Flitting

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In Scots, “to flit” means to move house. Scots is full of great words that were once common in many English dialects, and thinking about flitting – the process and the word – brought to mind John Clare’s great poem of the same name today. This is a poem that perfectly captures the strangeness of relocation (I sit me in my corner chair / That seems to feel itself from home) but it is the lines about weeds and wildflowers that are most often in my head as I potter about my familiar paths with Bruce. Today, the final stanzas particularly struck home.

I love the verse that mild and bland
Breathes of green fields and open sky,
I love the muse that in her hand
Bears flowers of native poesy;
Who walks nor skips the pasture brook
In scorn, but by the drinking horse
Leans ‘oer its little brig to look
How far the sallows lean across,

And feels a rapture in her breast
Upon their root-fringed grains to mark
A hermit morehen’s sedgy nest
Just like a naiad’s summer bark.
She counts the eggs she cannot reach
Admires the spot and loves it well,
And yearns, so nature’s lessons teach,
Amid such neighbourhoods to dwell.

I love the muse who sits her down
Upon the molehill’s little lap,
Who feels no fear to stain her gown
And pauses by the hedgerow gap;
Not with that affectation, praise
Of song, to sing and never see
A field flower grown in all her days
Or een a forest’s aged tree.

Een here my simple feelings nurse
A love for every simple weed,
And een this little shepherd’s purse
Grieves me to cut it up; indeed
I feel at times a love and joy
For every weed and every thing,
A feeling kindred from a boy,
A feeling brought with every Spring.

And why? this shepherd’s purse that grows
In this strange spot, in days gone bye
Grew in the little garden rows
Of my old home now left; and I
Feel what I never felt before,
This weed an ancient neighbour here,
And though I own the spot no more
Its every trifle makes it dear.

John Clare, The Flitting, 1833

To get to grips with this wonderful poem, you need to think about it in terms of Clare’s own “flit” between the villages of Helpston and Northborough, as well as the political context of the land enclosures that redefined the face of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For this I recommend my good friend John Barrell’s book, The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place (1972)

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