John Clare, also known as “the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet,” wrote ‘The Secret’ in dedication to his first love, Mary Joyce. Their relationship did not last long but the feelings the poet had for her sustained throughout his life. This poem speaks on a secret. As the poet expresses it in poetic words, it is no longer a secret at all. Through this open secret, the speaker talks about how he loved the lady. Her beauty is not comparable to any other woman. In this way, Clare glorifies his beloved, secretly stored in the treasury of his heart.
Through this piece, Clare dives deep into the theme of love. It is a pure love poem that taps on the speaker’s secrecy concerning his love for an unnamed lady. He had feelings for her but could not express them. In every song he wrote, she became the theme. Whenever she came across any other woman, he gave a secret glance and thought they were the embodiment of that lady. On top of that, the charming voice or face of any lady reminds him of his beloved.
The rhyme scheme is conventional and Clare uses the alternative rhyming pattern. He uses the ABAB scheme and it goes on throughout this piece. For example, in the first quatrain, “not” rhymes with “spot” and “long” rhymes with “song”. Readers can see that “not” and “spot” contains a slant rhyme.
Each stanza contains an 8-6-8-6 syllable count. After dividing the syllable into sets of two syllables, the stress has to be given on the second syllable of each foot. So, the overall poem is composed in iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter alternatively. There are not any metrical variations.
‘The Secret’ begins with an enjambment. Clare connects the first two lines by using this device. He uses hyperbole in the line, “Thou wert my joy in every spot.” Besides, “my joy” is a metaphor. Clare compares the lady to a source of joy. In “My theme in every song,” he uses another metaphor, implicitly comparing his beloved to the theme in poetry.
There is a personification in the line, “Where beauty held the claim.” Readers can find a simile in the line, “I gave it like a secret grace.” They come across the poetic device synecdoche in the usage of the word “face”. Whereas the “voice” is a metonym for a lady having a charming voice. The last two lines of this piece contain a paradox.
I loved thee, though I told thee not,
Right earlily and long,
Thou wert my joy in every spot,
My theme in every song.
John Clare’s ‘The Secret’ begins with an antithesis of ideas. The poetic persona loved a lady but he could not tell her. He loved her from his early life and he will love her as long as he lives. She was like a source of joy. Whenever he ventured elsewhere his thoughts revolving around his beloved made him happy.
The fourth line of the first quatrain makes it clear the poetic persona resembles the poet himself. According to Clare, in every song, the theme was his beloved. Like the theme is the essence of a literary work, she is the essence of his songs. If readers compare his writing to him, they can understand the reference is made to himself, by talking about his songs.
And when I saw a stranger face
Where beauty held the claim,
I gave it like a secret grace
The being of thy name.
This section presents a contrast between the lady’s beauty with that of other women. When the speaker saw the face of a stranger woman who was undoubtedly beautiful, he gave her a secret glance. But, in his mind, he knew that the woman was a reflection of his beloved. In this way, he tried to find her presence in other women he saw. The beauty of others appeared to him as the “secret grace” of the lady he loved.
And all the charms of face or voice
Which I in others see
Are but the recollected choice
Of what I felt for thee.
The third quatrain presents another contrast. In this section, the speaker says some women have charming faces or voices. Whenever he looks at them it makes him think about his beloved. At such times, he thinks that they are the “recollected choice” of his feelings for her. It means he might have felt something for others. But, the feeling which he had for his beloved is greater than the impression of others on his mind. The speaker is truthful and dedicated to the lady, no matter if he can express his love to the lady or not.
‘The Secret’ contains a reference to Clare’s first love Mary Joyce. In his early adult years, he fell in love with her. Her father was a prosperous farmer, while he was working as a potboy in the Blue Bell public house. So, Mary’s father forbade her to meet him. Later, he was married to Martha (Patty) Turner, a milkmaid.
During his middle life, Clare had strange delusions. He believed himself as a prizefighter. Besides, he thought he had two wives, Patty and Mary. In this poem, he talks about his first love Mary. It seems that he compares the beauty of his beloved to his wife, Patty.
The following poems similarly revolve around the themes present in John Clare’s poem, ‘The Secret’.
- First Love by John Clare – This poem describes the sudden, overwhelming love a speaker feels for a woman he is seeing for the first time. Read more John Clare poems.
- Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara – In this poem, the poet taps on the theme of unrequited love and how his beloved betrayed his emotions. Explore more poems by Frank O’Hara.
- Gardens of Babur, Kabul by Aria Aber – This piece describes the speaker’s physical desire for her beloved while she calmly watches the beauty of a garden. Explore more Aria Aber poetry.
- Sonnet 130 – My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun by William Shakespeare – In this sonnet, the poet praises the beauty of one’s affection by comparing it to beautiful things. Explore Shakespeare’s best love sonnets and more William Shakespeare poetry.