The Wood is Sweet
by John Clare
selected by David Powell
This is a selection of poems by Clare, chosen by Powell. Powell (presumably it was he) also edited them, adding punctuation and normalising spelling. The result is a curiously sedate Clare, a partially domesticated Clare. Much of Clare’s distinctive wildness is lost, and the poems acquire a chiming sameness.
These are still fine nature poems, perhaps especially for young readers. Edited or not, Clare’s obviously capable of striking images, as when he imagines ants as deformed fairies. The book’s divided into sections by subject, which works for poems about times of the year or about times of the day, but not as much for others; again, a monotony sets in. Still, a sequence of poems about animals helps point up the intensity of Clare’s empathy with the wild, and his observation of the life around him. This is, in the end, a book that couldn’t help but be good — it is still Clare, at the end of the day — but which is not to be preferred to more faithful reproductions of Clare’s work.