First Love

by JOHN CLARE (1793-1864)

I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet.
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.

My face turned pale, a deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked what could I ail
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away.
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.

I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start.
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice
Is love’s bed always snow
She seemed to hear my silent voice
Not love appeals to know.

I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.

John Clare

“John Clare’s first love– the deepest, noblest, and purest love of his whole life– was for ‘Mary,’ the Mary of all his future songs, ballads, and sonnets. Petrarch himself did not worship his Laura with a more idealized spirit of affection than John Clare did his Mary. To him she was nothing less than an angel, with no other name than that of Mary; though vulgar mortals called her Mary Joyce… She sat on a style weaving herself a garland of flowers, and the sight so enchanted him that he crouched down at a distance, afraid to stir and to disturb the beautiful apparition.” From “The Life of John Clare” (1865) by Frederick Martin

John Clare Contemporaries
Barry Cornwall
John Keats
Thomas Hood
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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