First Love – John Clare
John Clare was an early 19th century poet who wrote mostly about nature and lamented the loss of the English countryside and the disruption of the traditional ways of life. Though not very successful as a poet during his lifetime, there was a major re-evaluation of his work in the 20th century. He is now considered a major 19th century poet. For most of his life, John Clare lived in penury and suffered from mental illness.
This poem tells of the effect the sight of his first love had on the poet. The first two stanzas describe how he became physically weak with blood draining from his limbs and face, only to come flooding back. He feels powerless to move and stands rooted to the spot with words failing him. The last stanza is a reflection of his inability to communicate with the girl which results in her not being able to fathom his love for her.
The central idea of this poem is the powerful effect the poet’s first love has on him. He grows pale with his face draining of all blood, his legs refuse to take him away and his life seemed to have turned into clay. Then blood comes rushing back into his face and robs him of his eyesight or so it seemed. He feels day turning into night. His eyes turn expressive and do what his mouth cannot. The poet wonders whether love always is unlucky with snow fated to be love’s bed. The girl does not hear the poet’s silent voice. He cannot get over the sweetness of his love’s face. He feels that his heart has left its moorings never to return ever again.
The poet recounts his first love here; he is profoundly affected by the sight of the girl. He compares her face to a blooming flower. He feels his face growing pale with blood draining and his legs growing so heavy that he can scarce move them. Then when she turns to look at him, his life and all about him seemed to turn to clay. That statement is ironic as man is said to be created from clay.
Just as blood had left his face earlier, it now comes flooding back. The flush leaves him feeling he is sightless and noon turns into night. His eyes turn expressive and the words that do not come forth from his mouth seem to come from his eyes.
The poet wonders whether love is like looking for flowers in winter or having a bed made of snow. How can the girl be expected to hear his silent voice? But whatever, hers was the prettiest face that he had ever seen. His heart seems to have left its moorings never to return.
This is a love poem that is excessively sentimental in content. John Clare’s first love was Mary Joyce whom he was not able to marry due to parental opposition.