We looked at a William Blake poem last time. and for this week’s theme I wanted to focus on Insects by John Clare. I make no apology for pairing two Romantic poets this way though because both are outliers from the Romantic Movement and in quite similar ways – and yet they produced very different poetry.

The similarity is that they were both from working class backgrounds, with minimal formal education, and that they both experienced poor mental health. It should be said that Blake would probably dispute this, what others would call hallucinations he might claim as prophetic visions, but his contemporaries certainly thought him mad. Clare, sadly, spent the latter decades of his in an asylum.

One more thing that they have in common is a slow-burning reputation. Clare had some celebrity as a “plowman poet” for a brief period before falling out of fashion, while Blake was barely recognised at all in his own lifetime. But both became more critically acclaimed in the 20th Century and are now regarded as amongst the best and most important poets of the era. There is a bitter irony here in that some Romantic poets who have fallen out of fashion such as Southey, had less need of recognition in their own lifetimes than the impecunious Clare and Blake.

But their poetry is very different. Cymbals clash and trumpets sound in Blake’s work while the musical background to Clare’s poetry is birdsong. Blake did write about smaller things but they are usually metaphors for something vast or universal. Clare’s focus is often on the small and usually disregarded but he tends to celebrate them for their own sake.

It is true that in Insects he fancies that:

“such happy things,
With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,
Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade”

But this is not a metaphor for something wonderful, or sinister, still less is he suggesting that the insects buzzing round the cornfield actually, are fairies. He is describing the feeling of watching insect life and the thoughts it sets off in one’s mind and is thus, at least to my mind, completely realist. And there is quite brutal realism hidden here because the fanciful insects (if not the real ones) bear no kin “to labour’s drudgery.” Clare was an agricultural labourer, he knew all about drudgery, but he was also a man with a deep love of the countryside, a man who could rest after his back-breaking day’s work in the field and enjoy imagining that the bumblebees and beetles were disguised fairies.

photo by T.Voekler


These tiny loiterers on the barley’s beard,
And happy units of a numerous herd
Of playfellows, the laughing Summer brings,
Mocking the sunshine on their glittering wings,
How merrily they creep, and run, and fly!
No kin they bear to labour’s drudgery,
Smoothing the velvet of the pale hedge-rose;
And where they fly for dinner no one knows –
The dew-drops feed them not – they love the shine
Of noon, whose suns may bring them golden wine
All day they’re playing in their Sunday dress –
When night reposes, for they can do no less;
Then, to the heath-bell’s purple hood they fly,
And like to princes in their slumbers lie,
Secure from rain, and dropping dews, and all,
In silken beds and roomy painted hall.
So merrily they spend their summer-day,
Now in the corn-fields, now in the new-mown hay.
One almost fancies that such happy things,
With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,
Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade
Disguised, as if of mortal folk afraid,
Keeping their joyous pranks a mystery still,
Lest glaring day should do their secrets ill.

3 thoughts on “Insects

  1. Insects

    There are a large numbers of insects
    Thousands of bees bumblebees midges
    Butterflies dragonflies hoverflies
    Ants ladybirds

    Some are friendlier to us than others
    The tiny midges sting and for some of us who are allergic
    We get uncomfortable painful reactions
    Some are just irritants like ants
    The beautiful butterflies flutter arround gently
    The bees make honey and generally sting us only if they feel attacked
    We need to protect our selves with nets

    Dragonflies need some water nearby to lay their eggs
    We had a pond in the back garden and enjoyed watching them dipping their abdomens whilst sitting on the surface
    It can take years before they emerge as adults

    The kitchen window looked out into the cow yard
    The cows walked past and licked the window.
    We were very close to the huge manure heap
    The drive in front of our only door
    Was very muddy

    One time on opening the front door
    We were faced with a drive full of
    Thousands of rat-tailed maggots
    Each about four inches long moving along
    All hatching out of the manure heap
    It looked like something out of a horror film
    We closed the door but they were coming in
    Creeping under the door and going behind the wallpaper
    They look a bit like wasps and bees but are gentle hover flies



  2. Insects

    We are into may and now its spring,
    The Sky is full of interesting things,
    A Butterfly flies by as its colours unfold
    As if its story can never be told.

    The Bumble bee produces its honey
    Which turns your skin into beautiful mummies.
    But if it comes to close the buzzing bee
    Can really be scary to see.

    The only downside of the sun,
    Is that the midges start to come,
    So a wind is needed to keep them at bay
    Or light a candle and they go away.

    Spiders and flies are a common sight
    But a Spider can give you a nasty bite.
    The Lady Bird lingers upon the leaf
    Her Red and Black spots are difficult to see
    And offer her camouflage from
    Larger beasties in the sky.

    Darkness is looming and the sun is going down ,
    Soon it will be pitch black ,
    To see the insects, you will have to look hard,
    Or look to your thoughts of what you have seen ,
    While you were sitting in the sun all day like the Queen Bee,

    by Donna Keenan


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s