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Poetry Analysis: The Nightingale's Nest by John Clare

John Clare was a poet who wasn't widely appreciated until after his death. He grew up in rural England in the 19th Century, and nature was a constant theme in his work.

The Poet's Love for the Nightingale

'The Nightingale's Nest' is a poem that begins in an endearing way. Clare refers to the nightingale like an old friend, who he has heard for "many a merry year". He describes how the bird sings, seemingly, all day long, and captures this with the beautiful phrase, "As though she lived on song."

Clare writes about the incongruity of the beauty of the bird's song, compared to her rather unspectacular appearance. Clare also mentions the timidity of the nightingale, and how she stops singing when she hears the poet approach.

Humorously, John Clare observes how the thrush tries to outdo the nightingale with a song of its own. More seriously, Clare almost feels for winter, because "naked trees" will not hear the nightingale's song.

Beauty of Song and of Nature

John Clare details his own experiences of creeping up on a nightingale's nest, and we can feel the fear of the mother bird as he approaches. He describes the nest itself in great detail, and juxtaposes the image of the fearful bird with the beautiful wild flowers - as if they are being summoned into bloom by the enchanting song of the nightingale.

The end of the poem is very uplifting, because the reader is a touch doubtful up to that point as to what fate will befall the nightingale's eggs. Taking bird's eggs in the 19th Century was not really frowned on as it is now - except by people close to nature, such as Clare himself.

'The Nightingale's Nest' is not broken down into verses, but, because of the punctuation, and the meter as a whole, it is easy to read. This is the case, even though the poetry itself does seem archaic from a 21st Century perspective. The poet is so enthusiastic, almost breathless, that we feel similar emotions when reading the poem. It is a riveting poem to read.

What resonates when reading 'The Nightingale's Nest' is how the poet is so close to nature. He is in a way that seems pretty much impossible for a person to emulate in modern life. There is a feeling that somehow we have lost something important in having a more loose connection with nature. This poem makes us realize this.

Copyright © Paul Rance/

Poetry Analysis: Autumn Birds by John Clare

The sonnet 'Autumn Birds' is one of the best examples of English poet John Clare's love of nature.

Rarely has any poem included so much information about birds in such a short space. Autumn is traditionally a season where nature slows down, and begins her rebirth, but this poem describes the frantic activity of birds, and their need to find shelter before the harsher weather sets in.

A Melancholic Poem

The poetry of Clare in 'Autumn Birds' is a mix of the frenetic and calm, as some birds seem more relaxed about winter than others. The more frantic birds are portrayed as if they are trying to evade an oncoming natural disaster - rather than trying to avoid the clutches of the unfavourable weather. The poem has an underlying melancholia, but it moves the reader because of how the birds are brought to life. We feel that we can identify with their fears.

Clare uses his knowledge of nature here to describe where the birds are heading. He does this in a straightforward way, and acts like a news reporter at the scene, recording what he sees, as opposed to trying to show off by displaying his knowledge.

The first line of the poem gives us a sense of foreboding, and Clare's well observed analogy compares the way that a duck is startled with how a person reacts to a personal, sudden flash of inspiration. The second line of the sonnet continues to convince the reader that something bad is about to happen, by describing a heron fearing that it might be caught. Considering the great size of a heron, this gives the poem an even darker edge to it.

Turbulent Imagery

All through the poem the turbulent imagery pervades. The crows and rooks are tired, but are still keen to find shelter, the jackdaws are noisy, the starnels (starlings) travel speedily by, and so many of them that they fill the sky and make it even more dark.

The wild swan seems particularly agitated, and smaller birds look for shelter. Most dramatic of all is the way that the larks rise and then suddenly plummet down. The magpie, despite the chaotic scene all around, is still depicted in a typically mischievous fashion.

In 'Autumn Birds', Clare doesn't use the traditional Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme that begins with abab. He mixes up the rhymes throughout. But the poem flows and paints a scene of autumn birds in England that jumps off the page.

Copyright © Paul Rance/

John Clare


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John Clare Books

John Clare (Everyman Poetry) ~ John Clare John Clare (Everyman Poetry) ~ John Clare
Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) ~ John Clare
John Clare ~ Jonathan Bate John Clare ~ Jonathan Bate
Selected Poems ~ John Clare Selected Poems ~ John Clare

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