First Love, by John Clare

Pati Bannister - Hollyhocks
Pati Bannister – Hollyhocks – from

This is probably one of the best-known poems of John Clare. Again, it comes from the collection Asylum Poems that he wrote while he was interned in a lunatic asylum.

Although Clare was no more a young man when he wrote it, this poem expresses very well the emotions of a young teenager experiencing love for the first time.

First Love

I NE’ER was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet.
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked “what could I ail?”
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my sight away.
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start;
They spoke as chords do from the string
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice
And love’s appeal to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before:
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.

Source: John Clare, Poems chiefly from manuscript, London: Richard Cobden-Sanderson (1920), digitised on Internet Archive. The poem is page 213. See also the hypertext transcription (without indentation of the verses) in Poems Chiefly from Manuscript by John Clare, Project Gutenberg ebook.

Previously published on Agapeta, 2016/05/06.

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