Britannicum defines "to brast" as "to break" and "breaking dew" doesn't sound right. He might have found it in Spenser or some other older source.

    2. i read "faery queen" some years ago-while trundling along the well known logging roads in my company truck. almost had an accident several times. i think you must be right about the "brast" although i can't say i remember the word. but the "queen" was truly delightful; not until some more years had passed did i read somewhere that it was a plea to queen elizabeth to be allowed back into her court. i should read it again, and i might if i hang on long enough...

    3. I hope you get the chance. Just going through it to find "brast" I was coming across good moments that I'd forgotten (the word "flaggie" for a dolphin's "flaggie fin," is wonderful).

  2. "Lyche kynge-cuppes brastynge wythe the morning due"

    "breasting" makes sense here, though, don't you think? All standing straight and facing the same direction? "Arranged in drear array," etc?

    Chatterton seems pretty good; I've never heard of him before but I like the clanking bounce of his poetry.

    I'm reading Smith right now (I found a used copy of the Oxford "complete poems"). Great stuff! Thanks for pointing to her work.

    1. correct me if i'm wrong, but wasn't chatterton the poet who commited suicide at 21 and was maybe rumored to have overused someone else's work? he inspired raves amongst some of the early reviewers as i recollect.

    2. That's the one. He poisoned himself at seventeen. A scholar mistook his imitations of medieval poetry for genuine fifteenth-century poems and he became a tragic cult figure for the early Romantics. Coleridge wrote a poem in his honour, the one that Clare calls "beautiful." "Grant me, like thee, the lyre to sound, | Like thee, with fire divine to glow --"

    3. "Breasting" makes sense, but when I think of Chatterton's constant deployment of archaisms then I still find myself leaning toward Spenser's "burst."

    4. "breasting" goes back at least as far as 1600. Shakespeare uses it in "Henry V," when the English launch a fleet across the Channel against France:

      behold the threaden sails,
      Borne with th' invisible and creeping wind,
      Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
      Breasting the lofty surge.

      Either way works, though.

    5. Yes, it could have been 'breasting.'

    6. several years ago i read quite a bit of elizabethan literature. i remember wishing very strongly that i could hear what english sounded like in the mouths of the citizenry of that age. after thinking it over some more, i believe that "bursting " is probably correct; like breaking through the morning dew, in some way...