Love, by John Clare

Kate Greenaway - Valentine
Kate Greenaway – Valentine (1879) – from Wikimedia Commons

Love for young girls was at the heart of John Clare’s life and poetry. The following well-known poem, where the word ‘timid’ appears 4 times, illustrates his shy and restrained view of romantic relationships: “True love, it is no daring bird, / But like the little timid wren.”


LOVE, though it is not chill and cold,
But burning like eternal fire,
Is yet not of approaches bold,
Which gay dramatic tastes admire.
Oh timid love, more fond than free,
In daring song is ill pourtrayed,
Where, as in war, the devotee
By valour wins each captive maid;—

Where hearts are prest to hearts in glee,
As they could tell each other’s mind;
Where ruby lips are kissed as free,
As flowers are by the summer wind.
No! gentle love, that timid dream,
With hopes and fears at foil and play,
Works like a skiff against the stream,
And thinking most finds least to say.

It lives in blushes and in sighs,
In hopes for which no words are found;
Thoughts dare not speak but in the eyes,
The tongue is left without a sound.
The pert and forward things that dare
Their talk in every maiden’s ear,
Feel no more than their shadows there—
Mere things of form, with nought of fear.

True passion, that so burns to plead,
Is timid as the dove’s disguise;
Tis for the murder-aiming gleed
To dart at every thing that flies.
True love, it is no daring bird,
But like the little timid wren,
That in the new-leaved thorns of spring
Shrinks farther from the sight of men.

The idol of his musing mind,
The worship of his lonely hour,
Love woos her in the summer wind,
And tells her name to every flower;
But in her sight, no open word
Escapes, his fondness to declare;
The sighs by beauty’s magic stirred
Are all that speak his passion there.

Source: John Clare, Poems chiefly from manuscript, London: Richard Cobden-Sanderson (1920), digitised on Internet Archive. The poem is page 149. See also the hypertext transcription (with a wrong indentation of the verses) in Poems Chiefly from Manuscript by John Clare, Project Gutenberg ebook.

This poem was included in a post published on Agapeta, 2016/10/08.

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