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This article is taken from PN Review 208, Volume 39 Number 2, November - December 2012.

Eluding the Awkward Squad: John Clare's Punctuation
The Absence of Punctuation in John Clare's Sonnet 'Field Thoughts'
Martyn Crucefix
John Clare's relationship with grammar and punctuation has given rise to much debate and affected the look of his published work on the page since its first appearance in Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820). Simply put, there are the correctors and the leave-alones - his original editor, John Taylor, is an example of the former, Eric Robinson of the latter and Jonathan Bate, in his biography of 2003, somewhere in the middle. I thought I might offer some thoughts from a poet's perspective accompanied by a close reading of one of Clare's sonnets.

Bate tells us that Clare was quite 'in the suds' in his early years when he borrowed a book only to find the observation that 'a person who knew nothing about grammar was not capable of writing a letter nor even a bill of parcels' (Bate, p. 92). Clare was well aware of his poor education in this department, but when he bought a textbook to educate himself he was less than impressed, finding little more than an arid classification of words he was already capably using. Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads had aspired in 1802 to the language of 'common men', and in the same spirit Clare reasoned that as long as he was understood in speech he would have little need of more formal training. He would write poetry with the ease and informality of speech. This choice is seen by Bate as both 'a blessing and a curse ... A ...


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