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This review is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.

THE EVENTUAL MUSE John Clare, The Midsummer Cushion, edited by Anne Tibble and R. K. R. Thornton (MidNAG/Carcanet) £8.00

Had things gone as he planned and intended, John Clare's fourth collection of poems, The Midsummer Cushion, would have been published in 1833. It was to be a century and a half before the book finally appeared. Yet this remarkable offering, for all its faults-those many poems in which, as Keats remarked of those in Clare's 1820 collection, 'the Description overlaid and stifled that which ought to be the prevailing Idea'-contains the finest English poetry written between the death of Byron and the publication of Tennyson's Poems in 1842. It is a massive collection-361 poems occupying nearly 500 pages of print-and, had it appeared when and as Clare intended, must have outweighed any contemporary production. What, after all, was there in the way of poetry in the 1830s, apart from the young but sentimental Tennyson, the young but convoluted Browning? Wordsworth was old and dry, and all Clare's generation of Romantic poets- Keats, Shelley, Byron-were dead; Thomas Lovell Beddoes and George Darley, his only worthy contemporaries, were neglected or unpublished. The celebrated poets of the day were people like Sir Henry Taylor, Barry Cornwall, L.E.L., and Mrs Hemans. No doubt the publication of The Midsummer Cushion in 1833 would have had little immediate effect in reviving Clare's once considerable fame (it is not often realized that his first book of poems, which appeared in 1820 and ran into three editions, outsold several times over all the publications of Keats and Shelley combined) for it was already six years since ...


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