John Clare and the new varieties of enclosure: A polemic

John Burnside*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its making where executives Would never want to tamper July, 2013. I am walking with a friend on the trail that leads upwards from the Swiss village of Bräntschen to the Nivenalp. All week, the weather has been changeable, but for now the air is clear and slightly damp and the ground underfoot is teeming with insect life - so much so that, with each step I take, I struggle to plant my foot and do no harm. All around us, in the diverse grasses, meadow flowers abound, and an astonishing range and abundance of butterflies and other insects flit from blossom to blossom in the late morning sun. I can scarcely contain my pleasure at witnessing so much vivid confusion; and yet, at the back of my mind - or perhaps I should say, off to the side somewhere, like a bedraggled sailor at a wedding party - a hint of sorrow lingers. Sorrow, because it is a long time since I have encountered a meadow anywhere near as rich and diverse as this in Britain, and I cannot imagine seeing so many different butterfly species, in anything like these numbers, on agricultural land at home. Even the range of grasses is cause for delight. My friend, a Swiss doctor from further down the valley, walks here all the time, and she is accustomed to all this teeming life, even if she does not take it for granted, but I have to stop and be still for a moment, because I live in a land where agribusiness and ‘development’ has rendered such scenes defunct - a fond memory or a clichéd grandmother-story about the good old days when the garden was full of butterflies - a degraded state best described by E. J. Mishan, in The Costs of Economic Growth.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Essays on John Clare
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781139381246
ISBN (Print)9781107031111
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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