Your News: Following in the tracks of the Helpston poet

John Clare Cottage in Helpston. Column by Emma Verity
John Clare Cottage in Helpston. Column by Emma Verity

John Clare spoke about how poetry and poets were neglected by the public due to them ‘finding no path that leads to their beautys’.

John Clare’s Cottage in Helpston is easy to find on the A15, and his work inspired by nature has the ‘unaffected simplicity’ that he wrote about and represents the ‘everyday picture of nature’. Born in Helpston in 1793, John Clare was a local poet who became well known for his poetry depicting the English countryside. His poetry still has resonance today and is also studied by many English Literature students.

The house where he was born is open to the the public and the rooms replicate how he would have lived, firstly with his parents and then with his wife and many children. The walls are decorated, by the Trust, with lines from his poetry. The cottage often has activities for children to entertain them (on advertised days) and works with many schools with its educational outreach programme. You can listen to the audio tour around the inside of the cottage and there is also a little cafe and pretty gardens - a totally unassuming place, perfectly in keeping with the feeling of the poetry and poet himself.

John Clare has been described as having an ‘alienated self’ resulting perhaps, from being torn between his relatively brief London literary fame and the simple way of life surrounding him in his Helpston home. Eventually this resulted in two spells in mental asylums, it was in the last one where he wrote his famous poem ‘I am’ before he died. Today bipolar disorder is a recognized condition, back then it eventually became too much for his wife and family to live with.

A social commentator, Clare’s poetry reveals his distress at the changes to the British countryside wrought by the Agricultural Revolution and the enclosures. His life and poetry appears to have been lived with a sensory intensity powered by his kinship to the land (he was working the land as a child - his formal education ending at eleven). Even as a child he preferred solitude to playing football and kept his young writings a secret from his mother until she inadvertently used his poems to light the fire one day, after which she managed to buy him a book within which to keep his writings. His many jobs included being a gardener at Burghley House, poverty was never far from his door as the father of six children.

The Bluebell Inn , where John Clare spent some time, is still an inn next door and he is buried in the churchyard in the village.