I wrote this little poem after reading Jonathan Bate’s marvellous biography of the great and tragic John Clare. In this part of his life, Clare, forty-eight years old, walks home from the lunatic asylum to his cottage in the windswept fenland of Northborough. The poet thinks that he is not only walking home to his wife and seven children but also to Mary Joyce, his childhood sweetheart who has been dead for several years.
On the Great York Road
Who’s this, striking a light for a pipe on a stone
by the road, wispy and wind-blown
with grass stains on his chin?
Who’ll greet the man who will bang on his door,
a vision of his wife and child or apparitions
of the dead? Where is Clare,
the toast of London town? Who’s this walking
the Great York Road, ‘foot foundered
and broken down?’