Poem introduction

Clare’s poetry contains a trove of dialect words and in his work we see, again and again, his willingness to stick with what’s local, even in terms of language. In this poem, 'Mouse’s Nest', we find this word ‘progged’ which means to poke at something. This poem is very local also in that it’s miniaturist almost in the way that it describes a kind of drama taking place under foot. This weird image of the newborn mice at their mother’s teats seems to both scale down and suggest greater detail but also, snags at us, in the way they cling on for dear life and sustenance, which makes the poem huge at the same time, especially if we think of Clare as the mouse, ‘poor poet’, as Robert Graves called him. Clare who was disturbed and displaced from his own habitations and family and who saw the landscape of his childhood dismantled by enclosure.

Mouse's Nest

I found a ball of grass among the hay
And progged it as I passed and went away;
And when I looked I fancied something stirred,
And turned again and hoped to catch the bird—
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheats
With all her young ones hanging at her teats;
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me,
I ran and wondered what the thing could be,
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood;
Then the mouse hurried from the crawling brood.
The young ones squeaked, and as I went away
She found her nest again among the hay.
The water o'er the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.

Books & cds by John Clare