A Spring Day with John Clare

Early morning mists in field

Early morning Spring mist veils the waking landscape with the uncluttered freshness and innocence of a new day. What could be better than to spend the day with John Clare walking beside my favourite local Arun river.

Now infant April joins the Spring…..
With timid step she ventures on,
And hardly dares to smile,
Till blossoms open one by one,
And sunny hours beguile.

From ‘April’ in John Clare’s ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’

Recently, the  season has been stuck fast by cold northerly winds. But after a few days of warmer weather, the countryside is beginning to clothe its winter bareness with spring.

A spring wood full of birdsong

John Clare and the Voice of Spring

A short trip along the road is this favourite spot for birdsong. This ‘hanger’ next to the river Arun will soon be a patchwork of bright green. I can hear a full chorus of birdsong echoing all along these overhanging woods. The repeated calls of numerous Chiff Chaffs dominate, accompanied by quieter, but beautiful, wistful song of Willow Warblers, with a full supporting cast. From the Arundel Wetlands opposite comes a different chorus of water birds – the percussion to the main orchestra in the woods. My first Reed Warbler of the season is joined by more calls of coots, moorhens, ducks, geese and gulls. In a bush nearby, a Garden Warbler is in full chattering flow. In a few weeks time the dawn chorus here is going to be wonderful.


Innumerous songsters, in the freshening shade
Of new-sprung leaves, their modulations mix
Mellifluous. The Jay, the Rook, the Daw,
And each harsh pipe discordant heard alone,
Aid the full concert: while the Stock-dove breathes
A melancholy murmur thro’ the whole.

From ‘The Seasons’ by James Thompson.

Thompson’s ‘The Seasons’ in 1726 inspired many others. When a friend showed John Clare a copy, he rushed out to buy his own, and on his way home from the bookshop he sat down in a field to write his very first poem, ‘The Morning Walk’

Reed beds beside the river Arun.

Riverside Peace

Further up the lane, mid-morning calm has settled over the valley. This is a precious quiet place, far from main roads. This lane goes nowhere, except to this unspoiled countryside. The Arun Valley is a great place for walkers, along the river banks, and through the woods on the Arundel and Angmering Park Estates on each side of the valley. I think Clare would have loved walking here.

In his Nature Journal he wrote “I grew so much into the quiet love of nature’s presence that I was never easy but when I was in the fields…..Birds, bees, trees, flowers all talked to me incessantly louder than the busy hum of man  — daily communings with God and not a word spoken“.

Today the river is in gentle mood as it glides slowly downstream. The thick reed beds are full of potential for the birdwatcher. The Reed Warbler’s nest is a popular target for the rogue Cuckoo. With a background of soft cooing of Wood Pigeons in the nearby woods and a dreamy heat haze settling over the valley, peace reigns here. We seem to have all the elements of an ideal pastoral England in this valley. ‘Nature finds a voice here, and hums a waking song‘ (Clare). Only the Cuckoo’s enchanting call is missing.

Come, gentle Spring, and bring thy choicest looks,
Thy bosom graced with flowers, thy face with smiles
Come, gentle Spring, and trace thy wandering brooks,
Through meadow gates, o’er footpath crooked stiles;
Come in thy proud and best array,
April dews and flowers of May
And singing birds that come where heaven smiles

From John Clare’s ‘Spring’
A lane in the Arun valley

Earth Day – COP 26

I love this Arun valley, with its meandering river, the wide river-side water meadows, and always those gently enclosing downs in the distance. But Clare would have missed the freedom to roam into the woods, across the fields and scramble into hedges looking for nests. He would be shocked to notice how many of the birds of his day are no longer here. Cuckoos, Nightingales and Song Thrushes would have been common-place, including many birds that we will never hear. So much wildlife is disappearing.

Last week was Earth Day. God has given us this beautiful planet, but our human legacy has been to damage and destroy. We are at Earth’s crisis point – threatened with irreversible Climate Change. This year’s World Climate Conference (COP26) is due in Glasgow in November. Is this our last chance to do something significant to save this Earth from disaster and avoid an ultimate ‘Silent Spring’?

Country lane in May

This lane will be looking very different as Spring blossoms into the fullness of May. May, we welcome you !

12 thoughts on “A Spring Day with John Clare

  1. In the absence of the Cuckoo – here’s a haiku of mine inspired by the writing of another Richard with whom I know you are familiar with …

    sunshine filling every room the cuckoo’s call

    Richard Jefferies (The Hills and the Vale – 1909)

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    1. That would be wonderful, Clive. I can remember when we regularly heard cuckoo’s every Spring. I once saw a juvenile sitting on our garden fence. At least we still have some skylarks locally. I heard one this morning as usual on Highdown Hill.

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  2. Sadly I haven’t heard either in a good number of years where we live in North Wales. But I used to hear them all the time growing up in Timsbury in the 1950s.

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    1. As a note of hope, my son recently reported haring a cuckoo in the New Forest. Also, last year friends who live a mile away from here heard a cuckoo in the woods and fields near their cottage. So there are still some here. I will be listening all-ears over the next few weeks!

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  3. What an idyllic place to live and walk, Richard! It has been so cold here that only a few hardy migrants have turned up and are singing. The bird I most miss hearing is the Willow Warbler; I live in hope that I will hear one this year.

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    1. Hopefully your Willow Warblers will put in an appearance soon, Clare. We usually have plenty here in the South. Last year you had some Turtledoves. I wish we did here! Sadly, these days the bird wish list seems to increase each year.

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      1. I haven’t heard a willow warbler here for about six years, though I believe someone I know heard one about five miles away last year. There is always hope!

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