Sunday Dip

John Clare


John Clare

John Clare was a Romantic poet who died in 1864.

His work is well-regarded for his depictions of the English countryside, childhood, and his own suffering.

Sunday Dip is a poem that reflects on the joy of childhood. Clare explores the idyllic period of childhood against the backdrop of beautiful nature. The narrative follows boys running down to a pond and playing for half a day. The tone is idyllic, with the focus on the semantics of nature furthering this joyous disposition.

The poem consists of one stanza of 14 lines. The rhyme scheme is a consistent AABB throughout. This steady rhyme helps to create the joyful atmosphere of the poem. The regularity creating a smooth poem with continuous flow. You can read the full poem Sunday Dip here.

Sunday Dip by John Clare


Sunday Dip Analysis

Lines 1 and 2

The morning road is thronged with merry boys
Who seek the water for their Sunday joys;

John Clare sets the poem in the morning, instantly plunging the poem into an aura of light. The decision to set this poem during the early waking hours allows for both a sense of time to pass, and also a bright atmosphere to be evoked.

The use of ‘thronged’ categorizes how busy the area is, with all the boys trekking together to the water. The amount of people furthers the joyous atmosphere of the poem, with an excitement ruminating off the crowd of people.

The ‘boys’ in the poem are described as ‘merry’, further reflecting the idyllic happiness of this Sunday morning. Indeed, Clare paints a serene picture of childhood life in the poem, the only defining quality of the boys being their ‘merry’ state.

The rhyme of ‘boys’ and ‘joys’ furthers this presentation of the idyllic nature of childhood. The boys are solely defined by their happiness, it seems that this is an overly perfect world. The only other emotion mentioned in the poem is fear, which is overcome. Clare is placing a lot of stress on the perfection of this moment.

The rhyme ‘boys’ and ‘joys’ is used elsewhere in the Edexcel GCSE poems, ‘I Remember I Remember‘ by Thomas Hood also relies on this rhyme. Both poems deal with similar themes of the joy of childhood. Whereas Clare’s poem is more idyllic, Hood’s is more depressing, looking back at childhood after it has passed.


Lines 3 and 4

The verb ‘dance’ further categorizes the excitement of the boys now they have reached the ‘water’. They are unbelievably happy in this moment, all together beginning to go into the water. ‘Dance’ suggests a level of explosive activity, with the excitement of the boys palpable.

The atmospheric use of ‘shade’ helps to sustain this picturesque environment. Although a bright morning, there is enough ‘shade’ to keep the atmosphere pleasant. The use of ‘shade’ could also be a reference to the upcoming ‘fears’ the boys will have to overcome. Indeed, the archetypical use of darkness to represent bad or evil being employed by Clare.

This suggestion of the fears the boys will need to overcome is also reflected through the rhyme of these lines. Rhyming ‘wade’ and ‘shade’ is a mechanism for Clare to represent the ‘wading’ through of fears (‘shade’) to come out the other side. The verb ‘wade’ has a certain weight to it, presenting the difficulty for some of the boys to overcome their fear of the water.


Lines 5 and 6

The boldest ventures first and dashes in,
And others go and follow to the chin,

This is the point in Sunday Dip where the boys move into the water ‘to the chin’. They immerse themselves in the water, following the example of the ‘boldest’. The excitement of the boys again is exaggerated, the use of ‘dashes’ reflecting a burst of energy.


Lines 7 and 8

Clare focuses on the power of nature in these lines. The roar of the water is characterized as ‘thunder’. This is a subtle nod to the other end of nature. While the poem presents the idyllic beauty of nature, it is also something powerful. The ignorance of youth is also explored, considering the children do not understand this. Instead, they ‘laugh’ at the ‘thunder’, focusing instead on the excitement of the moment.


Lines 9 and 10

They bundle up the rushes for a boat
And try across the deepest place to float:

In these lines, the boys try to create a raft from ‘rushes’, a type of waterside plant. They drag the raft to the ‘deepest place’ and try to ‘float’. Here, Clare is exploring the different ways the boys are having fun. The floating on the raft now becomes the main form of entertainment for the boys. This is perhaps Clare’s method of showing that the boys have overcome their fears. Indeed, they have become used to the water and are now looking for new challenges.

The decision to try in the ‘deepest place’ also relates to the sense of adventure the boys have. Now having conquered their fear of the water, they seek a harder task. They decide to test their raft in the place that will be most exciting. This is typical considering the atmosphere and depiction we have been given of the boys so far.


Lines 11 and 12

‘Beneath the willow trees’ relates back to the ‘shade’ of line 4. This harmonic convergence between human and nature is beautiful to Clare. The boys are surrounded by nature and are enjoying the presence. The willow trees are oddly solid against the continual reference to ‘water’.


Lines 13 and 14

Without their aid the others float away,
And play about the water half the day.

The freedom of ‘float’ again cements the poem’s lighthearted and carefree tone. The complete tranquility of floating in the pond on this Sunday morning is beautiful to Clare. The freedom of youth is a concept that is examined within Sunday Dip.

The final verb of Sunday Dip comes in line 14, ‘play’. This typifies the narrative we have seen so far. The young boys have spent the day ‘play[ing]’ in the water. The lack of responsibility, the beauty of nature, and the freedom of youth are all explored.

The final rhyming couplet of ‘away’ and ‘day’ relates to the passing of time. The enjoyment of the day is so great that time seems to drift away. The rapid passing of time is something typical of childhood poems. Indeed, in ‘I Remember, I Remember’ by Hood, he mourns that his childhood passed him by so quickly. The enjoyment, freedom, and tranquility of childhood must come to an end.

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Jack Limebear Poetry Expert
Jack is undertaking a degree in World Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team in 2019. Poetry is the intersection of his greatest passions, languages and literature, with his focus on translation bridging the gap.
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