The poet John Clare, I think, although his reputation has risen in recent years, but certainly for a long time it was much higher among Irish poets than it was among English poets. People know "Poor John Clare" is what he's often called: an early success, and later madness, but I was reading one of John Clare's notebooks; he used to collect tunes, as he said, from the Irish drovers on the road, and he had one tune in his notebook called 'The Self Jig', and a slightly prissy commentator had put a note saying "probably should be 'Sylph'" - that's S Y L P H - as it was obviously going to be a classical Greek reference. So I've used the translation ...

The poet John Clare, I think, although his reputation has risen in recent years, but certainly for a long time it was much higher among Irish poets than it was among English poets. People know "Poor John Clare" is what he's often called: an early success, and later madness, but I was reading one of John Clare's notebooks; he used to collect tunes, as he said, from the Irish drovers on the road, and he had one tune in his notebook called 'The Self Jig', and a slightly prissy commentator had put a note saying "probably should be 'Sylph'" - that's S Y L P H - as it was obviously going to be a classical Greek reference. So I've used the translation of the word "sylph" that you get in Brewers for this poem. It's a sonnet, as John Clare was so wonderful with sonnets, and is really about the asylum where he spent so many years.

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Clare’s Jig

I'd collected a good jig called 'The Self',
but lilting it last night for Dr Bottle
he chided me, opined it should be Sylph,
which is Greek, like much he says, meaning beetle.
He chokes the same and gibbets butterflies,
now all your rich men's fashionable rage.
My fellow inmates praise him to the skies,
and like a hawk he scans my every page,
the dumb morris of these poor whopstraw words.
When pressed, a melancholy Johnson said
'Why Sir, we are a nest of singing birds!'
Well I hear boughs breaking inside my head
so listen till the music has to stop,
for like a tree, I'm dying from the top.

from Nominies (Bloodaxe Books, 1998), copyright ? Ian Duhig 1998, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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