Friday, August 24, 2007

Protean layering

Often, the biographical and emotional layering on top of an existing work of art lends the work of art greater significance and meaning. One tends to better appreciate the circumstances under which the piece was done and a better understanding for the motivations that drove the art/artist. The following poem while at first read tends to be a feel-good poem takes on the trappings of greatness when biographical details of the poet are added on. An ideal approach would be to read the poem first, then read the circumstances and then re-read the poem - this time slowly.

"A Vision"
I lost the love of heaven above,
I spurned the lust of earth below,
I felt the sweets of fancied love
And hell itself my only foe.

I lost earth's joys but felt the glow
Of heaven's flame abound in me
Till loveliness and I did grow
The bard of immortality.

I loved but woman fell away
I hid me from her faded fame,
I snatched the sun's eternal ray
And wrote till earth was but a name

In every language upon earth,
On every shore, o'er every sea,
I give my name immortal birth
And kept my spirit with the free.


John Clare, a rural laborer and an autodidact poet had some success early in his life, but fell into poverty and depression soon after. This poem was composed when he was confined to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum (often referred to in his poems as 'Hell'). Although his initial poems were more of bucolic village life, the Asylum offered little hope for such sights and his poems slowly become consumed with visions, dreams and hallucinogenic encounters. 'A Vision' dated 2nd August, 1844 was written when he was 51 years old. He would die in the asylum 20 years later never ever returning to his home again.


Maurizio Cattelan, 'Andreas E Mattia', Stuffed cloth figure clothes and shoes, life-size, 1996

3 comments:

Bill Gusky said...

Fascinating -- thank you.

Where did you find this poet, can I ask? thanks - B

Sunil said...

Thank you, Bill for coming by...
I ran into these excellent lines and the equally superb poet on a poetry review magazine Parnassus (which I recommend very much)...
I had blogged some time back about the eventual death of this magazine due to lack of funds.
Glad you enjoyed it.
Sunil

Tree said...

Parnassus is a good one :-)
Sad story, Sunil. And not all that uncommon. This is something I work with in my own poetry.