UBC Theses and Dissertations
John Clare and the poetic process Howard, William James
This study is an attempt to interpret and correlate Clare's several statements in prose and verse about his art. It is also an attempt to discover the impact of the resulting theory on the individual poems, and on the body of his work as a whole. The theory itself is examined in detail, and reveals Clare's view that the poet's mind is uniquely endowed with functioning powers which he calls taste and genius. They combine to enable the poet "to look on nature with a poetic eye," and thereby alter his initial perception. This alteration produces metaphors which, when recorded in words, become poetry. But it is also governed in better poets by an artistic integrity which confines the poet to recording only those metaphors which have a basis in his natural environment. In this way the mind intensifies the beauty of nature, but remains directly based on nature for its images. In practice Clare often used the mental experience of this process of metaphorization to provide structure for his individual poems. The best of these poems describe the progress of the mind from its initial response to an object in nature, to a state of mental excitement during which the object is transformed into a metaphor, and finally to an impulse toward recording these images. In these works, too, the metaphors used are those which arise from the poetic process described in the poem. Unlike his early work, in which he imposed conventional metaphors on his perceptions, his mature works gain an added element of unity from his creation of metaphors out of material provided by the experience itself. On a larger scale he utilizes certain major metaphors to provide a scheme to which the individual poems can be related. Thus the poems in praise of childhood and those of disillusionment at his waning appreciation of nature can be related to each other by the encompassing pattern of the Eden— wasteland metaphor. Similarly, many of the songs, as well as "The Nightmare" and "Child Harold," are interrelated by their participating in the major metaphor of Mary Joyce. Thus Clare is seen speculating theoretically about the nature of art, experimenting with poetic form, and developing consistent major metaphors which give his work a distinct unity.
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