The title references a “heath in winter” or an open area of uncultivated land, in this case, in winter. The noun “Emmonsail” references a specific area in Northamptonshire, not far from where John Clare grew up. Scholars know that he spent a great deal of time there throughout his youth and would’ve known its various seasons very well.
The poem was written between 1824 and 1832 but wasn’t published until 70 or so years later.
Emmonsail's Heath in Winter John ClareI love to see the old heath's withered brakeMingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling,While the old heron from the lonely lakeStarts slow and flaps his melancholy wing,And oddling crow in idle motions swingOn the half rotten ashtree's topmost twig,Beside whose trunk the gipsy makes his bed.Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brigWhere a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread,The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thornAnd for the awe round fields and closen rove,And coy bumbarrels twenty in a droveFlit down the hedgerows in the frozen plainAnd hang on little twigs and start again.
Explore Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter
‘Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter’ by John Clare is a beautiful nature poem that describes a winter landscape.
The poem takes readers through the heath, describing various birds and plants that one can see in the winter season. This includes a heron, a crow, a woodcock, and many more. The poet uses image-rich language that makes the scene very easy and interesting to imagine. It’s clearly somewhere that one would want to explore during the winter season, something that scholars believe Clare often did.
The main theme of the poem is nature, specifically the beauty that can be found within a winter landscape that others might not appreciate. The poet uses beautiful imagery to describe the scene in great detail. It’s very easy for readers, once a few unusual words are defined, to transport themselves to this natural area and enjoy it.
Structure and Form
‘Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter’ by John Clare is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza. The poem is written with an interesting, not entirely traditional, rhyme scheme of ABABBCDCDEFFGG. The poem features what readers are likely to recognize as the beginning and ending of a Shakespearean sonnet. The “ABAB” opening quatrains and the ending “GG” couplet.
The poem is also written in iambic pentameter, with a few exceptions. This means that the poet used five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. This is the most common metrical pattern for sonnets by far.
Throughout this poem, the poet uses a few literary devices. They include:
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “And” starts lines eleven and twelve.
- Sibilance: the repetition of the “s” sound in multiple words. For example, “Starts slow” in line four.
- Personification: can be seen when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, “While the old heron from the lonely lake / Starts slow and flaps his melancholy wing.”
- Imagery: examples of particularly interesting descriptions that should help readers imagine situations and experiences. For instance, “The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thorn / And for the awe round fields and closen rove.”
I love to see the old heath’s withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling,
While the old heron from the lonely lake
Starts slow and flaps his melancholy wing,
In the first lines of this John Clare poem, the poet begins with his speaker saying that he loves to “see” something. Specifically, the “old heath’s withered brake / Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling.” This dense, confusing line includes some very unusual words. They include:
- “Brake” means bracken or a tall fern with coarse fronds.
- “Crimpled” means wrinkled.
- “Furze” means gorse or a yellow-flowered shrub.
- “Ling” means heather or a purple-flowered shrub.
He’s describing a natural scene with various plants in the heath intertwining. He loves to see the way that nature combines and works together, which expands into images of a heron with its slowly flapping wings taking off from a “lonely lake.”
The poem is dense with imagery, and Clare uses a number of adjectives and examples of personification to depict the scene.
And oddling crow in idle motions swing
On the half rotten ashtree’s topmost twig,
Beside whose trunk the gipsy makes his bed.
Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig
The next four lines of the sonnet use a few more words that are worth defining to come to a better understanding of what Clare is talking about. These include:
- “Oddling” means solitary or alone.
- “Woodcock” or a type of light-colored, brown bird.
- “Brig” in this context means bridge.
Donne’s speaker is describing a single crow flying around the top of an ash tree, or its “topmost twig.” This same tree is also home to a “woodcock” that flies up from a bridge. The entire scene is filled with life, whether that be bird life or plant life.
In these lines, he also mentions “the gipsy” that makes his bed near the trees. This means that it’s not only birds and plants that spend time there.
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread,
The fieldfares chatter in the whistling thorn
And for the awe round fields and closen rove,
And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again.
The final few lines feature several other examples of words that are likely to be new to readers. They are:
- “Quagmire” is a boggy area of land.
- “Fieldfare,” another type of bird.
- “Bumbarrels” is a type of long-tailed tit.
- “Closen” means a small field or enclosure.
- “Rove” means a journey or wandering around.
The poet describes a quagmire, or boggy area, that sinks in or “quakes” beneath someone’s feet or tread. The birds, “fieldfares,” “chatter,” or sing in the “whistling thorn,” or the plants around the scene.
The scene expands to include a small field, more birds, and the sound of their chirping. It’s a peaceful scene, one that is filled with life. The poet uses words like “coy” and “flit” to describe the movements of the birds and how readers should feel as they imagine them. This is a light-hearted and peaceful scene, one that is incredibly similar to others that Clare described in his verse.
The meaning is that no matter the season, one can find beauty in natural places. Just because fewer flowers are blooming and fewer animals are out, there are still birds and plants to admire and enjoy.
The purpose is to transport readers from wherever they are to this beautiful winter landscape filled with birds and plants. It should inspire readers’ imaginations.
The poem ‘Emmosail’s Health in Winter’ is about a winter landscape in England that, despite the cold season, is alive with life. It’s a place to escape everyday life and enjoy nature peacefully.
‘Emmosail’s Health in Winter’ is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within one stanza. It does not follow the pattern of a traditional sonnet but does ultimo elements of one, including iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme of the first four lines and a final couplet (which resemble a Shakespearean sonnet).
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other John Clare poems. For example:
- ‘I Am!’ – a poem that discusses loneliness and the desire for peace.
- ‘The Secret’ – is concerned with a speaker’s feelings towards a particular lady.
- ‘Young Lambs’ – uses natural images to depict a certain state of mind.