Poem introduction

The poet John Clare, I think, although his reputation has risen in recent years, but certainly for a long time it was much higher among Irish poets than it was among English poets. People know "Poor John Clare" is what he's often called: an early success, and later madness, but I was reading one of John Clare's notebooks; he used to collect tunes, as he said, from the Irish drovers on the road, and he had one tune in his notebook called 'The Self Jig', and a slightly prissy commentator had put a note saying "probably should be 'Sylph'" - that's S Y L P H - as it was obviously going to be a classical Greek reference. So I've used the translation of the word "sylph" that you get in Brewers for this poem. It's a sonnet, as John Clare was so wonderful with sonnets, and is really about the asylum where he spent so many years.

Clare's Jig

I'd collected a good jig called 'The Self',
but lilting it last night for Dr Bottle
he chided me, opined it should be Sylph,
which is Greek, like much he says, meaning beetle.
He chokes the same and gibbets butterflies,
now all your rich men's fashionable rage.
My fellow inmates praise him to the skies,
and like a hawk he scans my every page,
the dumb morris of these poor whopstraw words.
When pressed, a melancholy Johnson said
'Why Sir, we are a nest of singing birds!'
Well I hear boughs breaking inside my head
so listen till the music has to stop,
for like a tree, I'm dying from the top.


from Nominies (Bloodaxe Books, 1998), copyright © Ian Duhig 1998, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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1From the Irish

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2Nothing Pie

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3Chocolate Soldier

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4Come the Morning

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5Clare's Jig

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6Straw School

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7The Lammas Hireling

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8There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue

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9Paschal Anthem

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10Fundamentals

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11Sundry Receipts of Vatsyayana called Mrillana written in the form of Sutra

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12The Badly-Loved

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13The Lady who Loved Insects

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14From the Plague Journal

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15Lumpenhund

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16Out of Boredom

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17A Dream of Wearing String Vests Forever

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18Another Poem About Old Photographs

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19I'r Hen A'i Chaneuon

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20Cutler's Poetry

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21Midnight on the Water

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22Rosary

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23Margin Prayer from an Ancient Psalter

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24Who Killed Freddie the Dolphin?

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Books by Ian Duhig