The Moors

Far spread the moory ground, a level scene

Bespread with rush and one eternal green

That never felt the rage of blundering plough

Though centuries wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow,

Still meeting plains that stretched them far away

In unchecked shadows of green, brown and grey.

Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene

Nor fence of ownership crept in between

To hide the prospect of the following eye—

Its only bondage was the circling sky.

One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree

Spread its faint shadow of immensity

And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds,

In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds.

Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours,

Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers,

Is faded all—a hope that blossomed free,

And hath been once, no more shall ever be.

Enclosure came and trampled on the grave

Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave,

And memory’s pride, ere want to wealth did bow,

Is both the shadow and the substance now.

The sheep and cows were free to range as then

Where change might prompt, nor felt the bonds of men:

Cows went and came with evening, morn and night

To the wild pasture as their common right,

And sheep unfolded with the rising sun

Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won,

Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain,

Then met the brook and drank and roamed again—

The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass

Beneath the roots they hid among the grass—

While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along,

Free as the lark and happy as her song.

But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye

That seemed to lengthen with the following eye,

Moors losing from the sight, far, smooth and blea,

Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free,

Are vanished now with commons wild and gay

As poets’ visions of life’s early day.

Mulberry bushes where the boy would run

To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done,

And hedgerow briars—flower-lovers enjoyed

Came and got flower pots—these are all destroyed,

And sky-bound moors in mangled garbs are left

Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft.

Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds

Of field and meadow, large as garden grounds,

In little parcels little minds to please

With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease.

Each little path that led its pleasant way

As sweet as morning leading night astray,

Where little flowers bloomed round, a varied host,

That travel felt delighted to be lost

Nor grudged the steps that he had ta’en as vain

When right roads traced his journey’s end again;

Nay on a broken tree he’d sit awhile

To see the moors and fields and meadows smile,

Sometimes with cowslips smothered—then all white

With daisies—then the summer’s splendid sight

Of cornfields crimson o’er, the “headache” bloomed

Like splendid armies for the battle plumed;

He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye

As fallen landscapes from an evening sky.

These paths are stopped—the rude philistine’s thrall

Is laid upon them and destroyed them all.

Each little tyrant with his little sign

Shows where man claims, earth glows no more divine.

On paths to freedom and childhood dear

A board sticks up to notice “no road here”

And on the tree with ivy overhung

The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung

As though the very birds should learn to know

When they go there they must no further go.

Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade good-bye

And much they feel it in the smothered sigh,

And birds and trees and flowers without a name

All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came,

And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes

Have found too truly that they were but dreams.

—John Clare


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